11/02/2017 1:20PM

Breeders' Cup gives Del Mar its chance to shine

Susie Raisher
Del Mar is hosting the Breeders' Cup for the first time.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Dan Hendricks grew up just inland from Del Mar racetrack and has been a trainer on this circuit for 30 years after being an assistant before that, so he has seen Del Mar itself, and the area around here, grow exponentially over the years.

Back when Hendricks first started going to the races here, Del Mar had its original grandstand, which was built by cofounders Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien for the small crowds and population of greater San Diego in 1937.

But in the past quarter-century, Del Mar built a new, modern grandstand, and Hollywood Park closed, giving Del Mar additional fall dates to go along with its traditional summer season. That confluence of events, along with Del Mar developing into a national powerhouse, made Del Mar ever more attractive to the Breeders’ Cup, and this weekend Del Mar takes its rightful place on the international stage by playing host for the first time to the Breeders’ Cup, whose two-day extravaganza comes to a close Saturday.

“It’s a lot of fun to see it here,” Hendricks said Thursday morning as he watched his Breeders’ Cup Mile entrant, Om, gallop enthusiastically around the track. “They updated the whole place to accommodate the Breeders’ Cup and put on a show. It’s nice to have an international event like this, and with it being in California, it’s nice to see Del Mar get it because Del Mar is unique.”

Yes, this Breeders’ Cup is a popular one not only because of the quality of the runners assembled but because of its location. There are a number of people, from the East Coast of the United States and especially from overseas, who had never been here until this week, including such prominent trainers as Shug McGaughey and Aidan O’Brien.

There are nine Breeders’ Cup races Saturday, following the four that were to be run Friday, the last and richest of them the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, which features a showdown for Horse of the Year between Arrogate and Gun Runner, with both Collected and West Coast also having a rightful claim to the title should either prevail.

But it’s the matchup between Arrogate and Gun Runner, ranked as the two best dirt horses in the world, that is the focal point of this race. They were one-two, in that order, in the Dubai World Cup in March. Since then, though, Arrogate has lost twice, with both losses at Del Mar, while Gun Runner has won three straight.

Arrogate is one of five horses running Saturday trying to defend Breeders’ Cup titles from 2016, along with Drefong in the Sprint, Finest City in the Filly and Mare Sprint, Highland Reel in the Turf, and Queen’s Trust in the Filly and Mare Turf.

Three other Breeders’ Cup winners from prior years are seeking a second win Saturday. Oscar Performance, winner of last year’s Juvenile Turf, faces Highland Reel in the Turf, while Mongolian Saturday tries to capture the Turf Sprint two years after winning that race at Keeneland.

But the previous race winner drawing the most attention outside of Arrogate might be the popular Lady Eli, who won the Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2014 and now seeks a Filly and Mare Turf title in what is likely the final start of her career, one in which she recovered from the potentially fatal disease laminitis.

Both Moonshine Memories in the Juvenile Fillies and Bolt d’Oro in the Juvenile are trying to complete perfect seasons with victories that would secure Eclipse Awards in their respective divisions.

There are three stakes races preceding the nine Breeders’ Cup races Saturday, with the day’s first race at 10:10 a.m. Pacific. The first Breeders’ Cup race, the Juvenile Fillies, is scheduled for noon, with the Classic slated for 5:35 p.m. Sunset is at 5:55.

Coverage on NBCSN begins at 10:30 a.m., with two of the undercard stakes and then the first eight of the Breeders’ Cup races on a 6 1/2-hour telecast that ends at 5 p.m. After that, coverage switches over to NBC for the Classic, which will be shown during a one-hour telecast from 5-6 p.m.

It should be an ideal fall day, with high a high temperature of 70 degrees, according to Weather.com. In other words, typical Del Mar weather. The racing has the potential to be just as wonderful.

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