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Liane Crossley: International racing stars to shine in California at Breeders’ Cup World Championships

Thoroughbred racing’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships is often compared to the Super Bowl and the World Series—the sport’s unofficial grand finale that showcases the very best. The two-day Breeders’ Cup is 13 races with total prize money of $28-million. Races comprise virtually every division in Thoroughbred racing—dirt, turf, age, male and female horses, sprint and distance.

Designed to be hosted by different tracks, the Breeders’ Cup rolls into Del Mar Turf Club near San Diego for the first time since its inaugural edition in 1984. Keeneland was a first­-time host in 2015 when Triple Crown winner American Pharoah famously closed his career by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Churchill Downs welcomes the event next year for the ninth time.

The headliner is Saturday’s $6-million Classic featuring a showdown between last year’s winner Arrogate and Gun Runner who has won three straight top-shelf races since finishing second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in March. Gun Runner was third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby while the late-blooming Arrogate bypassed the race. All but two of the Classic entrants were born in Kentucky.

Dozens of entrants were based at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. Those runners include the winners of Keeneland’s premiere October races— Bucchero (entered in Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint), Finley’sluckycharm (Filly and Mare Sprint), Flameaway (Juvenile Turf), Free Drop Billy (Juvenile), Heavenly Love (Juvenile Fillies), Romantic Vision (Distaff), Rushing Fall (Juvenile Fillies Turf), Suedois (Mile) Whitmore (Sprint) and Zipessa (Filly and Mare Turf). NBC Sports Network will broadcast the races Friday from 4:30 to 8:00 p.m. ET and from 1:30 to 8 p.m. on Saturday. Post time for Saturday’s Classic is 8:35 p.m. with live coverage on NBC starting at 8 p.m.

In post-position order with jockey, trainer and owner in parentheses, here is the field for the Classic:

1. Arrogate (Mike Smith, Bob Baffert, Juddmonte Farms)

Arrogate was an unknown in the spring of 2016 but was well known by year’s end as winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He picked up where he left off in 2017 by winning two of the richest Thoroughbred races on the planet— Pegasus World Cup at Florida’s Gulfstream Park and Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. In his other two starts, he was fourth and then second in upper level races at Del Mar this past summer.


2. War Decree (Seamie Heffernan, Aidan O’Brien, Rosen-Magnier-Tabor)

Kentucky-born War Decree will be making his first start in America after racing in England, Ireland and France. His highly respected connections acknowledge that he has plenty of talent but does not always put forth his best effort.


3. Win the Space (Joe Talamo, George Papaprodromou, Rustin Kretz)

Win the Space is back for another try in the Classic after finishing last a year ago. His owner is a relative newcomer to racing who was inspired to start his own stable after attending the 2010 Kentucky Derby.


4. War Story (Jose Ortiz, Jorge Navarro, Loooch Racing Stables)

War Story returns to the Classic after finishing off the board in last year’s renewal at Santa Anita. His name is familiar in headliner races including the 2015 Kentucky Derby in which he was unplaced.


5. Gun Runner (Florent Geroux, Steve Asmussen, Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm)

Gun Runner has established himself as arguably America’s best racehorse in 2017. He comes to the Classic after capping a three-race winning streak with an easy triumph in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Race Course on September 2. The victory came with an amusing oddity as he finished with a rival’s lost shoe tangled in his tail.


6. Mubtaahji (Drayden Van Dyke, Bob Baffert, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Makoum)

In his only start since being transferred to trainer Bob Baffert for an American campaign, Irish-born Mubtaahi was an upper echelon winner at Santa Anita in Southern California in September. He was fourth behind Classic rivals Arrogate and Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup in March.


7. Churchill (Ryan Moore, Aidan O’Brien, Tabor-Magnier-Smith)

Churchill will be making his first American start after a highly successful career in his native Ireland and England.

8. West Coast (Javier Castellano, Bob Baffert, Gary and Mary West)

With five consecutive triumphs, West Coast is a leading contender for year-end honors as America’s best three-year-old and overall best runner. He has been facing only his own age group in his previous starts that includes dominant scores in the Pennsylvania Derby and Saratoga’s Travers Stakes.


9. Gunnevera (Edgard Zayas, Antonio Sano, Margoth)

Gunnevera is a proven commodity in his own age group the past two years but he has never faced older competitors. The budget-priced yearling purchase and his trainer are known for overcoming adversity including remaining at their South Florida base instead of evacuating in advance of Hurricane Irma in September. When the storm changed course, the stable was unaffected. From a family of trainers in his native Venezuela, Sano fled to South Florida in 2010 to escape the country’s turmoil that included his own kidnapping. With support from his previous clients, Sano restocked his stable and soon was winning races.

10. Paval (Mario Gutierrez, Doug O’Neill, Paul Reddam)

Paval has raced just four times. In his most recent start, he was third behind two of the nation’s best horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 7 at New York’s Belmont Park. His jockey, trainer and owner are best known for winning the Kentucky Derby in 2016 with Nyquist and 2012 with I’ll Have Another


11. Collected (Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert, Speedway Stable)

Collected spent much of his career in the shadow of his well known stable mate and Classic rival Arrogate. Then he made a name for himself by defeating Arrogate in the Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar the last time they both raced on August 19.


(All photos from Breeder’s Cup)

Lexington-based freelance writer Liane Crossley is a lifelong lover of Thoroughbred racing who has held a variety of jobs in both barns and offices. Her favorite part of the industry is being with the horses and the people who share her passion for them. She can be reached at crossleyliane@yahoo.com

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