Surprise Surprise - By Evan Hammonds

For most of us that live east of the Pecos, the Breeders’ Cup weekend of Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar was like stumbling onto the lost city of the Incas. Who knew it was the best-kept secret in racing?

As stunning as the two-day sun-soaked backdrop was the number of industry people and fans who had not previously been to Del Mar. There were plenty of comments from those much less hip than the local cast such as: “I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to this place” or “I haven’t been here in years…this is so cool.”

Personally, it was great to get reacquainted with the track that we hadn’t visited in, well, let’s just say, too long.

The World Championships’ two-day run was certainly an awakening for a majority of the racing community and was an eye-opener to even the West Coast contingent that the much-smaller-than-Santa Anita venue could pull off the industry’s main event.

Surely, those in the decision-making process will pencil in Del Mar for another early November run. It certainly “ticks all of the boxes.”

Limiting ticketing left room to maneuver around the first two floors of the plant, and the well-policed paddock was full of glitterati, but not overcrowded with hangers-on.

The paddock itself is just some of the most glorious square footage on the planet.

The backstretch area proved pleasant for both horse and human; the main track surface seemed kind.

Going into the Breeders’ Cup races, we thought the Southern California homebreds would hold an edge. They told us otherwise, and they were correct. The international contingent held their own; horses from the East Coast were well-represented in the winner’s circle, and Gun Runner, who has run from Dubai to Churchill Downs to Saratoga this year took home the weekend’s big prize.

So, what does the Breeders’ Cup have up next?

A gathering under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs is on tap for next year, but there have not been any further host sites announced. We have to believe the organization is waiting for an assessment of this year’s running before releasing a future slate of venues.
The go-to sites have to be Santa Anita Park and Churchill Downs—proven stalwarts of the last two decades. But the success of Keeneland’s event in 2015, and now Del Mar’s, suggest smaller, “boutique” sites fit the bill on occasion.

Laurel Park is a name that has come up in conversation, but we have been led to believe the Maryland Jockey Club has not made a formal presentation as of yet.

It remains unfathomable that there has not been a World Championships race run in New York since Saint Liam won the Classic (G1) in 2005. With a proposed hockey arena on the docket to be constructed to the east of the main grandstand at Belmont, and with the long-running whispers of a long-term plan for the closure of Aqueduct and renovations at Belmont Park, we don’t see a running in Gotham for the next few years.

For the foreseeable future, a mix of sunny Southern California and Kentucky seems to be the logical play, perhaps with alternating feeds of the smaller venues—Del Mar and Keeneland—sprinkled in.

We loved both Keeneland’s and Del Mar’s debut runs, but the first ones are often the most cherished. Both venues are to be savored and not overdone—that’s what makes them special.

And while we’re making things special, it might be worth moving one Breeders’ Cup race from the Saturday program to the Friday card. Nine championship-caliber races seem a bit much to digest in a six-hour window, with some amazing performances getting pushed to the backdrop.

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