DEL MAR, Calif. — Bob Ehalt and Tom Pedulla became fast friends when they met on their first day at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1971. Bob introduced Tom to Thoroughbred racing soon after that.
They have had their rough moments at the track, with Tom taking exception when Bob repeatedly smacks him on the back with a program as one of their horses launches an all-out stretch drive. Much to Tom’s chagrin and the amusement of onlookers, Bob has been known to call for security as they cashed a $27 triple. They have owned a number of slow horses together and can often be seen carrying on at the track as if they never left their teenage years.
Their take on the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and the Classic:
TOM PEDULLA: Bob, we have long been Bill Mott fans because we appreciate the time he takes with his horses and the huge return he gets (and sometimes we get) due to his patience. When horses conditioned by other trainers are showing wear and tear, his are peaking. Elate provides the latest example of his deliberate style being rewarded. Yes, Mott missed the Kentucky Oaks with her, but he received runaway victories in the Alabama and Beldame Stakes as the payoff. Mott owns nine Breeders’ Cup victories, five of them coming in the Distaff. Elate is about to add to that.
BOB EHALT: Thomas, when you’re right, you’re right, though I’m worried that two rights might make a wrong, but, in any case, Elate is indeed the horse to beat in the Distaff. She seems to be peaking at the right time with two powerful wins in her last two starts and has been training sharply for Mott, who is racing’s answer to UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.
PEDULLA: Stellar Wind, a 5-year-old mare making her final career start, will not be turned away easily. But I expect 3-year-old Elate to hold her off. For all of her accomplishments, Stellar Wind has been unable to win in two previous editions of the Distaff. While it helps that she is 3-for-3 at Del Mar, it hurts that she has not run since July 30. Even her trainer, John Sadler, admits to being uncomfortable with that layoff before such a demanding race.
EHALT: We’re 2-for-2, hopefully. I’ll admit, the difference between Stellar Wind, Abel Tasman, and Forever Unbridled is thin. But somebody has to be second best, like the poor Dodgers, and here I’ll give the nod to Stellar Wind because of your aforementioned stat about her perfect record at Del Mar. Homecourt advantage has to matter for something, right?
PEDULLA: Abel Tasman, for all of her obvious quality, has been anything but push button for her jockey, Mike Smith. She has endured more than her share of poor starts, and it has been difficult for Smith to get her to throttle down her speed. In a race where there is no margin for error, her raw talent is good for third, but no more.
EHALT: Man, I feel like we’re back in high school when you used to cheat off my impeccably perfect math tests to avoid summer school. Was this the old drop-my-pen-on-the-floor-and-reach-down-and-get-it-so-you-could-see-my-answers trick? Must have been, because Abel Tasman is my pick for third as well. I think trainer Bob Baffert will have her on edge for a big effort, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see her land in the winner’s circle. These ladies are very evenly matched.
PEDULLA: Bob Baffert will continue to add to his legend in the Classic. He swept each of the previous three editions with Bayern, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and Arrogate, no mean feat since all were 3-year-olds. West Coast, another 3-year-old, represents his latest rising star. Although West Coast has never raced at Del Mar, a series of strong workouts there this summer helped him to be increasingly impressive during a five-race winning streak that has him primed for the performance of a lifetime.
EHALT: Think you looked at only half of my answer. Yes, Baffert will get his Grand Slam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a fourth straight win, but it will not be with West Coast. I’m going to ride the Arrogate bandwagon to the very last stop. To me, if everyone runs their best race, Arrogate wins. Baffert is expecting a strong effort and that’s good enough for me. Maybe, as Baffert says, Del Mar is Arrogate’s kryptonite, but, frankly, I just can’t see a horse as amazingly good as Arrogate ending his career with three straight losses.
PEDULLA: Gun Runner is extremely fast and very versatile, attributes that will serve him and regular rider Florent Geroux well. The big unknown is how he will adapt to a Del Mar surface that is very different than what he is accustomed to in his first race there. It also is worth noting that he has never won at a mile and a quarter in three tries at the distance.
EHALT: There you go. Now you’re reading my notes correctly. Gun Runner is a great horse, but he’s facing a huge challenge here from not one, not two, not three, but four Baffert horses. I can see how chasing Collected might fatigue him just enough so one of the foursome goes by him — hello, Arrogate — and he has to settle for second.
PEDULLA: Earlier in the year, it would have been unthinkable to pick against Arrogate in this spot. He appeared to be invincible when he strung together superb performances in the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup Invitational, and Dubai World Cup. But all of that appears to have taken something out of him, for he was not the same horse in the TVG San Diego Handicap and the TVG Pacific Classic. Even Baffert may be powerless to help him regain his edge.
EHALT: I see what you like in West Coast, but it’s an order taller than Manute Bol to ask him to beat older horses as good as Arrogate and Gun Runner. It’s no disgrace to finish third behind those two and that’s what is awaiting the 3-year-old star, even the though the race is being contested, much to hunch players’ delight, on the West Coast.