Del Mar held its first Breeders’ Cup this year, following in the footsteps of boutique track Keeneland two years ago. Unable to attend as hoped, I settled into a room at the National Horse Show in Lexington to watch on a large screen.
I read prior to the Cup that Del Mar’s tight turns may have been a factor in how races unfolded, and whether that played a role or not, a lot of favored horses didn’t prevail. I would have liked to see Lady Eli go out a winner if indeed this was her last race, after all the adversity she overcame just to survive and then come back to the races in top form. She was not able to do that, but she did have a valid yet unfortunate excuse, sustaining a cut to a leg during the race that required recuperation time afterwards and led to her being withdrawn from the Keeneland November sale.
Longshots continued to check in first at the wire on the second day of the Breeders’ Cup, and amazingly Good Magic, who came into the race a maiden, won the Juvenile. His maiden status may have not been indicative of his quality, as he is a Curlin colt, and is still young. Time will tell going forward.
Talismanic captured the Breeders’ Cup Turf in what to me had been the most exciting Breeders’ Cup race to that time, particularly after a few others I had liked had not been able to win. His victory was one of determination. That always speaks to me.
But it was after the race he endeared himself to me, and echoed what a friend had said a few days ago about how the sport should always be about the love of the horse and everything else should be secondary. That may not ring true to handicappers, but few sports have a living breathing animal counterpart who–I have heard it said–is at times as much a factor in how the race plays out, in how he or she makes a run and tactics used, as the jockey can be. It is very true to me that the love of the horse, as sentimental as that sounds in a sport that can also be ruled by the dollar or the bottom line, should be part of what draws people in and keeps them captivated. A horse running in full flight, determined to excel, means more to me than any payout on a winning bet. Connection to the sport for some may be because of bets and payouts. That’s fine. Betting is part of the formula to keep racing going forward. To me, though it is about the horse.
Talismanic’s trainer hitting the ground in sheer uncontainable excitement after his horse won; even a simple thing like Talismanic trying to take a nibble of the bouquet of flowers in his victory garland, and the way his connections greeted him with completely spontaneous applause when he came back to the barn–all of this made his win a highlight, and made him one of my new favorites. And it was all because of those moments of connection to him, even on an opposite coast and through a TV screen. So yes, it definitely is about the love of the horse for me and that was an apt reminder of what my friend had said a few days before.
The other moment I hoped for was to see Gun Runner continue his run to excellence in the Classic. Yet I almost had a feeling of not wanting to jinx him, given had favorites’ chances had played out, silly as that may sound.
I was nearly beside myself when he was in charge into the stretch and didn’t relinquish his lead, proving his dominance throughout the latter half of the year held strong. I know Arrogate had a lot of backers, but I had never been on the bandwagon for him; Gun Runner had just captivated me to such an extent no other older horse could split that.
It is incredibly fun to be in a room with other racing fans, even if you’re not at a track, when a favored horse wins and fully express that jubilation. I’m usually pretty reserved but when Gun Runner captured the Classic, I jumped up and down and hugged my friend, elated at his win. The elation even fed off of the excitement of others who were present and equally enthused. Again, it was about the love of the horse, so fitting on a day to showcase some of the best in training at the time.
The Breeders’ Cup ended on an incredibly high note for me with that victory.