Final Breeders Cup Wrap up (finally!)
Real Writing on Racing 💯
Well it has been delayed long enough that some of our older readers may have already forgotten that we never covered the last four Breeders Cup races. Not that it’s an excuse because we will give them the ‘once over’ today but they weren’t the most compelling of championship events even if a horse named Nobals managed to win one of them.
Breeders Cup Turf:
There were several questions heading into this years version of the Breeders Cup Turf that needed answering. On the domestic front, we didn’t know if the best American grass runner, Up to the Mark, was up to the dual challenge of the foreign competition and the stretch-out in distance to 12 furlongs. For the invaders, the usual issue of how the firm ground would be handled is always a bit of a mystery and we didn’t know if star three year olds Auguste Rodin (Ire) and King of Steel could beat streaking morning line favorite Mostahdaf (Ire), whom John Gosden had scratched from the Champions Stakes (Gr 1) a few weeks prior for this spot. The wildcard was Japanese invader, Shahryar (Jpn) a son of legendary sire Deep Impact who’d shown his world class ability when winning the 2022 Dubai Sheema Classic (Gr 1) and just missing in last years Japan Cup (Gr1), yet whose 2023 form was spotty.
The history books will tell you that Auguste Rodin(Ire)’s narrow win was the result of a rail skimming masterpiece of a ride by the great Ryan Moore…and technically that would be true. Yet that trip likely doesn’t happen if Cristian Demuro on Shahryar (Jpn) doesn’t get impatient on the final bend and angle OFF the rail (and directly up the heels of Adhamo (Ire) who was in retreat mode). Moore took advantage of that tactical error and shot through that gap left in Shahryar (Jpn)’s wake, and had to summon all the talented colts willpower to stave off Up to the Mark, who lost just enough ground that likely cost him the win (and perhaps the Horse of the Year title). Shahryar (Jpn) re-rallied to be third with King of Steel and Mostahdaf (Ire) both fading late despite what seemed to be good trips. In the aftermath, Moore was fined $20k and set down for a day after it was determined that he used the whip one too many times though the good news is that Auguste Rodin (Ire) will return for a 4 yo campaign. Up to the Mark is off to the stud, the second high profile colt from Commissioner Repole’s stable whisked away to greener pastures, as is Mostahdaf (Ire) who was listed at £15,000 for his first season which seems more than fair.
Breeders Cup Turf Sprint
The Breeders Cup may have to capitulate to NBC and not run the Classic last but the Going in Circles Digest won’t follow along on that demented plan! The Turf Sprint, which went into television witness protection on USA network (I think) when NBC switched to college football, turned out to be a real doozy, with a blanket finish between Nobals, Big Invasion and Aesop’s Fables (Ire), all within a neck at the wire. Gerardo Corrales came up big when shrugging off traffic to find a seam on the rail to guide Nobals to the winners circle, capping a career year for trainer Larry Rivelli who’s Two Phil’s ran a huge second in the Kentucky Derby before being retired with an injury after an easy score in the Ohio Derby (Gr 2). Big Invasion encountered plenty of trouble along the way and might have been best but if you are wagering on a dead closer in a 5 furlong turf sprint (too bad they didn’t have a downhill turf sprint course or an extended chute at Santa Anita….oh wait…) with Mr Rosario at the helm, you shouldn’t be shocked when traffic is encountered. Last years winner Caravel didn’t fire though she hasn’t been as good the second half of this season as she was last fall and odd post time favorite Motorious (GB) got a tough trip like half the field always seems to do in these scrambles. No Eclipse award for champion Turf Sprinter exists…so we will name Nobals the Going in Circles Digest turf sprinter of the year for 2023!
Breeders Cup Sprint
All year it’s felt like this was going to be Elite Powers’ race to lose and that is exactly how it turned out. For much of the year it felt like Gunite was a very good sprinter but just quite wasn’t as good as Elite Power and that how it turned out. There were a lot of pundits who felt that Mr Baffert had saved his best shot for the last race…that didn’t exactly turn out as Speed Boat Beach set solid but reasonable fractions on the lead before just not having enough late. Nakatomi ran a huge race, showing uncharacteristic speed from post one and then re-rallying once Luis Saez edged outside in the stretch, finishing only a half-length behind Gunite in 3rd.
Breeders Cup Classic
This assemblage was the worst Classic field of the 40 versions in the books and if you don’t believe me check out Track Phantom where the past performances for all of the Breeders Cup races ever held can be found. I admit that I didn’t think that White Abarrio could do what he did, which was sit close to a quick pace and still finish enough to hold off the closers at the 10 furlong distance. Hats off to Rick Dutrow for having the Race Day colt ready to roll despite having to navigate the murky waters of hoof issues combined with onerous regulatory oversight. Had Derma Sotogake (Jpn) been able to make his scheduled prep for this, he might have been able to make up that one length final margin considering he hadn’t run since the first Saturday in May. Everybody that’s not retired seems to be pointing toward the lucrative Middle Eastern events next spring but if Derma Sotogake (Jpn) continues to improve as a 4 year old, they’ll all be running for second. Proxy put in a nice run to be third in his swan song (can’t believe they’d pass up a shot at the Pegasus (Gr I) which looks like it might come up looking like a glorified optional claimer at this point) and Arabian Knight might be a big factor next season in the older horse division though his spring seems to be destined to be spent in Saudi Arabia. Ushba Tesoro (Jpn) simply got too far behind as did Dreamwork and Senior Buscador and Bright Future. Zandon didn’t fire in his finale (another one that should be racing in the Cigar Mile (Gr II) or Pegasus (Gr I) to attempt to…you know…win another race?) and Saudi Crown was doomed as soon as they decided to not go to the lead. Sure he might have been doomed either way but I’d rather lose doing what I do than lose letting someone else do what they do.
The 2023 Breeders Cup won’t go down as particularly memorable affair though it had its share of excellent performances. Being held at a steady beat of the same locales has led to the homogenization of the event, west coast Cups all seem to blend in together. Surely we all understand that one of the original tenants that the Breeders Cup was built upon, shifting the championships to various tracks all across the continent to help promote the sport, has been lost. Changing dynamics of racing are to blame more than anything, as so many of the original rotation of venues don’t even even exist (Hollywood Park, Arlington Park) or are so drastically different (Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, Lone Star, Woodbine) that it’s understandable why the list of potentials has narrowed greatly. Yet radical change is desperately needed in racing and the Breeders Cup is squarely on that list too.
Far too often in the racing world, residual fallout is ignored and blame is shoved under the rug as to not offend anyone. It’s one of the real cancers of the industry, that lack of accountability for the negative, which in turn leads to that illness not being treated and the wounds often fester till we wind up on 60 minutes. A strong industry would be far better equipped to deal with the shifting winds of change in the marketplace in which we exist but we only tend to see focus on the inane like regulation and polarizing conversations about controversial individuals. Meanwhile the competition is charging ahead, steadily luring our customers away while the industry stalwarts keep handing them over with “partnerships” that they foolishly believe will do the opposite.
The Breeders Cup is stale and you won’t hear that anywhere else…but it’s true. Interest is falling for a number of reasons, some directly the fault of the maneuvers that the Cup has made or not made, others more subtle but easily identifiable if we are being frank.
It’s too expensive. Stop comparing our big events with other major sporting events! Stop! We are not in the same league (pardon the pun) with the NFL or NBA and the pricing of tickets (and parking, etc) is discouraging for the younger people that we supposedly are looking to appeal to. The more “elitist” you price the event, the more narrow the growth possibilities become and by having the event in the same few places again and again, you temper enthusiasm with the “been there, done that” crowd.
Help fix the rest of the schedule. One of the distressing trends that has accelerated to close to epidemic proportions this season was the weakness of the Fall stakes as the “training up” virus has spread. The Breeders Cup is the overwhelming focus for all the divisions past the three year old colts glamour races of the Triple Crown and summer stakes (Haskell, Jim Dandy, Travers, Pa Derby). It’s bad enough that unchecked trends toward supertrainers has diluted graded stakes competition throughout the early portion of the season but traditional Breeders Cup prep days in October have become a shell of what they used to be. “Win and Your In” needs an overhaul and any sharp industry would come together to build a platform of races leading up to a championship event, one that fostered competition beyond just one weekend, creating rivalries and pitting the best against the best more than once…since too often “the best” doesn’t even make it to November.
The TV situation is a mess. Fix it. We have been streaming races for decades yet no one ever thought… “hey let’s give Apple or Amazon or Netflix or one of the massive media companies a call and see how they’d react to being offered a legacy two day sporting event for a pittance compared to what they pay other sports for content”? I believe the NBC deal is close to the end and re-upping with them under these current circumstances would be a disaster. Literally everyone agrees that the days are too long, with TV producers cast as the villains in this regard, so perhaps keep that in mind when deciding how to proceed in the future?
Scrap the Dirt Mile and extend the Sprint to 7f. Boom! Thank God for Cody’s Wish but he is retired now and the Dirt Mile is not helping the cause.
There is more but this is an Epilogue not a business plan. When we hold a Breeders Cup and one of the consistently heard themes post race was relief that the races were free of catastrophic events (outside of Demuro’s ride in the Turf), that should be sobering enough to spur change…but I doubt it.