Simon Clare: “Expect it to end happily at Del Mar on Friday”
Coral’s Racing guru gives Breeders Cup lowdown
One of the most appealing features of the Breeders’ Cup meeting is the fact that it moves around the nation’s best racetracks, regularly visiting the likes of Santa Anita and Churchill Downs, but from time to time landing at new venues that get to showcase their wares.
This year the show has landed at Del Mar, a small, quaint racecourse just a few hundred metres from the Pacific Ocean, and steeped in racing and showbiz heritage.
Del Mar was built by a collection of entertainers, most notably, Bing Crosby, and they would no doubt have approved greatly of staging a race meeting and show featuring many of the world’s best racehorses along with all the hype and hoopla that comes with the Breeders Cup.
The curtain for the Breeders’ Cup show is about to be raised but what kind of performance can we expect?
Well even by American standards the Del Mar track is incredibly tight.
Whilst it is technically the same size as Santa Anita, a track where European horses have achieved plenty of success, it is shaped differently and that presents a serious tactical challenge to horse and rider.
Santa Anita is shaped more like a cigar with short bends and therefore slightly longer straights.
Del Mar’s bends are longer whilst still seriously tight, and the straights are therefore shorter, making the run from the top of the stretch to the winning post the shortest of any Breeders’ Cup venue in history.
You need a horse with balance and athleticism to handle the contours of Del Mar, and with the tactical speed to get a decent position, to be able to make a move on the bend, and the finishing kick to make up ground in the shortest of runs to the line.
The turf course will ride firm and, while the springy Bermuda grass surface helps to reduce the jar, horses will want to enjoy hearing their hoofs rattle if they are going to succeed over the next two days.
The split-second decisions of the riders particularly in the three races staged over a mile and the sprint will be crucial in determining the outcome of these races.
That’s why it may pay to side with the jockeys with the most experience and confidence when it comes to riding on the biggest of stages.
If the outcome of this race was determined by ability alone, I wouldn’t look much further than Happily and September for the likely winners.
The issue is how these two high class fillies will cope with the unique challenge they will face at Del Mar. Watching how they fare in this race will be a good benchmark on which to base expectations for the many other European horses to follow.
Happily brings the best form to the table with that Group 1 victory against the boys in France the standout. That was on soft ground however and her ability to handle the fast surface is an unknown. The start of the race will be crucial for her chances.
If Ryan Moore can get her out quickly and grab a prominent position then she must have an outstanding chance of making her class tell. If she misses the break then I think it’s curtains for her. At the prices she’s worth backing on that basis.
September looks marginally better suited than her stable-mate to the challenge posed by Del Mar but her stall ten will be tricky to overcome.
If she can somehow get a decent position at the first bend, she appears to have a decent finishing kick and may well appreciate the quick ground.
Rushing Fall is being touted as the leading American challenger, and hails from a trainer with a decent record in the Breeders’ Cup turf races, but her form still doesn’t look anywhere near the level set by the Aidan O’Brien pair.
Juliet Capulet has an awful draw to contend with and because of that Frankie Dettori was very negative about her chances yesterday morning.
Madeline and Now You’re Talking don’t look good enough, but at the prices I can’t resist having a few quid each way on Orbolution.
Todd Pletcher only has a couple of runners at the meeting and this one of them. She came third in the Miss Grillo, which is the best trial for this race, and was giving weight to the winner Significant Form, but is three times the price.
Mor Spirit makes the market in this race. The Bob Baffert trained miler put up a monster effort in the Met Mile back in June but hasn’t been seen since.
The vibes surrounding the horse are mixed at best and it is surely worth taking him on. Sharp Azteca by contrast looks a bombproof logical alternative.
He was second to Mor Spirit in that Met Mile but has put in two improved performances since winning at Monmouth and Belmont Park, and will be on or close to the lead from a great post in three.
He’s my idea of the winner.
Practical Joke is my idea of the main danger.
This three year old has won both his starts at a mile and put up a great performance to give 4lbs and a beating to Takaful in a Grade 1 at Saratoga back in August. He will be coming from off the pace, and can give Sharp Azteca most to think about.
Selection: Sharp Azteca
Alternative: Practical Joke
On ratings alone the six English and Irish trained horses dominate this race.
History also points firmly in their direction with six of the ten runnings of this race being won by the Europeans.
The American turf colts look a pretty ordinary bunch on paper so I’m confidently expecting a seventh European success. What’s not so clear is which horse will come out on top.
Rajasinghe has a shocking draw and Sands of Mali was so abject last time out he’s impossible to back with any confidence.
James Garfield is an exciting contender for a young, new trainer and has the benefit of Franke Dettori on board. He should go well.
Charlie Appleby has only had one Breeders Cup runner before, Outstrip, and he won this race with it. Masar has been working well in the mornings and Appleby is convinced he will relish this firm surface. I have a slight worry about whether he has sufficient tactical pace but if William Buick can get him out quickly and grab a forward spot early, he can make his move round the bend and could prove a tough nut to crack.
Mendelssohn looks very solid. He bombed on soft ground in the Champagne Stakes but this son of Scat Daddy ran a good second in the Dewhurst and should relish the fast surface.
If there is to be a shock, then perhaps the Wesley Ward trained Hemp Hemp Hurray might be the one to cause it.
He could well get loose on the lead and will be much better suited to this tight track than at Woodbine last time out when he was just collared close home.
Longshot: Hemp Hemp Hurray
This a compelling renewal of the Distaff featuring two high quality older fillies in Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled against a new class of three year olds in Elate, Abel Tasman and Paradise Woods.
Stellar Wind has already finished second and fourth in two Distaffs, and has won all three of her starts this year, and also boasts a perfect 3 from 3 win record at Del Mar. She must go close.
Forever Unbridled was 3rd in last year’s race and is in great form too but I’d have her a notch below Stellar Wind.
Both the older fillies have had their chances to win the Distaff however and I’m going to gamble on the three year olds lifting the crown this year.
Abel Tasman won the Kentucky Oaks and has held her form well since, so sets a decent standard. Elate is arguably more exciting after her wins in the Alabama and the Beldame, and a line through a filly called It Tiz Well, gives her the beating of Abel Tasman.
Elate has looked fantastic in the mornings and is my idea of the winner.
Her main danger may come from Paradise Woods. She started favourite for the Kentucky Oaks but this front runner couldn’t dominate that big field that day and she underperformed. She then stumbled and ran no race at Del Mar.
However her fortunes improved last time when winning the Zenyatta Stakes in a great time and she could run a big race from the front tonight.
Alternative: Paradise Woods