The Breeders’ Cup is, in a way, the North American equivalent of our Champions Day. Two days every year of Grade 1 races – held at various racetracks – with prize pools of close to $30,000,000 awarded across 13 races.
The 2016 edition will be held at Santa Anita – the ninth time at this venue. It features a total of 13 races across a range of distances, held on both the dirt and turf surfaces.
The highlight of any Breeders’ Cup is the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A 2,000 metre (1 mile 2 furlong) dirt race for all horses aged three years and above, the $6,000,000 prize pool places it behind only the Dubai World Cup and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in terms of most valuable races worldwide. It was memorably won by American Pharoah in 2015, completing the inaugural “Grand Slam” of American horse racing. The last European winner was back in 2008, when Raven’s Pass made a successful North American debut. Ridden by Frankie Dettori and trained by John Gosden, he has since sired horses including Richard Pankhurst, Aqalim and Ibn Malik.
The second most valuable race of the meeting is the Breeders’ Cup Turf – a prize pool of $3,000,000 fought over the same trip as the Classic. The European raiders have been more successful in this, as might be expected. Aidan O’Brien has won three of the last five renewals, with the 2016 Arc de Triomphe winner Found taking home first prize in 2015. This is the traditional America v Europe race and always a thrilling spectacle.
All races are covered live on At The Races, and the Americans put on a sublime show. Professionally crafted and edited, it broadcast live on NBC to an audience of nearly 5 million American viewers in 2015 – only half of the 2015 Grand National, but still exceptional numbers.
The leading jockey in the Breeders’ Cup all time is Mike Smith, who has ridden an impressive 22 winners. Frankie Dettori tops the European jockeys, sitting 6th in the table on 11 winners. D. Wayne Lukas is the leading trainer on 20 victories, with Bob Baffert in second place with 12 and Aidan O’Brien in third with 10 – his first coming with Johannesburg back in 2001.
As in much of North America, Lasix – an anti-bleeding medication – is allowed to be used by trainers. This is normally noted on the racecard and has a different level of uptake between European trainers, where it is banned.