Powell's impressions of Breeders' Cup 2017 in its Del Mar debut
by Dick Powell
The Breeders’ Cup is over and I am in an airport waiting to go back home to Saratoga. Some impressions before they begin to fade and blur.
Being a Saratoga guy, this was my first trip to Del Mar. Never had the time before but the Breeders’ Cup made it a perfect reason to go, even if it was the off season.
The facility is smaller than I thought but they handled the crowds well. For a track built way back, I was surprised how small the concourses were around the mutual bays but the lines were manageable.
One reason they were manageable is that attendance was limited due to the size of the facility. Don’t quite understand this since I thought we were trying to grow our sport, not try to fit a size six head into a size six hat. Simply put, if a track needs to put a cap on attendance because of its size, then the Breeders’ Cup should look elsewhere. Get a bigger hat!
I was completely wrong on how the main track would play Friday. It started out fast but then, as the day went on and the sun was going down, it got slower and favored horses on the outside.
In the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), I liked Aidan O’Brien’s SEPTEMBER. She looked good in the paddock but when she got out on to the track, she refused to be handled by the pony and started melting down.
Horses in Europe, and most other places, leave the paddock and when they get out on the track they head for the start. There is no post parade. September was anxious and Seamie Heffernan did a masterful job staying aboard. She was propping and bucking and then, when the post parade was over and I hoped she would finally settle down, she galloped off while bucking. Not what you want to see.
At the start, both September and her stablemate HAPPILY missed the start and their races were virtually over. September made a huge run from 14th with three furlongs to go to get third but it wasn’t enough as Chad Brown trainee RUSHING FALL got off to a hot start and made her record three-for-three with Javier Castellano.
In the Dirt Mile (G1), I thought BATTLE OF MIDWAY would not be able to overcome a wide trip from post nine. So, he raced three or four wide around both turns and ran down SHARP AZTECA in the deep stretch.
The Juvenile Turf (G1) turned into Aidan O’Brien’s 27th Group/Grade 1 stakes win when Ryan Moore hustled $3 million yearling purchase MENDELSSOHN from post one, gained early position on the inside and found a seam to run through to beat UNTAMED DOMAN. It was as American a ride as you will ever see from a European rider, and rather than get shuffled back from the inside, he was on the pace.
The Distaff (G1) took on some confusing aspects with the way the main track was playing. CHAMPAGNE ROOM went to the front from post one, as expected, and PARADISE WOODS stalked on the outside. The riders seemed to be avoiding the rail so Paradise Woods was pretty far out in the track as Flavien Prat tried to get her to settle.
The star of the paddock was ABEL TASMAN as she looked spectacular. Big and long, I thought her loss in the Cotillion Stakes (G1) was a sign of going backward but she looked like she was in mid-season form.
The speed started to back up as they turned for home and here came FOREVER UNBRIDLED on the turn, picking up horses willingly with new rider Johnny Velazquez, and she surged to the lead in the stretch.
No sooner did she take the lead did Abel Tasman arrive on the scene and the three-year-old filly almost caught her older rival. Forever Unbridled’s upset win continues a trend for Dallas Stewart having his horses ready on the biggest day. In fact, the trend started when Forever Unbridled’s dam, LEMONS FOREVER, won the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at huge odds.
The difference between winning and losing was Velazquez making his run before Abel Tasman made hers. He seized the advantage and withheld the late charge from Abel Tasman. If she gets caught, he gets criticized for moving too soon but he rode Del Mar like he owned it and used the relatively short stretch to best advantage.
Abel Tasman is a long-striding filly and it looked like she had trouble handing the turns.
Sitting and watching the races in person gives you a real understanding of the short stretch. The turf course is seven furlongs, the same as Saratoga’s inner turf course. But at Saratoga, the stretch seems to go on forever while at Del Mar it comes up awfully quick. The difference is Del Mar has the finish line way up the stretch and Saratoga has its finish line at the end of the stretch.