Enable (c) Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com
The Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) could end up being a one-horse race, if two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) heroine Enable produces anything like a characteristic effort. But if she doesn’t, there’s no shortage of fellow Europeans ready and able to plunder the spoils. It’s a sign of their depth – even in the absence of Capri and Crystal Ocean – that defending champion Talismanic can be overlooked in the shuffle.
We’ll go through the Europeans methodically before finishing with the recent South American shipper.
ENABLE: The latest Juddmonte world-beater compiled an historic resume last season, sweeping the unique treble of the Oaks (G1) (in a stakes-record 2:34.13 at Epsom), Irish Oaks (G1), and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) over older males. Then she wired the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) as her stepping stone to her first Arc, where she traveled with her usual verve before kicking clear.
Enable figured to have a path of conquest laid out for her in 2018, only to be sidelined in May by a knee injury. Trainer John Gosden had the delicate task of bringing her back to fitness in time for an Arc title defense, without pushing her prematurely. He and his team pulled it off, despite a last-minute hiccup.
The September S. (G3) over Kempton’s Polytrack served as the ideal comeback from her 11-month hiatus. Enable had the run of the race over just three rivals, two no-hopers looking for a placing and Crystal Ocean having to give her eight pounds. Frankie Dettori sent her right to the lead and it was mission accomplished by a ready 3 1/2 lengths.
Instead of an upward trajectory into ParisLongchamp, however, Enable came down with a fever. Although a very brief interruption, her timetable was already tight enough with no margin for error.
Enable was understandably not quite the same force, but like a true champion, she managed to prevail anyway. Hard-charging runner-up Sea of Class was arguably unlucky from her wide draw, or else the result might have been different. Still, if you can achieve the unheard-of feat of winning the Arc second start off the layoff, with less than your best, that’s something.
For all of his international success, and love for the Breeders’ Cup, Prince Khalid Abdullah has yet to win the Turf. Neither has Gosden. Both have felt the loss of odds-on favorites in this very race, Gosden more recently with Golden Horn (2015) and the Juddmonte proprietor with Dancing Brave (1986). Both were coming off Arc victories themselves, contributing to the stat that reigning Arc winners are 0-for-Breeders’ Cup.
Can Enable succeed where they all came up short? She has two things in her favor: freshness and adaptability to all conditions. Note the parallel with one of the Arc winners who came closest. Sakhee, near-misser in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), entered after only three starts off a year-long layoff. And unlike Golden Horn, who caught a rain-affected track at Keeneland that blunted him just enough, Enable is not hostage to the ground. Her forward running style, and experience around a tight left-handed track (at Chester as a three-year-old), also give reason to think she’ll transfer her European form stateside.
There is one potential negative, but its existence is unknowable until the race is run. Although the expectation is that Enable will move forward off the Arc, it wasn’t exactly the typical second-up tussle that gets you fit. The effort she put in to win Europe’s fall championship, while underdone, could actually leave a mark and set her back. All signs are encouraging or her connections wouldn’t be here, but that’s the scruple that makes me want back-up for the best horse in the race.
The obvious place to look is among Arc losers, considering that 11 Turf winners had been beaten in Paris that fall. That doesn’t help to winnow her principal challengers, though, since they all fit the criterion.
MAGICAL: Off the radar until bursting through to take the October 20 British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1), Magical is now the top hope for six-time Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Aidan O’Brien. The master of Ballydoyle reportedly favors running here rather than in the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), which makes sense because she stays the 1 1/2-mile trip, the yard needs a serious contender after Capri’s defection, and O’Brien has Magic Wand set for the other target.
A full sister to Rhododendron, the runner-up from a horrible post in last year’s Filly & Mare Turf, Magical also has unfinished Breeders’ Cup business to take care of for her dam, multiple Group 1 star Halfway to Heaven, who was unplaced as the 2008 Filly & Mare Turf favorite.
Magical was among the notable juveniles of 2017. She traded decisions with stablemate Happily (a Breeders’ Cup Mile [G1] pre-entrant) at the Curragh, beating her on the front end in the Debutante (G2) but grudgingly yielding to her in the Moyglare Stud (G1). Fourth after a checkered passage in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) (a key race that will be inspected for both the Mile and Filly & Mare Turf), Magical wheeled back 12 days later for the Fillies’ Mile (G1) and wound up a subpar fourth.
A blinker experiment in her April 15 reappearance in the Prix de la Grotte (G3) backfired as she had her head up in the air some of the way, and she never wore them again. In any event, she tired late on the heavy going, presumably in need of the race, and finished fourth again.
Magical was on course to try the Epsom Oaks until encountering a setback. Resuming from a three-month break, the Galileo filly looked better than ever when dominating, in wire-to-wire fashion, in the nine-furlong Kilboy Estate (G2). Unfortunately, she was sidelined again (right around the same time the whole Ballydoyle yard was waylaid by a virus) but returned with a solid fourth in the one-mile Matron (G1), squeezed back between the victorious Laurens and Alpha Centauri.
O’Brien then pitched her straight into the Arc, a dramatic step up in trip. Magical was ridden quietly, held up in last before pulling out widest of all and running on pleasingly for 10th of 19, a shade more than five lengths behind Enable. That set her up for her first proper 1 1/2-mile test on Champions Day, and she passed with flying colors on soft going.
The quick turnaround here is not a concern, given Magical’s stop-start season as well as the fact that O’Brien used a similar schedule (Irish Champions Weekend-Arc-Champions Day) for 2015 Turf winner Found. A key difference is that Found already brought top-tier form versus males. Magical’s only try outside of distaff company was her inconclusive “day away” at the Arc.
But collateral form through the Fillies & Mares place-getters offers a clue. Runner-up Coronet gives Magical the heartiest endorsement, having previously missed by a whisker to Waldgeist in addition to placing to Sea of Class, Poet’s Word, and Enable (last summer). The beaten favorite in the Fillies & Mares, third-placer Lah Ti Dar, had just chased home O’Brien’s classy colt Kew Gardens in the St Leger (G1).
If Magical replicates that level of form at Churchill Downs, she’s the next-best option after Enable. She likewise has tactical versatility and handles a range of ground conditions.
WALDGEIST: Trainer Andre Fabre won his third Turf last year with Talismanic, and Waldgeist owns better credentials as a multiple Group 1 victor. Like Magical, he’s by Galileo, the sire of four Turf winners, and from a prolific family.
Two-for-three as a juvenile, Waldgeist crowned his 2016 campaign with a score in an exceptional Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1), defeating future winners of the Irish Derby and St Leger (Capri), Caulfield Cup (G1) (Best Solution), Melbourne Cup (G1) (Rekindling), and Epsom Derby (G1) (Wings of Eagles).
Waldgeist didn’t fulfill his classic ambitions at three, but he still performed honorably when just missing in the 2017 French Derby (G1) and finishing fourth to Capri and Cracksman in the Irish Derby. Fabre reported that the colt injured his back at the Curragh, and he still didn’t have him quite right in his final two outings of the season, a ready-made excuse for both losses as the favorite.
After a comeback fifth on heavy ground in the April 8 Prix d’Harcourt (G2), Waldgeist put it all together with a four-race winning streak, all at 1 1/2 miles. He asserted as the class of the field in the Prix d’Hedouville (G3), quickened on the bridle in the Grand Prix de Chantilly (G2), and dug deep to deny Coronet on the head-bob in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1). Waldgeist’s rally in the Prix Foy (G2) was perhaps his most visually impressive, brushing aside stablemates Talismanic and Cloth of Stars.
Sent off at 6-1 in the Arc, Waldgeist didn’t have the clearest sailing from post 13 and settled for fourth. He was unable to pass an improved Cloth of Stars, who was placing in the Arc for the second straight year.
Waldgeist is an admirably consistent type who can lie within striking range early or drop farther back. He’d need the precisely right trip to spring an upset, but at a minimum, he’s a reliable customer for the exotics.
TALISMANIC: Last year, the Godolphin homebred arrived at Del Mar as an upwardly mobile dark horse. He became an instant hit with his big white face and flashy stockings, and his 14-1 upset of the Turf, in a course-record 2:26.19, added to his aesthetic appeal.
Full credit for performing on the day, but there’s an air of opportunism about his signature win. Morning-line favorite Ulysses ticked all the proverbial boxes, but was scratched with an injury. And defending champion Highland Reel was just rounding into form after a setback.
The point was underscored in their rematch the following month in the Hong Kong Vase (G1), where Highland Reel rebuffed Talismanic to set the record straight.
Talismanic then aimed for the Dubai World Cup (G1), Fabre logically believing that the son of Medaglia d’Oro could be a multi-surface threat. All systems were go after he showed high cruising speed to win his March 6 prep on the Chantilly all-weather, skipping clear of Cloth of Stars for fun. But when he actually tried the dirt at Meydan, Talismanic wasn’t so happy and found himself eased in ninth of 10.
Regrouping for a fall campaign, Talismanic turned the page by outclassing them in the August 15 Prix Gontaut-Biron (G3). Runner-up Subway Dancer paid an unexpected compliment when placing third to Cracksman in the October 20 Champion S.
Interestingly, Fabre has said that 1 1/4-mile trip is actually Talismanic’s preference, at least in European conditions. Hence his getting dismissed by Waldgeist in the 1 1/2-mile Foy isn’t necessarily indicative of their respective merits around Churchill Downs, where the flat, turning track makes it much less of a stamina test. His no-show in the Arc (13th) might not mean too much either.
Even so, Talismanic will have to improve for the change of venue, just as he did last November, to cope with a more formidable European cast.
HUNTING HORN: O’Brien’s second-stringer qualifies in the Arc loser category, coming off a 16th at ParisLongchamp, and he’s out of a half-sister to two-time Turf champ High Chaparral. Hunting Horn lacks his uncle’s profile, however, and needs a leap forward.
The Camelot colt showed promise in some hot maidens, and beat future Irish Derby winner Latrobe in one of them, but he’s been more of a fringe player at the higher levels. His lone stakes victory came in the Hampton Court (G3) at Royal Ascot, and if the time was good, the form has not stood up.
Hunting Horn’s U.S. excursions over the summer were afflicted by pace scenarios. He couldn’t make a dent on Catholic Boy and Analyze It when third in the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) that did not set up for him. But then he was hard used in the Secretariat (G1) pace and tired to eighth.
Rebounding with a game near-miss in the Prix Niel (G2) to Godolphin’s unbeaten Brundtland, Hunting Horn looked out of his depth in the Arc itself. There’s likely more to come from him down the road, but it’s a reach to see that happening here.
QUARTETO DE CORDAS: Brazil’s Horse of the Year, and hero of the “Win and You’re In” Grande Premio Brasil (G1), was subsequently purchased by Singapore-based Elite Performance Stable. According to South American media reports from September (picked up by Turf Diario), he’s making a Turf raid on the way to his new home in Singapore.
The son of Rock of Gibraltar (remember his brutal beat in the 2002 Mile?) hasn’t had much time to acclimate, just moving into Ian Wilkes’ barn in early October. That only adds to the task facing him in his first start away from Gavea.
Quarteto de Cordas has scored both of his Group wins on rain-softened ground. The closer had to overcome a traffic snarl to break through in the January 14 Grande Premio Jose Buarque de Macedo (G3) over a metric mile, picking up strongly once a gap appeared. Next time in the Grande Premio Estado do Rio de Janeiro (G1) over the same trip, but on better going, the 23-1 shot looked well held until surging late for a dead-heat second, beaten a half-length in a swift 1:32.85.
Not a factor going longer in his next three, Quarteto de Cordas was overlooked at 16-1 in the 1 1/2-mile Grande Premio Brasil on a heavy course. He took an age to get there, but arrived in time (second from right) to spring the upset, giving noted trainer Luiz Esteves his second consecutive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge event.
Quarteto de Cordas has raced once in the interim, in the August 4 Copa ABCPCC Mathias Machline (G1). Cutting back to 1 1/4 miles, but still on heavy going, he had every chance before settling for second to Arrocha – the runner-up from the Grande Premio who was exacting revenge.
Aside from the obvious questions of the depth of the form, and whether he prefers soft going to produce his best, Quarteto de Cordas has typically needed time to unwind and build momentum. He’ll have to go through the gear changes a lot faster around Churchill.
ROARING LION: Enable’s stablemate was cross-entered here but will try dirt in the Classic. If a shocking turn of events somehow lands the star sophomore in the Turf, the distance would not pose a problem for him in these gentler American conditions.