Breeders’ Cup weekend kicks off with four stakes races topped by the Grade One Distaff as Del Mar hosts the season-ending championships for the first time.
Friday is the warm-up for Saturday when the seaside resort track presents nine more, culminating in the $6 million Classic where defending winner Arrogate tops a quartet from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert aiming to derail Gun Runner.
There are plenty of stand-out storylines especially in the $2 million ($A 2.6 million) Distaff in which Stellar Wind, the 5-2 favourite, takes a third and final crack at the race while John Sadler, her trainer, looks to end his 0-for-39 Breeders’ Cup drought.
Stellar Wind, a five-year-old mare heading off to retirement after this race, suffered a hard-luck loss by only a neck after a 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. 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 three for three, all at Grade One level and she has a possible home-field advantage having won all three races at Del Mar.
Stellar Wind will again face stiff competition.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends out Abel Tasman (4-1), a talented three-year-old who captured the Kentucky Oaks back in May.
Fellow Hall of Famer Bill Mott also has a promising three-year-old, Elate who stepped up to convincingly to beat her elders by 8-1/4 lengths in the Beldame Invitational at Belmont Park.
Champion Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien saddles up Happily in the Juvenile Fillies Turf on the first day.
Six of the 14 runners in the Juvenile Turf hail from Europe including Godolphin colt Masar from the Charlie Appleby stable.