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Attendance down but mutuel handle up on first day of Breeders’ Cup

The 2017 Breeders’ Cup is underway in Del Mar, and opened to a packed house.

On-track attendance for the inaugural Breeders’ Cup on Friday at Del Mar was the smallest in nine years, but customers came with deep pockets stuffed with money.

The handle, or amount wagered, at the racetrack was $9,280,504, 29% more than patrons shelled out on Friday in 2016 at Santa Anita.

The turnstile count of 45,673 a year ago dwarfed the turnout of 32,278 at Del Mar. However, attendance for the weekend at the cozier track is capped at 37,500.

The grounds were packed but not uncomfortably so.

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“If they would have made it all about a crowd number, it would have been a failure,” observed Dan Purner, a health services executive who grew up near the track. His grandfather and father were involved in the racing business.

Purner praised the track staff as friendly. “Even if you are not a big-time [bettor], they are very accommodating,” he noted.

The only obvious flaw was infield video screens neglecting to show the order of horses by their saddle-cloth numbers during the last few races.

Like father, like son

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Naturally, accomplished trainer Aidan O’Brien roots for his own horses to defeat all challengers. In the Juvenile Fillies Turf, he made an exception.

O’Brien, who saddled Happily, also was drawn to Now You’re Talking, trained by his son Joseph. The younger O’Brien, 24, happily retired as a jockey and switched roles this year.

“I’m always hoping he will beat me,” the elder O’Brien said. When it happens, which is not often, “We take pleasure in that.”

The rookie outdid the veteran Friday. Then again, so did everyone else in the Fillies Turf. Favored Happily brought up the rear among 14 horses, while Now You’re Talking, with the steepest odds of nearly 60-1, came home eighth.

Tie one on

Bob Edwards, who was new to thoroughbred ownership last year, went out of his fashion comfort zone and wore a bow tie to the 2016 Cup.

“Chad mocked me,” he said of Chad Brown, who trained Edwards’ victorious New Money Honey.

So unfamiliar was Edwards to the neckpiece that he fastened it with a rubber band. Before Friday, Edwards learned to tie a bow, and he sported a lavender one at Del Mar.

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Suffice to say that the bow tie will not be replaced soon. The Edwards/Brown tandem won again, this time with Rushing Fall.

One apiece

O’Brien, the Irishman, and Brown, the American, are regarded as the premier turf trainers on their continents. Each visited the winner’s circle Friday.

The deadlock should be broken Saturday. In the Turf, they combine for five entrants, three with O’Brown. Brown sends out three in the Turf Sprint, and O’Brien has one.

Brown has never experienced a race like his European counterpart did Oct. 14 at Newmarket. Mendelssohn, who captured the Juvenile Turf on Friday, was among O’Brien horses that swept the top four spots.

In Saturday’s Turf, morning-line favorite Ulysses was scratched on the advice of veterinarians.

One-liner

Elite trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, an occasionally crusty sort, was asked about the personality of jockey Flavian Prat, who delivered sthe trainer a win on Battle Of Midway in the Dirt Mile.

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“Just really nice to work with,” said Hollendorfer, who paused for comic effect before adding, “unlike me.”


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