Race of the Week 2017

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Past the Grandstand

2016 Breeders' Cup: A Photo Essay by Mary Cage

Distaff Showdown 615 X 400

Hollywood is known for being home to worldwide stars, but this weekend the Los Angeles area hosted an all-star cast of Thoroughbred athletes and horsemen for the 33rd Breeders' Cup – the ninth one to be held at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. But this year's Breeders' Cup may have presented an especially star-studded cast, pitting multiple champions against one another. This ultimately resulted in showdowns for the ages, making the 2016 Breeders' Cup one to remember.

The first race of the Breeders' Cup, the Juvenile Turf, resulted in a win from a horse with a fitting name for a Santa Anita Breeders' Cup: Oscar Performance. A full brother to Oscar Nominated, the bay son of Kitten's Joy kicked away to a 1 ¼-length victory to give both jockey Jose Ortiz and trainer Brian Lynch their first Breeders' Cup triumphs.

Oscar Performance heads to post with Jose Ortiz aboard

Oscar Performance draws clear to win the Juvenile Turf

Jose Ortiz smiles aboard his first Breeders' Cup winner, Oscar Performance

Many viewed the following Breeders' Cup race, the Dirt Mile, as a sure thing for Dortmund. However, the race provided the first double-digit winner of the weekend when 2015 Godolphin Mile winner Tamarkuz galloped away to an impressive 3 ½-length score for his first win since his Dubai victory. This gave trainer Kiaran McLaughlin his long-sought-after first Santa Anita win and Mike Smith his unprecedented 23rd Breeders’ Cup triumph.

Tamarkuz draws off to win the Dirt Mile

Mike Smith's trademark Breeders' Cup celebration
Mike Smith gives Tamarkuz some love as they head into the winner's circle
Two-year-old turf runners took the stage again in the next race, this time in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. It came as little to no surprise to see a Chad Brown trainee take the turf contest; in this case it was his charge New Money Honey who got to the wire first. This gave Brown his third Juvenile Fillies Turf score, all of which have come at Santa Anita.

New Money Honey seemingly stares at the San Gabriel Mountains that form Santa Anita's incomparable backdrop

New Money Honey kicks clear to a half-length score

Javier Castellano celebrates his win aboard New Money Honey

The final Breeders' Cup race on the Friday card was among the most anticipated of the entire weekend: the Distaff. In one of the toughest Breeders' Cup fields in history, the Distaff featured the showdown of 2012 Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, 2013 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, and 2015 Champion Older Female Beholder, who won the 2013 Distaff; undefeated 2015 Champion Two-Year-Old Filly Songbird; and 2015 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Stellar Wind, who had defeated Beholder in her past two starts.

The eye of the Beholder...

Songbird heads to the paddock
Stellar Wind makes her way to the paddock

The result of the Distaff would be crucial. Songbird was looking to extend her unbeaten streak to 12 for 12 by beating older rivals for the first time. Stellar Wind was hoping to clench the Eclipse Award for Older Female with a third win over Beholder. And with the Distaff slated as her last race, Beholder was looking to go out with a win to cap an incredible career.

Beholder heads to post for the last time

The race certainly did not disappoint. Stellar Wind had a terrible break from the gate, but Songbird went straight to the lead with Beholder not far behind. Songbird still had the lead as the field turned for home, but at the top of the stretch, Beholder began to draw even from her. The pair continued to battle it out the length of the stretch, neither of them giving an inch. And an inch was what it came down to, with Beholder nosing out Songbird at the wire in a race that neither deserved to lose.

Songbird leads the field past the stands for the first time

Beholder and Songbird cross the wire together

A confident Gary Stevens celebrates his win aboard Beholder
A thankful Mike Smith returns to the front side after his ride aboard Songbird

Gary Stevens prepares to ride Beholder into the winner's circle for the last time

With a race for the ages in the Distaff, the Saturday card had a tough act to follow. But it was far from disappointing in terms of excitement.

The Saturday Breeders' Cup lineup kicked off with the Juvenile Fillies, which resulted in the biggest payout of the weekend when Champagne Room paid $69.20 to win at 33-1 odds as she held off Valadorna. Her win gave trainer Peter Eurton his first Breeders' Cup victory and jockey Mario Gutierrez his second.

First time by in the Juvenile Fillies

Mario Gutierrez crosses the wire victoriously aboard Champagne Room

The happy connections of Champagne Room celebrate after her win
Champagne Room prepares to enter the winner's circle

Older fillies and mares took the stage next, this time on the grass course for the Filly & Mare Turf. As would become a recurring theme in this year's Breeders' Cup, a popular champion fell just short. Lady Eli, in just her third race back since overcoming laminitis, was the heavy favorite but was caught in the final stride to lose by just a nose to European invader Queen's Trust – ridden by popular international rider Frankie Dettori.

Queen's Trust heads to post with Frankie Dettori aboard

Queen's Trust defeats Lady Eli by a nose

Queen's Trust returns a winner
Frankie Dettori celebrates his win aboard Queen's Trust as Bo Derek looks on

The following race was all about speed: the Sprint. Even with a small field and the defection of Lord Nelson, the six-furlong event featured a competitive group of quick runners. In the end, it was Bob Baffert's talented three-year-old sprinter Drefong who outran his older rivals to claim his fifth consecutive win.

Drefong heads to post

Martin Garcia pumps his fist as he wins the Sprint with Drefong

Drefong and Martin Garcia prepare to enter the winner's circle

The card continued with sprinters, this time on the grass in the Turf Sprint. Popular California veteran Obviously, at the age of eight, prevailed over the downhill turf course on his fifth attempt at a Breeders' Cup score.

Obviously takes the Turf Sprint

Flavien Prat celebrates his first Breeders' Cup win aboard Obviously

In a race that sparks Derby dreams year after year, the Juvenile followed. Two Kentucky-based colts dominated the field, finishing 7 ½ lengths ahead of the rest. However, Not This Time ultimately could not catch Classic Empire, who took the race by a neck.

Classic Empire in the paddock prior to the Juvenile
Classic Empire gamely wins the Juvenile over Not This Time

A victorious Julien Leparoux and Mark Casse enter the winner's circle with Classic Empire

One of the best fields of the weekend assembled for the subsequent race, the Turf. Among the runners were top American-based turf horse Flintshire, Arc winner and reigning Breeders' Cup Turf champion Found, and world conqueror Highland Reel.

Flintshire steps onto the track

Found heads to the turf course

Highland Reel appears ready prior to the Turf

Ultimately, it was Highland Reel who stole the show with one of the most impressive performances of the weekend as he led by a rather wide margin from start to finish.

Highland Reel immediately grabs the lead as the field gallops past for the first time

Highland Reel runs away with the Turf

Highland Reel and his connections pose for photographers after a win in the Turf

Female runners returned to the spotlight next in the Filly & Mare Sprint. In a wide open event, Mike Smith guided another horse to victory: Finest City. This win gave 28-year-old trainer Ian Kruljac his first Breeders' Cup success in less than two years of training.

Mike Smith gives Finest City some love before the Filly & Mare Sprint

Finest City holds off defending champ Wavell Avenue

Mike Smith rejoices after his win with Finest City

The penultimate Breeders' Cup race of the day, the Mile, provided for yet another heartbreaking loss for a beloved champion. 2015 Mile winner Tepin rallied gallantly from off the pace, but could not quite catch eventual winner Tourist in time. The son of Tiznow prevailed by a half-length for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Tourist upsets the Mile

Julien Leparoux hugs Tepin after her valiant effort in the Mile, their final race of a fantastic season together

Bill Mott's assistant and son, Riley Mott, leads Tourist into the winner's circle

Following the Mile, the air at Santa Anita became electric as the final race of the Breeders' Cup  the $6 million Classic – approached. The world's top rated horse and the richest North American racehorse of all-time, California Chrome, was looking to end a perfect season with a win in the highly anticipated race. However, looking to prove his brilliance was outstanding Travers winner Arrogate, Bob Baffert's intimidating three-year-old charge.

California Chrome and Victor Espinoza head to post in the Classic

Mike Smith looks composed aboard Arrogate in the Classic post parade

California Chrome immediately grabbed an early lead and continued to lead into the stretch, only to be run down by Arrogate's long, powerful stride. Yet again, an esteemed favorite – the biggest one of the weekend in terms of popularity – was defeated in the final strides.

The Classic field gallops past the stands for the first time under a twilight sky

California Chrome leads first time by in the Classic

Arrogate overtakes California Chrome late to take the Classic

Nonetheless, the ever-popular "Chrome" returned to the front side to cheers and applause from the crowd that continued the length of the stretch as he walked back to the barn along the track without a blanket of flowers draped over his withers.

California Chrome and his connections, still proud, head back to the barn

Meanwhile, Arrogate trotted back to the grandstand as Mike Smith pumped his helmet in the air victoriously, celebrating his third win of the 2016 Breeders' Cup, his unrivaled 25th overall Breeders' Cup win, and his fourth Classic triumph. As the garland of flowers that had evaded California Chrome was placed over Arrogate's back, Smith celebrated in his trademark style, throwing flowers into the air as the sun set on California and a Breeders' Cup for the history books.

The winning pair of Mike Smith and Arrogate returns
Arrogate's winning flowers are thrown into the air by a triumphant Mike Smith


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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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