Golden Horn photo courtesy of Darley Stallions via Twitter.
Although extended forecasts in racing are just about as iffy as in meteorology, the view one week out is that Europe could be poised to sweep the Breeders’ Cup’s marquee races on the grass — the Turf (G1), Filly & Mare Turf (G1) and the Mile (G1).
Golden Horn, the world’s highest-rated horse on turf, has already compiled an enviable record with victories in the Derby (G1), Eclipse (G1), Irish Champion (G1) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Viewed from a strict form perspective, the once-beaten colt doesn’t need this trophy to enhance his status. But if he pulls this transatlantic gambit off, at the end of a long season’s grind, the John Gosden trainee would underscore just how tough, durable, and bomb-proof he is. Golden Horn would also make history as the first Arc winner to add a Breeders’ Cup race to his resume.
Since Golden Horn was confirmed for his Keeneland venture, a few other potential European contenders have decided to go in the opposite direction to the Far East. Another, Postponed, has been ruled out by a dirty scope. Only one has stood her ground — the three-year-old filly Found, from the Aidan O’Brien yard. She has finished second in four Group 1 races this season, including to Golden Horn in the Irish Champion. Like Golden Horn, the daughter of Galileo aims to rewrite the Breeders’ Cup record book: no sophomore filly has won the Turf.
Rounding out the international brigade is Argentina’s Ordak Dan, who secured a spot in the “Win and You’re In” Gran Premio 25 de Mayo (G1), and hopes to become the first South American-based runner to crack the top three in the Turf. Compatriot Indy Point finished third in the 2013 Turf at Santa Anita, but he’d already been based with Hall of Famer Richard Mandella in Southern California.
The home team is led by the respective top two from the Arlington Million (G1), fan favorite The Pizza Man and multiple Grade 1 veteran Big Blue Kitten. They chose different paths to prep, with The Pizza Man flying home for second in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) over the Keeneland course, and Big Blue Kitten returning to 1 1/2 miles to take the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1) in a course-record 2:23.39. Both have been found wanting against international Grade 1 company in the past, though. The Pizza Man was fourth in last year’s Canadian International (G1), and Big Blue Kitten was eighth in the 2013 Turf.
Big Blue Kitten will be joined by two stablemates from the Chad Brown barn — Slumber, who beat him in the Manhattan (G1) but has since finished second to him in both the United Nations (G1) and Joe Hirsch, and his pacemaker Shining Copper.
Frequent bridesmaid Twilight Eclipse, third in last year’s Turf and most recently in the Joe Hirsch, tries again. Todd Pletcher sends out Red Rifle, the convincing winner of the Bowling Green (G2) and runner-up to Europe’s Flintshire in the Sword Dancer (G1) prior to a tiring fourth in the Joe Hirsch. California shipper Big John B brings a three-race winning streak, capped by a repeat in the “Win and You’re In” Del Mar ‘Cap (G2). But he has class concerns at this level, as do the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3) scorer Da Big Hoss, who scratched out of the Sycamore (G3) for this, and Cage Fighter, who was mugged on the line as a 34-1 longshot in the Knickerbocker (G3) last out.
Filly & Mare Turf
Europe is also sending its most accomplished three-year-old filly, Legatissimo, who is two heads away from a six-race winning spree. Convincing in Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas (G1) back in May, as well as the Nassau (G1) and Matron (G1) in her last two, the Irish invader is difficult to oppose.
Last season’s 1000 Guineas heroine, Miss France, will be making her third start off the layoff for the masterful Andre Fabre. She is part of a potent French team that includes three pre-entrants for Wertheimer et Frere. The Freddie Head-trained Queen’s Jewel hopes to recapture the spark she showed in the Prix Saint-Alary (G1). The other two Wertheimers are from the Carlos Laffon-Parias yard. Impassable, who just beat Miss France in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein (G2), has the Mile as her first preference. If she enters accordingly, she would pave the way for companion Bawina to draw into this race as the first on the also-eligible list.
British-based Secret Gesture bids for compensation after a heartbreaking disqualification in the Beverly D. (G1), where she was the best horse on the day, but paid the price for taking a wayward path in deep stretch. In any event, Secret Gesture’s performance at Arlington bodes well for the even stronger European hopes at Keeneland.
Watsdachances was awarded the Beverly D. victory, with fellow Chad Brown trainee Stephanie’s Kitten prompted to second. Although an admirably consistent trier, Watsdachances is not quite at the level of Stephanie’s Kitten, a Breeders’ Cup winner in the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2) and second in the 2014 Filly & Mare Turf. The point was driven home when Stephanie’s Kitten repeated in the Flower Bowl (G1), with Watsdachances only fourth.
Brown has a third arrow in his quiver, Chilean champion Dacita, who made a terrific U.S. debut when getting up in time in the Ballston Spa (G2) at Saratoga. Skipping the Flower Bowl because of the soft turf, she’s training up to this engagement off a two-month layoff.
Hard Not to Like had ranked as the pro tem leader among the older turf distaffers after rallying wins in the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita and the Diana (G1) at Saratoga. But the Christophe Clement mare was a disappointing eighth behind Photo Call in the Rodeo Drive (G1) in her latest. Sophomore fillies Sentiero Italia and Sharla Rae similarly face serious questions while coming off losses.
With the 1 3/16-mile distance over the Keeneland turf limiting the field to 12, eight are currently on the outside looking in. Aside from Bawina, the other Europeans on the AE list are French 1000 Guineas (G1) runner-up Irish Rookie (third in order of preference), E.P. Taylor (G1) second Talmada (fourth) and Flower Bowl third Mutatis Mutandis (eighth).
As an indication of the depth of the European phalanx, defending champion Karakontie isn’t even at the tip of the spear. The Niarchos homebred got a late start to the season, finishing sixth to Esoterique in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) and third in the Prix du Moulin (G1). While Karakontie is eligible to move forward in his third start back, the French colt appears up against it in his bid to emulate back-to-back Mile winners Miesque, Lure, Goldikova, and Wise Dan.
But France holds a powerful hand once again, and Fabre could conceivably have the exacta. The mare Esoterique, second to the mighty Solow and Muhaarar this summer, has since added the Marois over males and the Sun Chariot (G1). Stablemate Make Believe is no second stringer. The winner of the French 2000 Guineas (G1) over New Bay, he was last seen speeding to a course record-setting victory in the Prix de la Foret (G1). Add in the aforementioned Impassable, who’s likelier to line up here than Bawina, and you’ve got a veritable French Foreign Legion in action.
The Brits are not to be overlooked either. Time Test turned heads with his monster performance in the Tercentenary (G3) at Royal Ascot, and successfully shortened up to a mile in the Joel (G2) last time. Mondialiste hasn’t been competing at that level at home, but he raided the Woodbine Mile (G1) and beat such notable U.S. hopes as Lea and Obviously. That result must send European confidence pretty high.
Obviously will be taking his fourth crack at the Mile, following a third in 2012 and fifths in the past two years, and the speedball again promises to dish out a fast pace. He’ll probably have an accomplice in Midnight Storm.
Hence the Mile figures to set up kindly for the closers, and possibly create a tactical conundrum for the red-hot filly Tepin, a close stalker who just ran away with the First Lady (G1) over the Mile course and distance. She clocked a faster time than Grand Arch in the Shadwell two races later, in which Tourist was an eyecatching third.
Perhaps the forgotten horse is the ex-European Mshawish. In top form for Pletcher over the winter at Gulfstream, the Al Shaqab colorbearer has since been plagued by foot troubles. His third to Solow and The Grey Gatsby in the Dubai Turf (G1), despite his last-minute injury scare, was meritorious, and he rates an interesting longshot if healthy.
The two also-eligibles are O’Brien’s War Envoy, who’s out of his depth, and Jimmy Toner’s improving Recepta, who needs help getting into her preferred Filly & Mare Turf.
We’ll be back with race previews nearer to Breeders’ Cup time, when the final fields, post positions, and course conditions are in sharper focus.
In the meantime, check out the detailed international analysis at brisnet.com/cgi-bin/special_reps.cgi. Also, Brisnet.com has the Breeders’ Cup PPs files available for all 13 races — 4 on Breeders’ Cup Friday and 9 on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. And stay tuned to TwinSpires for all things about the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland October 30-31, 2015.