Mike Hartnett: Notes on Gun Runner and the Breeders' Cup, plus a look ahead to 2018

Mike Hartnett: Notes on Gun Runner and the Breeders' Cup, plus a look ahead to 2018

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Del Mar was a splendid backd rop for thoroughbred racing's grand two-day event, the Breeders' Cup.

There were some memorable performances by the horses and there were some monumental upsets. Only two post-time favorites, Mendelssohn in the Juvenile Turf and World Approval in the Mile, won out of 13 Cup races (Gun Runner and Arrogate were virtual co-favorites, but a few thousand dollars more were wagered on Arrogate).

It wasn't so surprising that there were upsets, but to me, the main storyline of this Cup was the disappointing efforts by so many of the stars of 2017.

Of course, Gun Runner's star shined brightest at Del Mar. He delivered a show-stopper in the Classic, capping off a dazzling 4-year-old campaign. Look at his dominance in his last 4 races: He won the Stephen Foster by seven lengths, the Whitney by 5 ¼ , the Woodward by 10 ¼, and the Classic by 2 ¼.

Gun Runner is easily the Horse of the Year and his legion of fans will get to see him run one last time.

His career finale will be the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream on Jan. 27. After that race, he'll stand the 2018 breeding season at Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Kentucky.

Is there a runner out there that will challenge Gun Runner in the Pegasus? At this time, looks like Bob Baffert will take another shot as his colts, Collected and West Coast, will be pointed to the Gulfstream event.

Yes, Gun Runner lived up to his hype at Del Mar, but several Cup favorites faltered.

The 2-year-old colt, Bolt d'Oro, certainly did not have a good day. He was widely thought to be heads-and-shoulders above his competition but could only muster a third place run in the Juvenile. Bolt d'Oro stumbled slightly at the start and ended up wide most of the trip.

Meantime, Good Magic leaped into the Kentucky Derby picture by winning the Juvenile. Based on his pair of Grade One wins, Bolt d'Oro could still be voted 2-year -old champion. His trainer, Mick Ruis, said his runner likely would be pointed to the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby.

There were other puzzling performances by major contenders last Saturday. Lady Aurelia was the 9-10 choice to take the Turf Sprint but finished 10th. Race favorite Unique Bella had an off day in the Filly & Mare Sprint as Bar of Gold won at odds of 66-to-1.

Drefong was 7-to-5 to capture the Sprint but didn't fire, running sixth. Lady Eli was a star all year long and was a solid favorite in the Filly & Mare Turf. She had an off-day too, running seventh. Yes, there were head-scratchers, but hey, that's racing.

And so we anticipate 2018, when the Cup returns to Churchill Downs. No future sites have been finalized beyond next year, but one has to guess that Kentucky and California will be heavily considered. Santa Anita and Churchill need to be in the rotation, and with the successful debuts of Del Mar and Keeneland as Cup hosts, they likely will get heavy consideration to get second opportunities.

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