I write the same headline every year. Why? Because, on balance, truer words were never written. The overall quality of racing in this annual two-day event is unparalleled in this country.

Kentucky Derby/Oaks weekend some years might pose a kind of early season challenge, and the new-fangled monster Belmont Day probably comes closest in that top horses from nearly every division comes to Long Island, including a sprinkling of Europeans.

Something else we say every year is that the Kentucky Derby, America’s Race, is the best racing spectacle this country has. Through it Americana still lives, even in these unnecessarily wretched days. The Derby is the stuff of legend; Breeders’ Cup more clearly defines excellence.

Eight championship categories were decided this weekend, six definitively or highly likely, and most probably two more.

But I must say that this renewal, considering the number of highly regarded horses and prior champions—with many of which were absurdly over-bet—did not leave me with the same warm and fuzzy racing emotions as many past event days have.

As an unabashed equine sentimentalist, both Lady Eli and Arrogate deserved better than they got or, in the latter’s case, gave, in their career finales.
In Arrogate’s case, fans and handicappers are best to remember two things, and you need not to take this from me. But you should trust in what Jerry Bailey and Richard Migliore have to say on the subject:

There are only just so many miles in the legs of a race horse, especially those that compete at the top level that often are required to reach the bottom of their ability to win a race.

Or consider what Mike Smith said after the Classic, about hating to blame the racetrack, about believing that the Del Mar surface could have had such a negative effect on the horse that swept the Travers, Classic, Pegasus and Dubai World Cup with such devastating power.

The feeling is that Bob Baffert suspected as well, but didn’t finally admit it to himself or the public that those races emptied out his star colt, leaving little in his competitive tank. Works and gallops are fine but nothing brings out the worst like the stress of competition.

When Arrogate broke out of hand at the start, never getting into the race at any point, I could not help but flash back to how the great Lady’s Secret pulled herself up on the Saratoga backstretch; equine body language for no mas.

Lady Eli, meanwhile, found herself in a jackpot before the field reached the first turn, jostled about between fillies so repeatedly that Irad Ortiz had no choice but to yank her out of the logjam. Thereafter or during, she suffered the worst “superficial” cut we’ve ever seen.

An aside: Ortiz embarrassed himself and insulted the intelligence of the viewing audience by insisting he had a good trip; he got her covered up, found room, but she offered no kick. It wasn’t his fault that he was slammed inside and out as the large field entered a tight turn. Why not use that legitimate excuse?

Instead, every winning rider talks about his good trip, just as every trainer always liked his charge from the start and couldn’t be doing better. But maybe it’s not all their fault; maybe the racing media should ask more pointed questions? Rant over.

But the whole terrible seen just wasn’t what you wanted to see from a mare who overcame so much just to survive founder to become the horse racing story of this or any other year.

That’s why her defeat was so deflating; she never got the chance to show what she had in her last competitive run.

Most alarming, however, were the complete no-shows that raced in Del Mar’s initial Breeders’ Cup. We may find excuses later, real or contrived, but notable horses such as Mor Spirit, Stellar Wind, Lady Aurelia, Unique Bella and Drefong were awful.

To a lesser degree, so were Ribchester, Elate, whose development stopped abruptly, Moonshine Memories and Heavenly Love. Defeat is one thing but virtual non-efforts, even in this game, are another. We’ll get to Bolt d’Oro later.

But all of this is not to say there weren’t other warm horse racing moments: The excitement of Dallas Stewart who, showing a master’s hand with the sparingly campaigned Unbridled Forever, hit his target dead on.

And there was the Peter Miller trampoline act, sans trampoline; an emotional Mark Casse, overcome with the pride-and-joy of family, and Steve Asmussen, who’s rooting Gun Runner home willed a Horse of the Year title, in the works since the day he returned from Dubai.

In addition to the protem Horse of the Year and champion older male, other highly likely Eclipse titlists include sprinter Roy H; three year old male West Coast; three year old filly Abel Tasman and turf champion World Approval.

Will have to do more critical thinking with respect to juvenile championships of both sexes. I will vote for Caledonia Road and Good Magic in the final NTRA poll of 2017 as I believe Breeders’ Cup should define juvenile championships, at minimum tie breakers in vexing categories.

While Bolt d’Oro may or may not prove a better horse than Good Magic at 3, it has little to do with their overall juvenile seasons. But the colt had help in defeat; the Juvenile was not one of Corey Nakatani’s best moments on horseback.

He appeared to hesitate going into the first turn, getting his colt hung out to dry from a wide post, losing any serious chance to prove he was best. One simply cannot lose that much ground and expect to overcome it, even on a track favoring late outside runners.

However, I do believe the term “strong bias” was an over-exaggeration of the conditions. What I do believe is that Del Mar’s narrow layout is unworthy of an international event—not the venue, just the track’s dynamics.

The main track is OK but the turf course compromises true world class turf racing. In our view, all one-mile main tracks should come replete with chutes on both sides of the course, somewhat mitigating the tight turns that by its nature places horses and riders in tight quarters.

But all of what happened over Breeders’ Cup weekend did nothing to minimize the excellence of the event. In fact, given the overall success of the Europeans, the term World Championships never has been more apt.