Nov 3, 2017
Joe Harper, President and CEO
BREEDERS’ CUP AT DEL MAR: TODAY, IT BECOMES A REALITY
How long has Del Mar as host of a Breeders’ Cup, as it will starting today, been in the making?
“In my mind, 44 years,” said track President and CEO Joe Harper, who had seven years in as the top executive of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club when the first Breeders’ Cup was held at Hollywood Park in 1984.
While Harper and other Del Mar officials, over the years, expressed the desire to someday host the Breeders’ Cup, the chances seemed remote for decades. Santa Anita and Hollywood Park shared the fall racing dates in Southern California and were frequent hosts in the event’s formative years.
“It would have been very difficult. It would have required a change in the (assignment of) racing dates, which I couldn’t see happening,” Harper said.
Time, and the inevitable change it brings, began working in Del Mar’s favor.
“Probably, in reality somewhere in the mid-1990s, after we got the grandstand finished, we realized we could actually do it,” Harper said. “There’s been a lot of meetings, a lot of back and forth with other tracks. But when I saw quality overtaking quantity in the Breeders’ Cup thinking, then I began to believe, ‘We’ve got a great shot.’”
Hollywood Park ceased operations in 2013, necessitating Del Mar taking over fall dates. Del Mar’s Jimmy Durante Turf Course, too narrow to accommodate 14 horses, a Breeders’ Cup requirement, was expanded in 2014 and on June 21 of that year it was officially announced that horse racing’s fall spectacular was coming to the the place “Where The Turf Meets The Surf.”
The cooperative efforts between Breeders’ Cup Inc. and the DMTC to prepare have been ongoing since the announcement, and ratcheted up for the past year.
“The Breeders’ Cup staff has been down here since practically the day after the one last year at Santa Anita and they do an amazing job,” Harper said. “They know what we’re capable of and (Breeders’ Cup President) Craig Fravel certainly knows what we’re capable of and what we’re not. So it takes the (censored) off the table really.”
Fravel served under Harper as Executive Vice President of the DMTC for many years before being called by the Breeders’ Cup.
With top horses and horsemen from all over the world assembled and four days of Breeders’ Cup Week events behind – among them the first two programs of the Bing Crosby Fall racing season – Harper said he’d sleep well on the eve of two days of track history.
“It’s good. It looks like Mother Nature is going to be kind to us and I’ve got a good feeling about it.”
COULD TRACK RECORD SET IN ’49 BE IN JEOPARDY IN THE MARATHON?
The Del Mar record for 1 ¾ miles is 2:57 3/5, set by Lurline B. on August 26, 1949.
It still stands partly because 1 ¾ mile races are run here about as frequently as full eclipses of the moon and sightings of Hayley’s Comet.
But 1 ¾ miles is the distance of the Grade II $200,000 Marathon, the fifth race on today’s program. It drew a field of eight, including two returnees from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Day One event which was won by Scuba in 2:58.20. The Marathon encore makers are 5-2 morning line favorite Hard Aces and 3-1 second choice Estrechada.
Hard Aces finished second, beaten 4 ¼ lengths by Scuba a year ago while Estrechada was eased under the wire, last of nine.
Hard Aces, a 7-year-old son of Hard Spun, has faced some of the biggest stars in racing – Shared Belief, American Pharoah, California Chrome -- since being transferred to the barn of John Sadler in the spring of 2015 and has career earnings of more than $1.2 million. He pulled off a surprising win in the 1 ¼-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita, at 8-1 odds, in 2015, captured the 1 ½-mile Cougar II Handicap here in 2016 and was nosed out by Curlin Road in the same race on July 17 this year.
“We got him as a nice, sound older horse and he’s stayed sound,” Sadler said. “He’s not a fast work horse. He kind of saves himself for the afternoon and that’s kind of his saving grace. As he’s gotten older, he really prefers the long distance. He’s turned into kind of a specialist in his old age.”
It’s common for geldings to run to advanced ages, but not full horses like Hard Aces. Will he come back at eight?
“To be determined,” Sadler said.
Post-race interviews for all 13 Breeders’ Cup races will be available on the television monitors in the main and auxiliary press boxes. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions from the main press box via a phone stationed at the east end of the room.
The interview room is located on the ground floor of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club executive office building. From the press box, take the elevator to the ground floor and proceed to the Turf Club/Clubhouse entrance. Pass through the admission gate to the door of the Executive Office building on your right. Once inside, head directly down the corridor through the small conference room. The Interview Room is on your left.