WHEN the opportunity presented itself to go to the Breeders’ Cup, I jumped at the chance and once my accreditation was processed by Jim Gluckson of the Breeders’ Cup, I was on my way on the 18-hour door to door, 19,000km round trip from Dublin to Del Mar in California.
I met up with Gary Devlin and the A Case Of You group at the airport. In total, there are 13 of us heading to New York, on to San Diego and they were all great company.
When we arrive late on Thursday night, sleep, while vital, is a bit of a nuisance. I put the head down around 12ish, but I wake up every hour. I have the alarm set for 5am, but I am wide awake at 4am, so I get up. At 5.40 am, I head down to the lobby where I meet up with Ronan Whelan and his better half Emma Doyle, along with Colin Keane and Kerri Lyons.
Fair play to Ronan, he has picked up my accreditation badge and Emma was great, as she guided me to the best vantage point to see all the horses at the track.
On Thursday evening, we get an email from Jim Gluckson indicating the times at which each horse will exercise.
It really is some sight and what is unique is that it is all under a floodlit racecourse. I am also Ronan’s agent, so I am keen to see A Case Of You who pulls out at 6.45am.
Ado, Gary and his group see the horse stretch his legs on the grass and he looks fantastic. Job done and everyone is happy. It was good to see Ian Brennan who travelled over with the horse the week before and we must not forget the trojan work which all the grooms and stable staff have done to get here.
Afterwards, Gary and a few friends get a photo with Aidan O’Brien. Also out on the track is Shane Foley on Jessica Harrington’s Real Appeal. Colin has a sit on Acanella and Tarnawa, while Billy Lee is on Paddy Twomey’s Pearls Galore. Then five abreast, we see the Ballydoyle contingent work.
Now it is still pitch black, but it’s pure magic all the same. The lights are on, there is not a puff of wind out and all you can hear and see, are the horses stretching their limbs mostly on the dirt.
There are so many familiar faces. Bubba Amond has travelled over with Jessica Harrington’s Real Appeal. Andrew Duff and Sam Ewing are here looking after Ger Lyons’ Acanella while Stephen Mooney who was apprenticed to Ado, is there with James Ferguson’s filly Mise En Scene. Ballydoyle’s Pat Keating is another familiar face.
Leigh Roche and Michael O’Callaghan report Twilight Jet in decent shape and earlier that week, Michael sells a sizeable share in the horse to a new American owner Michael Iavarone.
Every horse has their own saddle cloth with its name on it and all the horses are out on the track at their designated time. For me, it was a pinch yourself moment - it really was a privilege to be there.
On the way home, the thought occurred to me, could we do that for something like that for the Dublin Racing Festival, Punchestown, the Curragh or Galway and let the public in to see the horses having a canter on the track a week or so before those fixtures? A little meet and greet afterwards?
When I get back to Del Mar for Breeders’ Cup Friday, the sun is out, and everything looks fantastic. As you walk in, you pick up a free racecard. The size of the grandstand is huge. It runs the length of the straight and it seems to go up to the sky forever. Everyone in the stand is seated and there is room at the front for those who want to stand.
But it takes a good bit of getting around and my colleague Geoffrey Riddle, who runs the excellent World Horse Racing social media, told me that he clocked up 16,000 steps on Saturday.
After racing, we head back grab a bite to eat and meet up with Ado and his wife Hazel and everyone has a great night, and I suppose it is a bit like the eve of an All-Ireland Final.
There is a bit of giddiness in the air, which appears to have infected everyone - no winners or losers yet - it’s all to play for. The crowd is bigger on Saturday, just over 47,000, but it’s comfortable. I get a bit of Breeders’ Cup merchandise and grab what was the best beef sandwich that I’ve had in a long time – mind you it cost me $23.
There is a carnival atmosphere but the racing is separated from all the other ‘side shows’. The best dressed and live music is all situated at the back of the grandstand. If you want to see it, you have to go and look for it. The racing is front and centre and there is no music on the PA system between the races on Saturday. It’s racing, racing, racing and we can see everything on the big screens.
It’s a great show and you can book a seat in the grandstand and watch everything from there. There is someone to take your order for food or drink and it is all done with a smile. The backdrop is fantastic and even though there are 12 races, the day skips along.
I mention on a live update to Joanne Cantwell on RTÉ on Saturday Sport, that walking in here is a bit like stepping into the Colosseum and for anyone connected in any way to a horse which ran there on Friday and Saturday, they should feel very proud.
I crunched a few numbers with the ‘guru’ in HRI Martin Murphy. Between us, we reckon that worldwide there are round 250,000/300,000 horses in training (there are 5,000 flat horses in training here, so to get out of your own backyard takes some doing).
There were 13 Breeders’ Cup races run on Friday and Saturday and they held a total prize fund of $28m and those races were contested by just 153 horses. To say that the odds are stacked against you is an understatement – so to get here is a real result. Just over $19m is bet on track, with the common pool setting a record of just over $182m for the two days.
There isn’t much joy for the Irish horses on either day, but most ran with great credit. Broome ran a cracker for Aidan in the Turf, just touched off by Yibir.
The atmosphere continues to build throughout the afternoon. But no one is any way heavy handed - no high-vis jackets on view. Nothing is too much trouble. Those connected to each horse have a Breeders’ Cup cap with the name of their horse.
They are readily identifiable and rather than look for a badge or be asked, ‘where are you going to,’ they are met by staff at the foot of the grandstand and they are brought to a seated area by the winning post to watch the race on two big screens.
All of those connected to a runner, have a camera focussed on them for that celebratory shot just as the horses passes the line.
The camera work on the track is at another level altogether. The main camera in the straight is an amazing piece of kit. That same camera can be swung around 180 degrees and captures all the presentations. There were a total of 27 cameras for the TVG production of Player’s Show, another 24 for NBC and 10 extra for “Contender Cam”. A total of 61 cameras were used at Del Mar.
We see all the presentations on the big screens, with a line of photographers there looking for ‘the shot.’ Every sponsor says their bit live to Nick Luck and is made to feel important.
Those few words from the winners and sponsors are beamed live on track, and then all in America on NBC and TVG. Those pictures go all over the world.
Nathan Horrocks of Equine Productions supplies the brilliant Go-Pro shots and they are uploaded onto the big screens within minutes of the presentation. A simple, but fantastic addition to the on-track experience. They don’t keep all the good stuff for the TV viewers.
Michael O’Callaghan’s Twilight Jet ran a solid race on Friday, but the winner clocked 57 seconds for the Juvenile Sprint so Michael’s horse probably clocked close enough to 58 seconds – and remember that is going around a bend.
Golden Pal was pure speed in the Sprint on Saturday, and he covered the five furlongs in just over 55 seconds.
A Case Of You stopped the clock back in fifth on 56.16secs. When he won the Abbaye in France he passed the line at 58.2. When Winter Power won the Nunthorpe on fast ground, blitzing the straight at York she, clocked 58.1, so his run was a career best and it’s likely that he’ll head to Hong Kong.
He’s unlikely to go as fast again in his life. Ronan said they were just gone straight from the gates and he ran with great credit, just a few inches away from third spot. He picked up around $35,000 for fifth spot.
Special mention to Michael O’Callaghan, Paddy Twomey and Ado McGuinness who saddled their first runners at a Breeders’ Cup and well done to Leigh Roche and Ronan Whelan who rode at their first.
I know now from first-hand experience over there, just how well known and regarded Aidan, Jessie and Dermot Weld are, because once you said that you were Irish, their names cropped up in conversation.
Results didn’t go our way at the weekend, but fair play to all the winners, especially to William Buick and Charlie Appleby, who stole the show with three winners.
Derek Iceton whose Tara Stud bred A Case Of You, was just thrilled to be there. He still has the dam and thoroughly enjoyed the weekend.
By all accounts the pre-race reception put on for owners, trainers and jockeys on the Thursday was extraordinary.
I left the place feeling that there were countless opportunities to make a statement about what we do here. Charles O’Neill of ITM pulled off a coup by booking the bar which overlooked the parade ring and they had a steady stream of visitors all day Friday and Saturday.
I’ll leave you with this. We’ve all had ‘experiences’ with taxi drivers, but on our drive back to our hotel on Sunday, our Uber driver told us that he was leaving California and heading to Florida where he can buy a better house for less money. He told us what he got for his old pad – a cool $2.2m dollars and all the houses where he lives, are valued from $2m to $5m. It’s a different world over there.