BC Internationals: Classic contender Gleneagles

October 26th, 2015

Photo courtesy of Ascot Racecourse via Twitter.

Aidan O’Brien has famously compared Gleneagles to Giant’s Causeway, who nearly provided the master of Ballydoyle with an elusive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in 2000. We’ll discover whether that comparison is apt, or not, in the 2015 renewal at Keeneland.

There is a blood connection between the two, for Gleneagles is out of a Group 2-winning full sister to Giant’s Causeway. But unlike his famous uncle – a son of Storm Cat – Gleneagles is by world renowned turf sire Galileo. Fourteen years ago, Galileo also tried the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He didn’t get nearly as close to Tiznow as Giant’s Causeway did, suffering the worst defeat of his life when sixth at Belmont Park.

Both Gleneagles and Giant’s Causeway were star two-year-olds. Gleneagles ran exactly twice as much as his uncle (six starts) as a juvenile, reeling off a succession of wins including the Futurity (G2) and Vincent O’Brien National (G1). He ended the season with a first-past-the-post effort in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) at Longchamp, but was demoted to third for interference. Giant’s Causeway was unbeaten in three starts at two, and likewise captured the Futurity and a seven-furlong Longchamp Group 1 (the Prix de la Salamandre).

The differences become apparent in the course of their three-year-old campaigns, when their positions are reversed: Giant’s Causeway is the “Iron Horse” with 10 starts, and major victories from a mile up to 10 1/2 furlongs. Gleneagles has made just four starts, all at a mile.

While Giant’s Causeway was second in both Guineas, perhaps as a foreshadowing of his excellent performances over longer, Gleneagles turned the classic double. He was most imperious in Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas (G1), where he got his preferred firmish ground and skipped clear of Territories (click link for replay). Gleneagles was less emphatic over good-to-yielding going in the Irish Guineas (G1) at the Curragh, presaging his connections’ desire to avoid rain-softened courses for much of the second half of the season.


O’Brien paid tribute to Gleneagles’ heart for overcoming adverse circumstances, telling Ireland’s Independent:

You're never sure until you dip them what courage they have and he had to be courageous today. He wanted it. You can't test them for that. Giant's Causeway had that, he was the very same as that.

I always thought he was Giant's Causeway with more speed, that's what I thought and today he showed he has that pure Giant's Causeway courage.

To win a Curragh Guineas on slow ground you usually have to get a mile and quarter, so he obviously gets it. Whether he just got it on courage today, I don't know, but we know he has lots of speed.

Their closest point in common as sophomores comes courtesy of the St James’s Palace (G1): both prevailed in that premier mile event for three-year-olds at Royal Ascot. But whereas Giant’s Causeway ground out his victory in his trademark lion-hearted style, Gleneagles used his burst of finishing speed as a lethal weapon.

Their paths diverge sharply thereafter. While Giant’s Causeway went on to win four straight Group 1s in a hectic summer – the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse (G1), one-mile Sussex (G1), 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International (G1) and 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion (G1) -- Gleneagles was kept under wraps due to unsuitable ground. Three of the races he swerved were on his uncle’s CV (Sussex, Juddmonte and Irish Champion).

Their paths unite again in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) back at Ascot, which both lost. Giant’s Causeway was a close second over the old round course. Gleneagles, finally braving a rain-softened course, was sixth on the straight course – not disgraced in the conditions off the break, but not doing anything to enhance his Classic claims either, other than getting a prep.

So Gleneagles goes to Keeneland with the profile of a classy miler whose prerequisite is good-to-firm turf. But he’s not in the Mile (G1), where he may get that, along with a boatload of competition that might dent his reputation. Instead, he’s in the Classic, venturing into terra incognita on both distance and surface, against two sure-fire Hall of Famers in American Pharoah and Beholder. In that respect, the Classic is a free swing at the fences that won’t have an impact on his stature as a turf miler.

On pedigree, Gleneagles should cope with the 1 1/4-mile trip, but we didn't even have to ask that question about a proven customer in Giant's Causeway. The dirt is a giant, flashing question mark, especially in view of his acceleration, unlike Giant Causeway's relentless drive that seemed transferable to dirt.

For more commentary on Gleneagles, check out the detailed international analysis at brisnet.com/cgi-bin/special_reps.cgi.

Brisnet.com has the Breeders' Cup PPs files available for all 13 races -- 4 on Breeders' Cup Friday and 9 on Breeders' Cup Saturday.