Turfwriter J.N. Campbell’s Top 5 Breeders’ Cup Moments from Del Mar

Sadly, the Breeders' Cup is over, and it is time to pack up the laptop ... but J.N. Campbell has a Top 5 List for you before we bid adieu and see you next year!
Sadly, the Breeders' Cup is over, and it is time to pack up the laptop ... but J.N. Campbell has a Top 5 List for you before we bid adieu and see you next year!

My 1st Breeders’ Cup is now in the books, and after I got some shuteye, I thought, what better way to take stock of the experience than a Top 5 list? I met some wonderful folks, and absolutely enjoyed the experience beyond a shadow of a doubt. I could have easily done a Top 100 tally, and then some … What would have made that list was catching up with fellow turfwriters Natalie Voss and Byron King, TVG’s Todd Schrupp buying me some fish tacos at The Brigantine, having a fine chat with trainer Dermot Weld about his time in America as a young lad, debating issues about New Mexico racing with Donna Brothers, talking handicapping influences with Frank Scatoni, and meeting droves of curious locals who saw me typing in the tunnel that leads to the track. When you meet people that you “know of,” or those that you don’t, there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude and connectivity. They are strangers, no more …

THE TOP 5 ...

NO.5 ... The landscape of walking out on the apron … a stroll out onto the Del Mar apron is like turning the corner onto Rodeo Drive. You have an overwhelming sense of scale and the magnitude of the place, plus a healthy dose of glamour. The expansive space is lower than the track, so your sight line is altered when it comes to a normal perspective. Many rails are dead-even with the surface so your ability as a “bird” to literally see the thundering of hooves is quite different. The Del Mar “perspective,” with the built-up hills in the ,distance makes for a picturesque scene. The landscape rolls almost effortlessly … the scene fits.


NO.4 ... Japan makes a statement … in case you didn’t know, the country is absolutely devoted to its Thoroughbred racing. They have a deep equestrian commitment that dates back centuries. Maybe a visit to the JRA site is in order because it is a fountain of information. Coming into this year’s BC, it was going to be one of their best chances to notch their 1st victory ever at the event. They had runners enter in several BC contests. It seemed like only a matter of time before they broke through. It did not happen on Juvenile Friday, but on Championship Saturday, the Japanese finally broke through with Loves Only You (JPN) in the Filly and Mare Turf (G1), and followed that with a long shot score in the Distaff (G1) with Marche Lorraine (JPN). It was a banner day, to put it mildly, and one could conclude that more victories are on the way …


NO.3 ... The energy of Eclipse … if you were in the Champions Terrace when Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbreds and the backers of Aloha West rolled in, then you were in for an exuberant ride. Spilling into the place, the throng cheered and celebrated a wire victory. Wellman praised the horse’s trainer, the venerable Wayne Catalano. What a purchase this one was … he had never competed until his 4-yr-old campaign. The conditioner grinned from ear-to-ear, looking like he was heading to Mardi Gras (turfwriter Tom Law is my witness). It was apparent that everyone was ecstatic over such a hard fought victory. Jose Ortiz, wearing the perfectly complimentary silks of the stable—light blue, black, and white—exited the Press Room to much adulation. The decibel levels were so high, I wondered if I was back at a fraternity party. It was so loud, my turfwriting colleagues were competing with the huzzahs, in an effort to ask their questions. After all, it was a Breeders’ Cup victory, as the vessel ran over. 


NO.2 ... The fabric of Ramón Dominguez’s character… there are delightful smiles in the sport of Thoroughbred racing, then there is Ramón Dominguez’s. Intermittently corresponding with him, I had heard many favorable opinions of his affability and general kindness. In fact, no one, I mean no one, has anything, but praise for the character and good humor of the now retired rider. All of it is true when you meet him in-person. In his days as a jockey, he was tough as nails … a ruggedness, mixed with elegance. After Life Is Good won the Dirt Mile, Dominguez embraced the winning jockey Irad Ortiz. The exchange was telling … it was full of such sincere feeling, in celebrating the leading rider’s success. That’s Ramón Dominguez's selfless nature shining through ... what an ambassador for our sport! I was lucky to finally meet him in-person …


NO.1 ... The Breeders’ Cup Equine Security Team … before I embedded myself with this group of 20 investigators on Tuesday AM, like most, I rarely noticed their presence at the event … maybe that is at least part of the point. However, I retract that last part of the sentence because they have names, personalities, and expertise that is the best of the best. I know that throughout my travels with them, taking stock of all I witnessed, what they “do” is integral to what the Breeders’ Cup represents. They are no longer on the stage in the background, but instead they have moved to the foreground … that is a significant role in a dramaturgical play that repeats itself race after race. They welcomed me, told their stories, and for that, I am eternally grateful.


I can’t wait to go again … see you at Keeneland in 2022! 

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