There are no guarantees in life. That's what we've been told. Oh, sure, "Broadway" Joe Namath became a sports icon off his guarantee before the 1969 Super Bowl. George Zimmer has built a clothing empire with his slogan for the Men's Wearhouse: "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it." Craftsman tools will give you a lifetime guarantee on a wrench. The list gets pretty thin after that.
We're pretty sure there are no guarantees in Thoroughbred racing. Breeders' Cup? Spanning 22 years, from Lashkari winning the inaugural running of the Turf (gr. IT) in 1984 at 53-1, to Arcangues' 133-1 stunner in 1993 Classic (gr. I), to last year's 30-1 Emirates Airline Distaff (gr. I) winner Pleasant Home, certainties can be sent to the recycle bin.
However, let's step out for Breeders' Cup XXIII at Churchill Downs Nov. 4. There are a few "automatics." I guarantee it.Pat Day will be a major presence at this year's Breeders' Cup.
After all, the Hall of Fame jockey is the all-time Breeders' Cup leader by earnings with more than $23 million in purses. He's won 12 Breeders' Cup races, including four Classics. He's ridden in 21 consecutive Breeders' Cups. He's the all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs by every category imaginable.
He's retired, you say? It doesn't matter.
Churchill Downs unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of the riding legend Oct. 29. Raymond Graf's handiwork will reside in the garden area near the paddock, where he'll be alongside the sculpture of Aristides, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby. Day is honored as the first human to have his likeness on display under the Twin Spires.Trainer Todd Pletcher won't sweep the card.
The two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer has a barn full, that's for sure, with a record 18 pre-entries. However, the trainer who was bestowed with his own bobblehead doll this summer at Saratoga can't win 'em all. Of the eight World Championship races, he is lacking a runner entered for the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT).
If 15 of Pletcher's runners make the starting gate, he'll top the record number of starters, 14, set by his mentor D. Wayne Lukas in 1987. That leads to another sure thing Nov. 4: despite the fact Pletcher's got 10 individual grade I winners on the card, and likely favorites or second choices in four of the eight races, he'll send out more horses that will lose than will win.The attendance at this year's Breeders' Cup will outstrip last year's.
At Belmont Park in 2005, 54,289 were on hand for a splendid day of racing. The figure was the highest of the five Breeders' Cups run in New York. This year, the event takes place in Louisville, Ky., for a record sixth time. The last two times the Breeders' Cup was held at Churchill Downs in 1998 and 2000, 80,452 and 76,043, respectively, passed through the turnstiles.
The smallest crowd at Churchill was 66,204 -- still 10,000 more than the most ever in New York -- in 1991 when the temperature was a nippy 43 degrees in Louisville. It's no knock on New York, but with the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Louisville has a much deeper, more knowledgeable fan base.The turf course may be "firm," but it won't be hard.
Kentucky has had an unusually wet fall with record rainfall in September and October, so even if the sun is out in the days leading up to the Breeders' Cup, the seven-furlong Matt Winn Turf Course won't be rock hard and will likely have some give to the ground. There will be no guarantees about the times run on the turf course at Churchill. In the 1994 running, two course records were set: Barathea's three-length romp in the Mile was run in 1:34.50, pipping the previous mark of 1:34 3/5; Tikkanen came from last to first in the 12-furlong Turf in a record 2:26.50, taking more than a full second off the previous standard.Breeders and owners of Breeders' Cup entrants should be 42.8% happier than last year.
Earlier this year, Breeders' Cup officials announced total purses for this year's eight Breeders' Cup races would be worth $20 million, up $6 million from last year's $14-million championship day. That's 42.8% more money on the table. Of course, it's the breeders and owners who pitched in the money to begin with.
Will they be happier? We'll see Nov. 4.