For the first time in its 34-year history, the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Del Mar Racetrack near San Diego, California, about 111 miles south of Santa Anita, where the championships have been run nine times.
Del Mary typically holds racing in the summer, but since Hollywood Park in Los Angeles closed in 2013, Del Mar has staged racing in the autumn the last three years.
Hoping to lure the Breeders’ Cup, Del Mar officials widened the turf course in 2014. It is now 80 feet wide and will be able accommodate the maximum 14 horses that are permitted to run in a Breeders’ Cup race.
The distances of some of the Breeders’ Cup races have changed for this year. For example, the Filly and Mare Turf, typically run at 1 1-4 miles, will be run at 1 1-8 miles. The Turf Sprint, which at Santa Anita was run down-the-hill going 6 1-2 furlongs, will now be run at 5 furlongs around one turn. The Turf and the two-year-old turf races will remain at their regular distances of 1 1-2 miles and a mile.
Mike Smith, the jockey with the most wins in Breeders’ Cup history, 25 victories and $34.2 million in purse earnings, talked to At The Races about how the Del Mar track might play during Breeders’ Cup.
Smith said the turf course can be a little tricky because in a race like the Filly and Mare Turf, horses come out of a chute before having to take a slight left to join up with the main course. Smith likened it to the course at Aqueduct in New York “where you have that little angle coming out of that chute,” Smith said. “It can be a little tricky at times and turns are a little tighter.”
The Hall of Famer did say the course plays fair and despite being in a dry climate, he says the course “is spongy.”
“It’s a little bit more of a tricky turf course but it’s fair and it’s very kind and the horses get over it very well, and they come running on it,” Smith said. “I won stakes on this turf course from way back. People could do a little too much (early) on it and pay for it in the end. I think it’ll play pretty true to form and I think the Europeans are going to be pleasantly surprised.”
Smith said Del Mar’s main track this summer was deeper and slower than in past years. It was one that Arrogate, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, struggled with at least in the San Diego Handicap in July.
“Del Mar used to be a more speed-favoring oriented racetrack and although it still helped to have speed it was much slower in the summer time,” Smith said. “I’m hoping it gets a little tighter for this fall meet coming up. Other than that it was great, it was safe.”
Race replay: TVG San Diego Handicap, Del Mar, July 2017.
Smith said the one-turn races such as Sprint at six furlongs and Filly & Mare Sprint at seven furlongs: “play true to form. You got a long run down the backstretch, plenty of time to get situated and sorted,” Smith said.
The legendary jockey said the same is true for the two-turn races such as the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1-4 miles and the Distaff at 1 1-8 miles, where there is ample run to the first turn for horses to get their position.
Smith said the two-turn races such as the Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, both at 1 1-16 miles, and the Dirt Mile, could be dicey for those who draw outside posts. There have been limited two-turn races run at Del Mar that had more than 10 starters.
He said horses who draw outside of post 10 could be in trouble.
Smith said post position: “can play a role in two different ways. If you’re hung way out there, you’re hung way out there and if you’re down inside there’s a chance if you don’t get away as well as you’d like you might get shuffled back further than you want to be. I think it’s important to jump well to get a good position; it’d be crucial.”
Though Arrogate has lost his last two starts, Smith said he believes the big grey locomotive who overcame a disastrous start to win the Dubai World Cup is rounding back into form.
“Coming back from Dubai, getting left and knocked around it probably knocked him on his but a little more than we thought,” Smith said. “Bob’s done a great job getting him fresh again, keeping him fit and happy. His energy’s back, his weights back, he looks like he used to look.”