With top miler Alpha Centauri retired due to injury and the rest of the European division lacking a standout, the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) could continue its trend in favor of American-based runners. Only one international has scored in the last seven years (Karakontie in 2014), and if it weren’t for the legendary Goldikova (2008-10), the Europeans’ stats would look even worse over the past decade.
Yet the invasion cannot be discounted, not only because of its sheer size (eight in the main body of the field), but also because there are a few sophomores eligible to jump up on the day.
POLYDREAM: The shortcut to sifting through them all is to focus on France, where 10 of the 13 international Mile winners were trained. Polydream, the only French shipper in Saturday’s renewal, represents the same connections as Goldikova.
A Wertheimer et Frere homebred trained by Freddie Head, Polydream brings respectable credentials, but not as overwhelmingly persuasive a profile as Goldikova at the comparable stage of her career. The comparison isn’t quite fair, since Polydream’s had bad luck along the way.
Polydream won her first two starts emphatically, handing Laurens her only loss as a juvenile in last summer’s Prix du Calvados (G3), before being upset by Wild Illusion (Filly & Mare Turf [G1]) in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1). Her trip could have accounted for it, since Polydream got into the clear belatedly and closed for second, but she reportedly exited the race with an injury.
Sidelined by surgery, the Oasis Dream filly was not near ready to fire her best in her French 1000 Guineas (G1) comeback. She pulled hard, uncharacteristically refusing to settle, and had nothing left when gathered up last of 14 across the line – the definition of a toss-out.
Polydream was a dramatically different proposition just a few weeks later. Head pitched her in versus older males in the June 2 Prix du Palais-Royal (G3). Fitter and cutting back to seven furlongs, she showed her former acceleration to outkick such useful yardsticks as defending champion Inns of Court, Jimmy Two Times, and Karar. Instead of trying a mile again, Polydream shortened up a tad for the about 6 1/2-furlong Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1), where she mowed down an in-the-clear James Garfield. Left sputtering in her wake was a whole crew of Group 1 sprinters, from The Tin Man to City Light and Sands of Mali.
Favored in the Prix de la Foret (G1) on Arc Day, Polydream never saw daylight in the seven-furlong affair. She was boxed in from her inside draw, and forced to check off heels, before winding up seventh to One Master. The result is meaningless for her Mile prospects. Remember that Karakontie was rebounding from a luckless Foret himself.
The difference is that Karakontie was already a classic winner over a mile. Polydream seeks her first win at this trip. Yet if she can finish a closing second in the Boussac on soft ground at Chantilly, while injuring herself, she should handle a two-turn mile at Churchill Downs.
EXPERT EYE: The Juddmonte homebred is arguably the better chance of the pair (along with Mustashry) representing Sir Michael Stoute, who’s trying to become just the second British-based trainer to win the Mile. The only to succeed so far is the retiring Luca Cumani, courtesy of Barathea (1994) right here at Churchill.
Like Polydream, Expert Eye has racked up eye-catching wins going shorter. The Acclamation colt, out of a half-sister to brilliant champion Special Duty from the family of Sightseek and Tates Creek, made a mockery of last summer’s Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood. But Expert Eye missed his next objective thanks to a dirty scope, and when lining up in the Dewhurst (G1), failed to live up to his hype. He did not look happy in the preliminaries at Newmarket, acted up in the gate, and faded to last as the odds-on favorite.
Expert Eye sent mixed messages at the beginning of 2018 as well. An encouraging second in the Greenham (G3) to the aforementioned James Garfield, he was given his chance in the 2000 Guineas (G1), only to disappoint at Newmarket again when 10th of 14.
Since then at other venues, Expert Eye has been the soul of consistency. He relaxed beautifully at the back before slamming them in Royal Ascot’s Jersey S. (G3), shaping like a Group 1 animal on the class drop, and later dispatched such veterans as Gordon Lord Byron and Suedois (the fourth in last year’s Mile) in the August 25 City of York (G3).
With his signature wins all coming at seven furlongs, the question lingers whether he’s equally effective at a mile, at least in European conditions. In the Sussex (G1) at Glorious Goodwood, he raced a shade keenly due to the lack of a proper pace, struck the front, and got collared by the canny old Lightning Spear (on his favorite course). Most recently in the Prix du Moulin (G1) at ParisLongchamp, Expert Eye didn’t have the cleanest passage but stayed on well for third to the classy elder Recoletos, and turned the tables on Lightning Spear (fifth).
Expert Eye strikes me as just the type who would thrive on the U.S. turf scene. If the stiffer mile over there might stretch him a bit, a flat, turning mile here should suit him to a tee. The concern Saturday is the ground. His best performances have come on quicker surfaces, and he’s yet to try anything worse than good-to-soft.
I CAN FLY: As if this race weren’t inscrutable enough, Aidan O’Brien is throwing the kitchen sink at it in hopes of winning the Mile for the first time. There are three Ballydoyle contenders in the main body of the field, and one on the also-eligible list, all with pros and cons, so it’s a task to try to sort them.
Almost shocking Roaring Lion (Classic [G1]) last time out, this rapidly progressive daughter of Fastnet Rock has yet to reach her ceiling. She’s also out of a half-sister to ill-fated Landseer, tragically lost in the running of the 2002 Mile, and from the deep family of Trillion (and Treve).
I Can Fly was penciled in as a 1000 Guineas (G1) contender after a solid start to her career, but she lost the plot in the classics. O’Brien brought her back in August with a few low-ley assignments, and whether it was the restoration of confidence or just racing herself back into form, I Can Fly responded to take her place at the top level.
Finishing like a rocket in her comeback fourth in the Corrib Fillies’ at Galway, she dominated the Ruby over a mile at Killarney. Jockey Seamie Heffernan told irishracing.com that “she has outclassed them today but is a hell of a lot better.”
I Can Fly’s ascent was halted by a nightmare-trip fifth in the Fairy Bridge (G3) at Tipperary, where One Master benefited, but she shrugged it off with an impressive last-to-first performance in the Boomerang (G2) at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend. The only runner able to reel in front-running Kenya, she passed the whole field with a sustained surge for her third win, all around left-handed tracks.
Unable to land a blow when fourth behind Laurens and Happily in the Sun Chariot (G1) down Newmarket’s straight Rowley Mile, I Can Fly appeared to have been shown her limits. Hence her 33-1 odds when coming right back in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot. I Can Fly outperformed that price by flashing home late, after having to look for room, and came within a head of catching Roaring Lion on soft ground he hated. With clear sailing, she might have gotten there. The gutting what-might-have been involves stablemate Happily, who was a last-minute scratch after fretting in the starting gate.
Judging by O’Brien’s postrace comments about how much I Can Fly can improve next year, I mistakenly interpreted that as a sign she wouldn’t advance to the Breeders’ Cup. But she’s here, and with Jamie Spencer aboard for the first time. Given Spencer’s flair aboard deep closers, he might be just the right fit.
GUSTAV KLIMT: Presumably O’Brien’s leading hope as the mount of Ryan Moore, Gustav Klimt wasn’t helped by drawing post 13. But he does have the vibe of one building up to a peak effort, and he’ll sluice through soft going just fine.
The Galileo colt first stamped himself as a juvenile to follow in last summer’s Superlative (G2) at Newmarket, displaying gears to extricate himself from traffic and get up.
Gustav Klimt was sidelined by a stone bruise for the rest of the season. He resurfaced with a handy score in the 2000 Guineas Trial on a heavy Leopardstown course, but hasn’t managed to visit the winner’s circle since.
After a one-paced sixth in the 2000 Guineas (G1), Gustav Klimt was bumped in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) and flattened out in third. He did his best work late in the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot, staying on for second without ever really looking like getting there, and turned in a similar third in the Prix Jean Prat (G1). In his first try versus elders in the Sussex, Gustav Klimt was again thereabouts in fourth. He cut back to seven furlongs in the Hungerford (G2), weakening to fifth as though in need of the race. (Given the time frame of the infamous Ballydoyle virus, he might have, but that’s my speculation.)
Gustav Klimt performed much better when shortening up for the Haydock Sprint Cup (G1), finishing strongly over heavy going for third to The Tin Man. That formline intersects with the aforementioned Polydream. Like his Mile rival, Gustav Klimt prepped in the Foret, and reported home fourth in a messy race.
His form can be read two ways, positively as one usually involved in the finish and capable of handling soft ground better than most, or negatively as one who just can’t seem to get there in a series of races. I’m inclined to see him more as an exotics type at best.
HAPPILY: Had she contested the QE II as planned, Happily might have been the one to throw down a challenge to Roaring Lion instead of stablemate I Can Fly. She was luckless at last year’s Breeders’ Cup too, buried on the rail as the favorite in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) and conceding the issue in last.
A full sister to star miler Gleneagles and out of a full sister to the “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway, Happily lived up to her pedigree with a pair of major scores at two. She outdueled Magical (Turf [G1]) in the Moyglare Stud (G1), then became the first filly to take the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) in 31 years. In so doing, Happily beat two future classic winners – French 2000 Guineas (G1) victor Olmedo and Epsom Derby (G1) hero Masar.
Unfortunately, her sophomore campaign has not followed suit. As the favorite in her 1000 Guineas return, Happily ran in snatches before keeping on well for third, and the same result in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) suggested a step up in trip. The French Oaks (G1) was prescribed, but a troubled trip prevented her from getting nearer than fourth to Laurens, beaten all of a half-length.
Turning the page on forgettable runs in the Eclipse (G1) versus males and Matron (G1) (which she surely needed off the two-month absence), Happily did indeed get much closer to Laurens in their rematch in the Sun Chariot. She ran her to a head in a hard-fought duel, leaving I Can Fly well astern in fourth.
Thus Happily brings a high standard of form into the Mile, along with proficiency over all types of ground, and a gripping storyline of redemption after her Del Mar debacle. The only question is whether she’ll pick up fast enough around a two-turn mile, or if she’ll be caught for speed at the critical point before driving onward again. Jockey Wayne Lordan should have her well placed early, so she probably won’t have to make up as much ground as Gustav or I Can Fly.
LIGHTNING SPEAR: A longtime Group 1 bridesmaid until breaking through in the Sussex over Expert Eye, the David Simcock veteran has amassed a fine collection of placings. He was third to Tepin in the 2016 Queen Anne (G1), and third to another celebrated filly, Minding, in that fall’s QE II; twice runner-up in the Lockinge (G1), his photo loss back in May a particularly brutal beat on the way to another Queen Anne placing; and third in last year’s Sussex.
As that list implies, Lightning Spear has spent a lot of time down straightaways or going right-handed at his beloved Goodwood, where he also reigned as a two-time winner of the Celebration Mile (G2) before landing the Sussex. He’s won going left-handed, but it’s been three years since he had to corner that way in competition.
The closer is also in danger of mobilizing too late and running out of real estate, as he can do. The prospect of soft ground would be a further hindrance to the seven-year-old, who wheels back from a seventh in the QE II. Like fellow Qatar Racing standard-bearer Roaring Lion, Lightning Spear is due to retire to stud in 2019.
MUSTASHRY: Stoute’s other runner brings an upwardly mobile profile and a willing attitude, but he has found himself marooned in post 14, and the forecast is ominous for a horse requiring better ground.
Sheikh Hamdan’s homebred is a “nephew” of a past Stoute stalwart, Maraahel, and accordingly has improved with age. By swooping from last under 136 pounds in a handicap over Chelmsford’s Polytrack last summer, Mustashry signaled his readiness for a class hike, and he duly won the Strensall (G3) next time at York. That’s the same race that launched Mondialiste in 2015.
Mustashry has gone three-for-four this campaign at a variety of distances, his only loss at the hands of Lord Glitters in his Strensall title defense. Workmanlike when landing the 1 1/4-mile Gala at Sandown, he was about to be swamped in the seven-furlong Park S. (G2) at Doncaster, but found a bit extra to come again and prevail. Mustashry likewise showed admirable resolve last time to wear down Zabeel Prince in the Joel (G2) at Newmarket.
Mustashry under Jim Crowley gets the better of Zabeel Prince to justify favouritism in the Shadwell Joel Stakes (Group 2) for trainer Sir Michael Stoute. pic.twitter.com/W2DbOpAgz3— Newmarket Racecourse (@NewmarketRace) September 28, 2018
ONE MASTER: Like I Can Fly an improving daughter of Fastnet Rock, the Lael Stables homebred is a third-generation William Haggas trainee. Haggas also developed her dam, multiple Group 3-winning sprinter Enticing, and granddam Superstar Leo, the highweight juvenile filly in England and France in 2000.
Taking longer to reach her potential, One Master didn’t even race until the second half of her three-year-old season. But she made up for lost time to reach stakes company in just her third start, springing a good-looking 20-1 upset in the October S. at Ascot. One Master opened 2018 with three straight losses on good-to-firm – fourth after a tough trip in the Chartwell Fillies’ (G3), a one-paced third in the Ballyogan (G3), and a close fourth from post 17 in the Oak Tree (G3) at Glorious Goodwood.
Possibly assisted by a good-to-yielding course at Tipperary, One Master enjoyed a rail-skimming trip and got the split in the Fairy Bridge, while I Can Fly did not have as good fortune in fifth. Her career high in the Foret also came at the expense of the aforementioned Polydream’s nightmare, but One Master deserves credit for finishing best to mug Inns of Court – at 33-1.
One Master is reportedly scheduled to visit Frankel next year, so this is her final whirl around the track, and the rain will help. Still, an upset winner of a muddled Foret has something to prove.
CLEMMIE (also-eligible): As the second on the list after Divisidero, the last of the O’Brien squad is unlikely to get a chance. That pretty much sums up how the year’s gone for her.
A well-named full sister to dual-classic winning champion Churchill, Clemmie looked poised to follow in his hoofsteps after a fine juvenile season capped by the Cheveley Park (G1).
But Clemmie hasn’t regained the winning thread since. Her fast-finishing third to Laurens and Alpha Centauri in the Matron could have marked a turnaround, a hope undermined by her dropping to eighth last out in the Sun Chariot.
Expert Eye photo by Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com