International trends in play at Breeders’ Cup 2020

November 5th, 2020

As a follow-up to our examination of trends for Future Stars Friday, let’s explore some of the historical angles at work for the European interests on Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

For much more in-depth analysis, get the International Scouting Report - part of the Ultimate Breeders' Cup Handicapping Package!

Breeders’ Cup Turf

Contested over the European classic distance of 1 1/2 miles, the Turf (G1) has understandably been ripe for plunder by the internationals. Europe has sent out 22 winners, beginning with Lashkari’s success in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984. That trend has persisted in recent years, with nine of the last 12 runnings going to the Europeans.

Magical wins at Ascot (Courtesy of Ascot Racecourse)

Their dominance has been particularly evident in the 10 Breeders’ Cups staged in Kentucky. The 2015 Turf at Keeneland featured a superb duel between Aidan O’Brien’s Found and John Gosden’s Golden Horn. Of the nine editions of the Turf at Churchill Downs, Europeans have won seven and swept the exacta in three, most recently when Gosden’s Enable bested O’Brien’s Magical in 2018.

Those stats are likely to be padded Saturday with no fewer than six internationals in the 10-horse field. And there’s a reasonable chance of the Turf turning into another O’Brien/Gosden showdown, for the maestros each have two apiece.

Normally, we could sift them with the help of the historically key pointer, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1): 12 Turf winners had taken part in that fall’s Arc. It’s been an especially favored route for O’Brien, who sent five of his record six Turf winners through Paris. But this year, no Arc runners came for the Turf.

Mogul was supposed to compete in the Arc for O’Brien, after a convincing win in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) over the same course and distance. Then he had to be withdrawn, along with the rest of the Ballydoyle entrants on Arc Day, because of contaminated feed.

Mogul’s form stood up well in the Arc, as the Grand Prix runner-up In Swoop finished a close second to Sottsass. So should we grandfather Mogul in as a would-coulda-shoulda Arc runner, and apply the stat toward his Turf chances? On the other hand, since Mogul is a robust type who needs to keep busy, is he disadvantaged by not having run since Sept. 13?

The Dermot Weld-trained Tarnawa is the one contender who was in action on Arc Day, rallying to get up in the Prix de l’Opera (G1). That’s been a harbinger for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1) (as discussed below), but in these circumstances, could it serve a similar function for the Turf?

Although not as prolific as the Arc, the Champion S. (G1) has been the last port of call for three Turf winners. Pebbles (1985) and Kalanisi (2000) both won the Champion at its ancient Newmarket home, while the aforementioned Found was second in its more recent incarnation anchoring British Champions Day at Ascot.

The two Turf runners from the Oct. 17 Champion are Magical, a better-than-appears third, and Gosden’s Lord North, who got exhausted on the desperate going and flattened out to last. Gosden’s other hope, Mehdaayih, also raced on Champions Day when a solid fourth off a layoff in the Fillies & Mares (G1) – the race that propelled Magical to the 2018 Turf.

Magical, Mehdaayih, Tarnawa, and Donjah all bring the distaff factor in a race that’s been very hospitable to females. Aside from the four female winners – Pebbles, Miss Alleged (1991), Found, and Enable – 10 have placed.

Mogul fans can note that seven of the European Turf winners were 3-year-olds. Only two Americans of that age have won, Manila (1986) and Prized (1989).

Breeders’ Cup Mile

The basic stat of European success in the Mile (G1) – 14 wins in 36 runnings – obscures the gulf between France and the British/Irish shippers.

The French are responsible for 10 of those wins, half of them courtesy of legends Miesque (1987-88) and Goldikova (2008-10). But the tricolor is absent from the 2020 Mile, unless you give Chad Brown’s Raging Bull credit for being a French-bred.

The British and Irish are out in force this year, however, to increase their relatively meager totals of just two wins apiece. Both Irish wins came at Belmont Park in the 1990s, so Aidan O’Brien has not managed it yet.

Interestingly, both of the British victories came at Churchill courtesy of Barathea (1994) and Expert Eye (2018). In Keeneland’s 2015 Mile, British-trained Mondialiste was a rattling second to American queen Tepin.  

One Master (Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

Two of this year’s British-based contenders performed in the typically productive French race, the Prix de la Foret (G1) on Arc Day. The 6-year-old mare One Master scored an unprecedented three-peat in the Foret, which twice launched Goldikova to the Mile and more recently Karakontie (2014). Foret third Safe Voyage can take encouragement from the fact that Goldikova placed in the 2009 Foret, and Karakontie was unplaced in a terrible trip.

One of the Irish, Siskin, was also last seen in France when a toss-out fourth in the Prix du Moulin (G1). Miesque and Goldikova each used the Moulin as a stepping stone one year, and the aforementioned Expert Eye revived its success as a pointer in 2018. Both Miesque (1987) and Expert Eye lost the Moulin.

O’Brien’s Circus Maximus was third as the defending Moulin champion, but he comes off the race that hasn’t produced a Mile winner in more than two decades – the Oct. 17 Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot. His 10th-place finish doesn’t mean much in light of the atrocious ground, but the last to use the QEII as a springboard to Mile glory was Ridgewood Pearl (1995). Granted, it’s later on the calendar since the creation of Champions Day, but the general point stands.

Sophomore stablemate Lope Y Fernandez also ran below his best when seventh in the British Champions Sprint (G1) on the same day, where One Master was a terrific third. The lone Mile winner to use a 6-furlong stepping stone was Irish invader Royal Academy (1990).

Leading British hope Kameko aims to make history as the first 2000 Guineas (G1) winner to take the Mile. Four have tried, with Rock of Gibraltar (Kameko's broodmare sire) coming the closest as the 4-5 favorite in 2002. The others were Shadeed (promoted to third in 1985), Mark of Esteem (seventh in 1996), and Refuse to Bend (11th in 2003). Kameko would also be the first Mile winner to exit the Joel (G2) at Newmarket.

Two Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) winners have gone on to capture the Mile, but the aforementioned Barathea and Spinning World (1997) both did so the following season as 4-year-olds. Thus the reigning Irish Guineas hero, Siskin, would also rewrite the record book with a win.

For whatever it’s worth in the Siskin vs. Kameko match-up, Guineas winners previously clashed in the 1996 Mile, and both were beaten by American Da Hoss. Spinning World, then the Irish 2000 Guineas victor, fared better as the runner-up than the unplaced Mark of Esteem.  

Otherwise European 3-year-olds have done well, winning eight runnings of the Mile. Five were French, but both Irish winners were sophomores, as was Britain’s Expert Eye. Only two Americans of that age bracket have won, Lure (1992) and War Chant (2000).

While One Master is trying to become the first British mare to capture the Mile, the distaff brigade in general has held its own. Beyond Miesque and Goldikova, five other females have won. Three of them were U.S.-based though – Royal Heroine in 1984, Tepin, and Uni last year in an all-female exacta with Got Stormy.

Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Although the Europeans have captured nine of 21 runnings of the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), only one of those came at a Breeders’ Cup held in Kentucky, when the great Ouija Board regained her crown in 2006 at Churchill.

Seven of the nine were British-trained. The lone French shipper to prevail was Banks Hill (2001), while Ireland finally scored last year with Iridessa – trained by Joseph O’Brien, not Aidan, who’s yet to win from 14 starters.

Audarya gallop in preparation of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (Coady Photography)

Iridessa was also the first Filly & Mare Turf winner coming off the Sun Chariot (G1) at Newmarket, where she was a sneaky third. Saturday’s contenders Terebellum and Peaceful are taking the same path, but Gosden’s Terebellum was a better fifth compared to Ballydoyle’s Peaceful who was eased on the heavy going.

Peaceful and Cayenne Pepper can claim a demographic angle. Six of the international winners were 3-year-old fillies, including the last three successful foreign shippers. (That doesn’t apply to the American side, for all 12 domestically-based winners were older.)

The Prix de l’Opera has become the productive stepping stone in the last decade, furnishing not only winners Midday (2009) and Wuheida (2017) but also a few place-getters. British-based Audarya, third in the Opera, is the only entrant sporting this key factor.

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

The Europeans’ turf prowess has not been a match for American speed in the Turf Sprint. In 12 runnings, only one international shipper has even placed, and he was an outlier. Godolphin’s Diabolical, runner-up in the Santa Anita inaugural in 2008, had the advantage of a prior American career.

The skill set of staying down European straightaways doesn’t necessarily translate to barreling around a turn. The shut out can end eventually with the right shipper who adapts, but it’s probably preferable to be cautious about European win chances.

For all updated information about the Breeders' Cup, check out's Ultimate Breeders' Cup Guide.