Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred Championships in Del Mar concludes Saturday

DEL MAR (KUSI) — The two-day Breeders’ Cup Thoroughbred Championships concludes Saturday with nine races, including the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, at Del Mar, which is hosting the event for the first time.

Gun Runner, the 9-5 morning line favorite, comes into the Classic with four wins and a second in five starts this year and the No. 1 ranking in the National Thoroughbred Association’s Top Thoroughbred Poll.

Trainer Steve Asmussen said the 4-year-old colt is "considerably faster" than last year, when he finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

"I’m greatly appreciative of this opportunity," Asmussen said. "It’s obviously a very special running of the Classic."

Gun Runner will be pitted against four horses from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s barn, including Arrogate, who won the Classic in 2016 and handed Gun Runner his only defeat this year in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March. 

Baffert’s other entries are Collected, who beat Arrogate in their last start in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August; West Coast, who has a five- race win streak, and Mubtaahij, who won his first start for his new trainer in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita in September.

Rounding out the Classic field are: Churchill and War Decree, who were shipped over from Europe by veteran trainer Aidan O’Brien; Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera; Smarty Jones victor Pavel; Brooklyn winner War Story; and the gray, Win the Space, who was third in the Awesome Again. 

During a recent conference call, Baffert called the Classic “a pretty deep field," saying "there are some good horses in there." Saturday’s other races are:    — the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile featuring 9-5 morning line favorite Bolt d’Oro, who has a perfect three-for-three record, including two wins at Del Mar. The 2-year-old colt is owned and trained by Mick Ruis, who said he thinks it’s "awesome" that the race is in San Diego County, where he was born and raised.

"We’re going to have a lot of local family (members) and friends here," Ruis said. Bolt d’Oro’s rivals will include The Tabulator, who is also unbeaten in three starts.
  — the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, with Lady Eli as the 5- 2 morning line favorite. The 5-year-old mare successfully battled laminitis, an inflammatory condition of the tissues, after stepping on a nail, returning to the races in 2016 with a win and two second-place finishes, including a loss by a nose in the Filly and Mare Turf to Queen’s Trust, whom she will face again this year.

"Lady Eli is a very special horse to me and my entire staff and her owners for all she’s overcome, for her incredible talent that she has and so many places she’s brought us together," her trainer, Chad Brown, said during a recent conference call.

"I’ve never seen one up close with this much heart and determination and I just hope everyone has the opportunity to be close to a horse like this some time in their lives."   — the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, which will include defending champion, Highland Reel, The 7-2 morning line favorite Ulysses was scratched based on the recommendation of the track veterinarian.

   — the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which the Irish-bred Ribchester was made the 7-2 morning line favorite.

   — the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which another of Baffert’s horses, Drefong, will attempt to defend his title as the 5-2 morning line favorite.

   — the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, in which the California-based Unique Bella will try to keep her perfect record this year intact. The 9-5 morning line favorite is five-for-five this year, with only one loss in her career. Her rivals will include last year’s winner, Finest City.

   — the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, in which the 5-2 morning line favorite Lady Aurelia is set to take on 11 rivals of both sexes.

   — the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, in which the 7-2 morning line favorite is Moonshine Memories, who is unbeaten in three starts, including two at Del Mar.

Four Breeders’ Cup races were run Friday, including the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff where Forever Unbridled kept her perfect record this year in tact.

The 5-year-old mare, who finished third in the Distaff at Santa Anita last year, won the 1 1/8-mile race by a half-length over her 3-year-old rival, Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman before a crowd announced at 32,278.

Another 3-year-old filly, Paradise Woods, finished third in the eight- horse field. Elate, who went off as the 2-1 favorite, finished fourth.

Forever Unbridled paid $9.40 to win, $5 to place and $3.40 to show as the bettors’ third choice. 

She had a late start to her season after undergoing surgery for a bone chip following last year’s Breeders’ Cup, and came into this year’s Distaff with a victory in the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs in June and a win by a neck over last year’s Distaff winner, Songbird, in the Personal Ensign in August.

Forever Unbridled’s trainer, Dallas Stewart, noted that owner Charles Fipke "could have retired her.”

"She was already a (Grade 1) winner but it wasn’t severe, and Chuck’s like, ‘I want to keep going on with her’ and he did," Stewart said.

"A lot of people — I mean, nine out of 10 guys, I think, would have retired her. But Chuck, being the guy he is, a sportsman and loves racing and wanted to see this happen for her, and he did it."

Now that the daughter of 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Unbridled’s Song and 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever has beaten some of the
nation’s best fillies and mares, she may be pointed to race next against male horses in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

"We’re definitely going to be considering it," the mare’s owner, Charles Fipke, said shortly after the Distaff. "That would be the goal … I don’t know how she’ll stack up against the colts.”

It was the second Breeders’ Cup victory for Fipke, who won the Filly and Mare Turf with Perfect Shirl in 2011, and for Stewart, who won the Distaff in 2001 with Unbridled Elaine, while it was jockey John Velazquez’s 15th career win in a Breeders’ Cup race.

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