$2 million Distaff tops opening day of Breeders' Cup
DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Breeders' Cup weekend kicks off with four stakes Friday, topped by the $2 million Distaff, as Del Mar hosts the season-ending championships for the first time.
Friday is the warmup for Saturday when the seaside resort track presents nine more, culminating with the $6 million Classic where defending winner Arrogate tops a quartet from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert aiming to derail Gun Runner, the beast of East Coast racing.
There are plenty of standout storylines Friday, especially in the Distaff where Stellar Wind, the 5-2 favorite, takes a third and final crack at the race while John Sadler, her trainer, looks to end his 0-for-39 Breeders' Cup drought.
Both horse and conditioner could use a better turn in their BC racing fortunes.
Stellar Wind, a 5-year-old mare heading off to retirement after this race, suffered a hard-luck loss by only a neck after an extremely wide trip in her first Distaff try in 2015.
Last year was a disaster from the start when she broke poorly from the starting gate. She regrouped to be fourth to Beholder, a mare she had beaten in consecutive stakes leading up to the Breeders' Cup.
''I was crushed,'' Sadler said. ''She was standing very well in the gate. It wasn't like she was fractious. When they opened the gate, she just took half a step backward. Two seconds later she probably would have been standing square. The timing was horrible.''
This season has gone perfectly for Stellar Wind. She is 3 for 3, all Grade 1 victories. And she has a possible home-field advantage, having won all three races at Del Mar.
''It's the icing on the cake if she does it, and hopefully we send her home a winner,'' said Sadler.
The trainer, widely considered one of the best to have never won a Breeders' Cup, wouldn't mind taking home a trophy for his display case. Sadler has picked up a trio of seconds and seven third-place finishes in the Cup.
''I think about it a lot,'' Sadler said. ''A lot of years I just might have had the second or third best horse. There are so many great horses in these races. My horses have run well. I just keep going forward, and keep winning races.''
Stellar Wind will again face stiff competition.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends out Abel Tasman (4-1), a talented 3-year-old who captured the Kentucky Oaks back in May.
Fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott also has a promising 3-year-old in Elate (the 3-1 second choice) who stepped up to convincingly to beat her elders by 8 1/4 lengths in the Beldame Invitational at Belmont Park.
Forever Unbridled (4-1) was third in last year's Distaff and Paradise Woods (9-2) appears to have returned to the form that produced an 11 3-4 length win in the Santa Anita Oaks in the spring.
Champagne Room (15-1) will again be a big price. She captured last year's BC Juvenile Fillies in a 33-1 stunner.
Mopotism (30-1) and Romantic Vision (15-1) complete the field.
In the other $1 million Breeders' Cup stakes on Friday:
- Rushing Fall, the winner of both starts, is the 7-2 favorite in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Happily, a multiple stakes winner in Europe for master Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, is the main competition.
- Baffert has two solid shots in the Dirt Mile with Mor Spirit (3-1) and Cupid (8-1). Sadler is in here with Accelerate (7-2) who ran third in the race last year.
- Six of the 14 runners in the Juvenile Turf hail from Europe, including Irish-bred Masar, the 9-2 choice.