Record-setting crowds at Santa Anita Park- 45,763 on November 4 and 72,811 on November 5- were rewarded with fantastic finishes when thoroughbred racing’s top stars met for the 33rd annual Breeders’ Cup. Thirteen races were spread across the two days, with outstanding racing moments in both.
The highlight of Friday’s card was the Distaff. The 1 1/8 mile race brought together undefeated 3-year-old filly Songbird, 6-year-old champion Beholder, and 4-year-old Stellar Wind. Early on, jockey Mike Smith took Songbird to the lead. Beholder, guided by Gary Stevens, dropped back to stay in third for much of the race. Stellar Wind, who twice won against Beholder earlier this year, had a poor start and never quite got back up to top form.
Coming into the finishing stretch, Beholder made her move to challenge Songbird. In a photo finish, Beholder was the victor by the tip of her nose! This was Beholder’s third Breeders’ Cup win; she previously won 2012’s Juvenile Fillies and 2013’s Distaff. It was also the final race of Beholder’s phenomenal racing career; the three time Eclipse Award winner now retires to become a broodmare.
Saturday’s eight races also featured final stretch victories. In the Filly and Mare Turf, Great Britain’s Queen’s Trust came up from 11th place to win by a nose over favorite Lady Eli. The Twinspires Sprint became a battle between Bob Baffert’s Drefong and Ron Ellis-trained Masochistic, with Drefong ultimately emerging the victor. Another Baffert-trained horse, Lord Nelson, had been scheduled to compete in the Sprint but had to be scratched after a cut on his leg became infected.
The Turf Sprint delivered another photo finish when Dan Hendricks’ Om almost caught Phil D’Amato’s Obviously at the finish line. However, 8-year-old Obviously held on to win by a nose. It was Obviously’s first victory in five Breeders’ Cup tries.
Ireland’s Highland Reel, from the barn of Aidan O’Brien, amazed the crowd with a wire to wire win in the $4million Longines Turf. Under a ride by Seamus Heffernan, Highland Reel made running the 1 ½ mile race look easy, outdistancing the rest of the field by 7 lengths at the one mile marker and ultimately winning by 1 ¾ lengths.
Saturday’s most anticipated race was the Breeders’ Cup Classic. 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist had been scheduled to run but was scratched and retired to Kentucky after an injury. California Chrome, the even money favorite in the morning line, came into the Classic having won all of his 2016 races. His main rival this time was Bob Baffert’s lightly raced Arrogate, a 3-year-old who caught the racing world’s attention with a record setting 13 ½ length win in August’s Travers Stakes.
When the gates opened for the Classic, jockey Victor Espinoza took California Chrome to the lead. Joe Talamo had Melatonin keep the pressure on Chrome for most of the race, while Arrogate and rider Mike Smith stayed nearby in third.
In the final stretch for home, Chrome looked like he was going to claim his seventh victory of the year. But, Smith encouraged Arrogate to make a last minute surge, powering past California Chrome for the win. Arrogate’s victory gave trainer Bob Baffert his third consecutive win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, having succeeded in 2014 with Bayern and in 2015 with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
This was California Chrome’s second attempt at the Classic; he previously took third in 2014. After the race, jockey Espinoza speculated he possibly should have let Chrome pull away a bit earlier. In spite of this hindsight, Chrome’s second place finish still earned him his best Beyer Speed Figure so far in his career. Chrome is next scheduled to head to January’s $12million Pegasus Stakes at Gulfstream in Florida.