Champion older horses decided

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Ted Black

November 7th, 2017

Perhaps in the span of 24 hours, at a pair of tracks that are 3,000 miles apart and offer live racing for two different breeds, both the Eclipse Award for champion older horse and the Dan Patch award for champion aged pacer were decided at Del Mar Race Course in Southern California on Saturday evening and at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland on Sunday night.

Saturday's Breeders Cup card was filled with upsets, but the $6 million Breeders Cup Classic finally ended the debate for champion older dirt male and horse of the year. Both Arrogate, hero of the Pegasus Invitational at Gulfstream Park in late January and the Dubai World Cup in late March, and Gun Runner, sharp winner of three straight Grade I events since finishing second to Arrogate in Dubai, were viewed as equal propositions as co-favorites at 2-1. But only one of them delivered as promised and the other limped into an early retirement.

Soon after the gates opened in the Breeders Cup Classic, Gun Runner asserted himself early and found himself in a duel with Collected, hero of the Grade I Pacific Classic over the strip in September, while Arrogate basically walked out of the gate and trailed the field and eventually finished a nondescript fifth in the final start of his career. His best efforts, in hindsight, came during an eight-month stretch from August 2016-March '17 and since then his performances have been dull at best. Even his second-place finish in the Pacific Classic was after being under an all-out drive for the last half-mile.

While Arrogate meandered well off the pace, Gun Runner and Collected battled through the early splits with West Coast, now the certain champion three-year-old colt of a mediocre crop of sophomores, sat just off the leaders in an ideal striking position. But when Gun Runner disposed of Collected at the head of the lane, West Coast failed to go past either one and just outlasted the late bid of War Story, third in the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic in April, who rallied to get fourth.

Gun Runner concluded the season with four straight Grade I wins and undoubtedly his triumph over Collected, West Coast and Arrogate will vault him to champion male dirt horse and horse of the year. Back in March when Arrogate rallied to capture the Dubai World Cup, many pundits were prepared to pronounce him horse of the year and ostensibly horse of the decade, but after Gun Runner thumped him in the Breeders Cup Classic on Saturday afternoon, Arrogate will likely get few votes for any postseason honor.

Then one night later at Rosecroft Raceway, Keystone Velocity (Daniel Dube) benefited from a second over trip behind All Bets Off (Matt Kakaley) to capture the second edition of the $100,000 Potomac Pace in 1:47.3, shattering the all-age track record shared by Nuclear Breeze and All Bets Off, hero of the inaugural Potomac Pace one year earlier. A nine-year-old Western Hanover stallion trained by Rene Allard, Keystone Velocity notched his eighth win in 22 starts this year and pushed his seasonal earnings past $780,000 and likely vaulted to the head of the class among aged pacers.

The nine horses that arrived for the Potomac Pace on Sunday evening had combined earnings of $13.5 million and seven of them had a lifetime mark of 1:49 or faster. Split The House arrived off a 1:48.1 victory in the $420,000 Breeders Crown final at Hoosier Park. Keystone Velocity had earlier won the $530,000 George Morton Levy Series final at Yonkers Raceway and the $500,000 Ben Franklin final at Pocono Downs; All Bets Off had won the $250,000 Dan Rooney Invitational and $160,000 Hoosier Park Pacing Derby; Dealt A Winner (Brent Holland) had won the $120,000 Allerage at Lexington, the $160,000 Roll With Joe at Tioga Downs and his Breeders Crown elim; Mach It So (David Miller) won the $425,000 William Haughton Memorial and his Breeders Crown elim; Bit Of A Legend N (Jordan Stratton) had won the $150,000 Bobby Quillen Memorial at Harrington and the $260,000 Gerrity at Saratoga.

When the gate folded in the Potomac Pace, Mach It So and Split The House both displayed the best early speed from theit outside posts and the Breeders Crown hero gained command from his nine hole draw before reaching the opener in 25.3. Mach It So gladly accepted the pocket with All Bets Off away in third, followed by Keystone Velocity, Dealt A Winner and the others,

Split The House maintained an honest tempo by the half in 53.1 then faced a brisk challenge from All Bets Off down the backside and by three-quarters in 1:20.1 with Mach It So still in the pocket and Keystone Velocity looming second over while Wakizashi Hanover (Victor Kirby) advanced along the pylons and Dealt A Winner got into the flow third over. But midway on the far turn the Potomac Pace had clearly evolved into a match race.

At the top of the lane, All Bets Off surged past Split The House to take command then Keystone Velocity fanned wide off of his cover and shifted gears after Dube popped the ear plugs and overhauled the defending champion in the lane to score by over a length in 1:47.3, erasing the previous track standard. Nuclear Breeze had initially set it 10 years earlier during the summer and All Bets Off equaled it last year under frigid conditions. Mild temperatures proved ideal for Keystone Velocity to prevail in the second edition of the race on Sunday.

Keystone Velocity now sports 27 wins and earnings of $1.32 million from 110 career outings and the 1:47.3 score represents a new lifetime mark for the nine-year-old stallion. All Bets Off was game in defeat after racing first over much of the last half-mile and carrying Keystone Velocity to the top of the lane. The defending Potomac Pace champion owns a 5-5-3 slate and $693,000 banked from 25 starts this year and now sports a 27-23-14 slate and nearly $2.9 million bankroll from 102 career tries for trainer Ron Burke.

Dealt A Winner rallied well to finish third, just in front of Mach It So with Wakizashi Hanover taking home the last check for fifth. Mel Mara, Boston Red Rocks and Bit Of A Legend N never seriously got involved, while Split The House wilted in the lane and finished ninth. All nine pacers completed the mile in under 1:49, undoubtedly the first time that has ever happened at Rosecroft since the track was converted from a half-mile oval to a five-eighths mile oval in 1989.