Tom Pedulla examines five key questions that surround racing as the new year unfolds:
Q: What future sites will be designated for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships?
A: The Breeders’ Cup, which has leaned heavily toward the West Coast in recent years with six of the last 10 events at Santa Anita, returns to Churchill Downs on Nov. 2 and 3 for its ninth appearance there. The Stronach Group has invested millions with the hope that Laurel Park can be considered, even though it would have to rely on a great deal of temporary seating. That track is thought to be in the mix, particularly since smaller venues such as Keeneland (2015) and Del Mar (2017) succeeded as first-time hosts and showed they are capable of being part of the rotation.
Q: What is the future home of the Preakness Stakes?
A: Although the middle jewel of the Triple Crown will surely remain in Maryland, it is equally clear that Pimlico Race Course, in its current disrepair, is not a viable option for the long-term future and may not be serviceable much longer. A study commissioned by the Maryland Stadium Authority determined that $300 million would be required to overhaul Pimlico, an investment The Stronach Group is unlikely to make following its heavy spending on Laurel. At the same time, Catherine Pugh, Baltimore’s mayor, has repeatedly expressed her determination to keep the Preakness in that city, home to the spring classic since 1873. Something has to give.
A: Gun Runner, the overwhelming favorite to be honored as Horse of the Year after he ticked off emphatic Grade 1 triumphs in the Stephen Foster Handicap, Whitney Stakes, Woodward Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic to close 2017, looks as though he has never been better. He smoked six furlongs in 1:10.60 seconds at Fair Grounds on New Year’s Eve, a drill that Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen described as “amazing.” The Pegasus, the world’s richest race, will mark Gun Runner’s final start when it is contested on Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park before he is retired to Three Chimneys Farm.
Q: What is the early read on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve?
A: Good Magic, the first maiden to capture the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, surely bears watching. He is trained by Chad Brown, who bagged his first victory in a Triple Crown race when Cloud Computing snagged last year’s Preakness. Good Magic must overcome a significant body of history. Street Sense (2006) and Nyquist (2015) are the only Juvenile winners to win the Kentucky Derby since the inaugural running of the Juvenile in 1984. Bolt d’Oro, third after a difficult trip from post 11 in the Juvenile, certainly has the ability to rebound from that.
Q: Can Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming return to form as a 4-year-old?
A: Always Dreaming dominated the 1 1/8-mile Xpressbet Florida Derby in 1:47.47, fastest since Alydar in 1978. He carved out a commanding 2 ¾-length victory in the Kentucky Derby. And then the wheels fell off with an eighth-place finish in the Preakness, a third in the Jim Dandy Stakes, and a hopeless ninth in the Travers Stakes. He has since been treated for a severe case of stomach ulcers and was recently shipped to Florida to resume training with Todd Pletcher. “We are hopeful that after this rest and recovery he will come back to racing and once again become himself,” said Anthony Bonomo, part of the ownership group. “He and racing deserve that.”