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2017 Breeders' Cup prepares for first-ever Del Mar visit

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Arrogate, seen defeating California Chrome in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Classic, will defend his crown Nov. 4 at Del Mar. Photo courtesy of Breeders' Cup
Arrogate, seen defeating California Chrome in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Classic, will defend his crown Nov. 4 at Del Mar. Photo courtesy of Breeders' Cup

Oct. 25 (UPI) -- An international cast flush with top-level winners signed on to contest this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships as the event makes its first-ever stop Nov. 3 and 4 at Del Mar, the track built by the stars of Hollywood's Golden Age.

There were no major surprises in Wednesday's pre-entry announcement, save perhaps an indication from Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien that Churchill, winner of both the early-season Group 1 races for 3-year-olds in the UK, is likely to take on the best of American runners in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

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O'Brien told an English conference call "the lads", the Coolmore partner owners "will make the final decision. But there's a big chance Churchill will go for the Classic."

O'Brien, who already has tied the record of 15 Group 1 or Grade I events in a calendar year, handles 14 of the 36 European runners pre-entered for the 14 races with more than $28 million to total purse money.

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The $6 million Classic, as is usually the case, is the most anticipated race of the two days and likely to determine U.S. "Horse of the Year" honors.

Bob Baffert, who has trained the last three Classic winners, pre-entered five for this year's renewal. Among those are last year's winner, Arrogate; 3-year-old sensation West Coast; Collected, who defeated Arrogate in the $1 million Pacific Classic in August; Cupid and Mubtaahij. Cupid has "first preference" to run in the $1 million Las Vegas Dirt Mile.

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The likely favorite in the Classic, however, is Gun Runner, who finished second to Arrogate in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March but has not lost in three races since.

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Churchill is a wild card. The 3-year-old colt, a son of Europe's top stallion Galileo, has not won since May, when he swept the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas, both at 1 mile. He also has been successful at the 1 1/4 miles of the Classic.

The $4 million Breeders' Cup Longines Turf will be a battle between seemingly dominant Europeans led by Ulysses, last year's winner, Highland Reel and Decorated Knight and a more aspirational American contingent headed by Arlington Million winner Beach Patrol and Secretariat Stakes winner Oscar Performance.

Kentucky Oaks winner Able Tasman heads a tough and competitive field for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. Hard-knocking Europeans Ribchester, Roly Poly and Lancaster Bomber are among the pre-entries for the $2 million Mile on the turf. The $1 million Turf Sprint features an outstanding European in Marsha and 2015 winner Mongolian Saturday. Lady Eli, whose career nearly ended two years ago with an injury and near-fatal illness, is a sentimental favorite for the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf but will face some accomplished Europeans.

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The first Breeders' Cup World Championships were run in 1984 at Hollywood Park in Los Angeles. The event has moved around, from Woodbine near Toronto to Gulfstream Park north of Miami and from Belmont Park on New York's Long Island to Monmouth Park on the New Jersey shore, to Arlington Park near Chicago, Lone Star Park in Dallas-Fort Worth, Churchill Downs in Louisville and Santa Anita, north of Los Angeles.

The Breeders' Cup never before has visited Del Mar, which opened July 3, 1937, with Bing Crosby taking tickets at the front gate. The track was built by a partnership including Crosby, Pat O'Brien, Gary Cooper, Joe E. Brown, Charles S. Howard and Oliver Hardy.

In its early days, Del Mar also hosted many of the silver screen's top stars including Mickey Rooney, Ava Gardner, Red Skelton, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Croby co-wrote and sang the unofficial theme song for the seaside track, "Where the Turf Meets the Surf."

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