This week, we'll be counting down to the Breeders' Cup world championships with a mix of history about first-time host Del Mar, behind-the-scenes perspectives about getting ready for a big race, stories about connections, handicapping tips info and more.
Breeders' Cup Connections Revisited: Cambodia's 'Incredible Journey' To F&M Turf
A high-quality boarding facility and sales consignor, it isn't often that Winter Quarter Farm owner Don Robinson races a horse of his own.
From the year 2000, he has only started 36 runners, amassing a record of 11-4-8 with multiple graded stakes victories. The 5-year-old mare Cambodia is responsible for Robinson's three most recent graded wins, including the G2 John C. Mabee and G2 Yellow Ribbon, both at Del Mar.
Over a turf course she clearly enjoys, Cambodia (War Front) will take on a talent-laden field in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. She is Robinson's first starter in the World Championships, but far from his first rooting interest; Robinson raised two-time Breeders' Cup winner Zenyatta on his Lexington, Ky. farm.
“I told my son, Farren, that I felt kind of sorry for him,” joked Robinson. “There will never be another one like Zenyatta, not in my lifetime or his.”
Zenyatta's breeder Eric Kronfeld had kept his mares with Robinson since the 1990s, and when Kronfeld passed in 2013 he gifted the filly Cambodia to Robinson (they had bred her in partnership).
She did not vet cleanly as a yearling, so rather than send her to Keeneland, Robinson partnered with childhood friend Alan Schubert, a long-time handicapper, to race the filly.
“The best part about Cambodia is sharing the racing experience with Alan, because he realizes just how lucky we are,” Robinson said, adding that he and Schubert rarely miss one of their filly's races. “But, as much as I enjoy the racing, there is absolutely nothing as rewarding as raising a good horse on the farm. It's the ultimate goal, and to have been involved with Zenyatta… it's just been an incredible journey.”
Del Mar History: The Day The Crowd Went Silent — Natalie Voss
Although Del Mar has been the setting for some great equine (and human) performances, it is also remembered as the backdrop for one of the sport's most stunning losses. In 1996, a record 44,181 people packed into the surfside facility to watch the unconquerable (invincible, unbeatable) Cigar break Citation's record of 16 consecutive stakes wins in the sixth edition of the Pacific Classic. To everyone's shock, their hero would disappoint them.
Cigar and jockey Jerry Bailey were pressed for more speed than usual early in the race (the first mile was one of the fastest recorded to that point in a 1 ¼-mile race) and set their sights on Siphon, believing he was their toughest foe. The pair put Siphon away going into the final turn, but it was Dare And Go who came on like a freight train into the stretch, and the mighty Cigar had nothing left to fight him off.
Jay Hovdey, writing for The Blood-Horse, reported the crowd at Del Mar was nearly silent in shock; Cigar's connections had expected the race to be an easy one for the champion. Racegoers reported surprisingly sharp feelings of sadness for the horse. Cigar is reported to have turned down his favorite treat for the first time on record, apparently depressed about the performance. Back at the barn, trainer Bill Mott and Bailey were both quick to put the blame for his loss on themselves. Mott worried he had failed to analyze the race fully, and Bailey worried he had left his horse with too much to do.
“In the end, Cigar showed us that he really can't walk on water, that he is susceptible to the same circumstances that can befall any horse in any race. A pace too hot to handle. A tactical dilemma that left him and jockey Jerry Bailey between a rock and a hard place. After racing on 10 different racetracks in four different states, perhaps Cigar finally found one track he didn't like,” wrote Ray Paulick for The Blood-Horse.
For Richard Mandella, trainer of both Siphon and Dare and Go, the win was more sweet than bitter.
“My hat's still off to Mott for accepting all the challenges. The only way you don't get a horse beat is by not running him,” Mandella said to the Los Angeles Times' Bill Christine.
Cigar would go on to one more win, in the 1996 Woodward, while Dare and Go retired after two more starts, highlighted by a second in the G2 Goodwood.
As for Del Mar, the result may have been disappointing, but the betting wasn't. All-sources handle on the day of Cigar's defeat was a record at over $20 million – and that was after a power outage knocked out service to some of California's OTBs.
Behind the Scenes with a first-time Breeders' Cup stable
Tim Glyshaw is participating in his first Breeders' Cup this year, with runners Bucchero and Bullards Alley aiming for the Turf Sprint and Turf, respectively. Here, Glyshaw and exercise rider Doug “Superman” Morley team up to take care of Bucchero after his morning exercise.
At the end of the morning training hours, Glyshaw works with Bullards Alley, who insists on being a part of the bandage-applying process.
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