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Looking for lessons from 1st Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar

Often the best way to foretell the future is to look to the past.

So with the 38th Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar two weeks away, I decided to revisit the 2017 Breeders’ Cup — the only time the two-day thoroughbred championship series has been held “where the turf meets the surf” — to see if those races might inform my thinking the second time around.

I’m glad I did, as I had forgotten just how unusual the races were that year.

The Del Mar dirt track completely can change in nature from one day to the next, or sometimes in mere hours. At times it is friendly to speed, but at others, closers in the middle of the track seem to dominate. As I wrote in 2019, it’s almost as if someone flips a switch.

The way I saw it in 2017, that switch was mostly turned to “closer” mode, as runners came from off the pace on both the dirt and turf over the two days of racing.

The only horse to win gate-to-wire was Gun Runner, one of the best classic distance runners of modern times. Every other race was won from off the pace — fairly unusual in California racing.

That’s not to say you want to back horses coming from the clouds. A solid majority of the races were won by horses that either raced close behind the front-runners or in midpack in the early going.

On the dirt, an outside position was not a bad place to be. More important was to be close to the pace by the second call.

On the turf, a ground-saving trip and move to the outside in the upper stretch was usually the ticket to success.

Del Mar will host two days of racing before the first Breeders’ Cup races are run on Nov. 5, so I’d advise paying close attention to get a better sense of how the track is playing.

Other Breeders’ Cup notes

Embattled Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will be allowed to enter horses in the Breeders’ Cup races, but they will undergo extensive additional drug testing at his expense, officials announced Sunday. … Godolphin’s Maxfield will skip the $6 million Classic in favor of the Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs late next month. … Mishriff, winner of the second $20 million Saudi Cup in February, will not ship in to contest the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, trainer John Gosden said Thursday.

Best Breeders’ Cup storyline so far? It’s got to be Queen Supreme, a two-time Group 1 winner in South Africa who will make her final start in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. She is nearing the end of a nearly five-month journey to get to Southern California for the race due to restrictive equine shipping regulations requiring extensive quarantine periods along the way.

There’s a new app in town

Last, a bit of good news for Nevada horseplayers: Boyd Gaming has added horse racing to its sports betting app, allowing customers to wager seamlessly from a single account on both humans and horses.

This might not sound like a big deal if you’ve never bet from your smartphone. But until now, Nevada horseplayers who like to dabble in other forms of sports wagering had to open two separate accounts, fill out two sets of paperwork, make two deposits, get two passcodes, etc. And if you tapped out in one account, you had to withdraw money from the other one and transfer it.

No longer. If you download the new Boyd Sports app from either the Apple or Google stores, you should be good to go if you have money in your sports betting account. If you’re a new customer, it’s off to the book you go.

Bob Scucci, vice president of race &sports operations at Boyd, noted that the company also recently expanded the app’s sports betting menu.

“We feel like it gives the overall experience of being able to bet almost anything, whatever we’re able to take here in Nevada,” he said.

Saving the best for last

Longtime readers of this space will recall the strange saga of Mr. Changue, who was swallowed by a sinkhole at Fort Erie racetrack in Ontario in July 2019, then went on to win his next race after his dramatic rescue. The story came to a happy conclusion this week with word that the 8-year-old gelding has been retired and is being shopped for “a forever home,” trainer Ken Albu told the Paulick Report this week.

Enjoy the quiet life, Mr. Changue. You earned it!

Speaking of earning some time off, jockey Mario Pino, 60, announced early Thursday that his amazing 45-year riding career would come to a close at the end of the day’s racing at Fort Erie, one day after he became just the 10th U.S. rider to surpass 7,000 wins.

Pino is a class act who fully deserves to be in the Racing Hall of Fame. I hope voters will rectify that soon.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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