Simon Clare: Rhododendron to bloom at the Breeders’ Cup
Englishman, Simon Callaghan, son of ex-trainer Neville, has had a sensational season particularly with his two year olds, and Moonshine Memories has an outstanding chance of rounding off his year in style with a Breeders Cup victory. She has won all three of her career starts, including two here at Del Mar, and also has the top track rider, Flavien Prat on board. With plenty of pace in the race from the likes of Alluring Star, Separationofpowers and Wonder Gadot, Moonshine Memories should have a perfect trip and is a confident selection.
There is always a danger that the jockeys could go too hard up front and that might bring a finisher, or closer as they call them over here, into play. Pied Bianchi has bumped into Moonshine Memories twice and finished behind her on both occasions, but if there is a battle up front I could see Doug O’Neill’s two year old staying on for a place and maybe even to snatch it all.
Selection: Moonshine Memories
Alternative: Pied Bianchi
Lady Aurelia is well known to British racing fans who will remember her explosive demolition in last year’s Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot, which she backed up this year with an equally impressive win in the King’s Stand. They will also remember her narrow defeat at the hands of Marsha in this year’s Nunthorpe, when Frankie celebrated prematurely, and this race features a thrilling rematch with Sir Mark Prescott’s filly.
Lady Aurelia has John Velasquez back on board and he rides her beautifully. She is perfectly drawn with hold up horses on her inside and outside, so she should comfortably grab the lead she craves. That said Richard’s Boy, Bucchero and Pure Sensation are all front runners, so she could face pressure on her outside. Local experts also point to the fact that closers have a great record in races over 5 furlongs on the turf at Del Mar, and that should give considerable hope to Marsha fans.
Marsha is comfortably the best UK turf sprinter to run in this race since its introduction to the Breeders Cup Schedule. She has looked fantastic in the morning and has the perfect temperament for handling the hoopla of a Breeders’ Cup race. Handling the bend is the unknown but she is an ultra-consistent filly and good form on a fast surface and I fancy her to go very close.
If there is a danger to the expected match between Lady Aurelia and Marsha, I think it could come from Disco Partner. This Christophe Clement sprinter has never run over the minimum trip but has decent form over five and a half furlongs, and is in brilliant form this season. Washington DC has a poor win to run ratio, but his best form doesn’t leave him much to find with the principals. He could run well without winning.
Alternative: Disco Partner
Filly & Mare Sprint
This is not a race that I have a strong opinion on. Unique Bella figures as one of the heaviest favourites across the two day meeting and you can see why. She’s won five of her six career starts, finishing second on her debut, and has the benefit of the brilliant Mike Smith to steer her round this Del Mar track, a track she has already won over.
She is a very short price though and hasn’t faced a field as deep as this, so it is worth taking her on. Skye Diamonds has good form at Del Mar and is in great heart this year. She has attracted interesting support in the market suggesting confidence in the Bill Spawr camp is high, so she rates the each way value.
I also like returning champions in this race, and Finest City looks capable of a big effort to retain her title. She has won two of her three starts at Del Mar and will be fresh after a four month layoff. She won’t be far away and is a decent each way price too.
Selection: Skye Diamonds
Alternative: Finest City
Filly & Mare Turf
A lot has been written about the fast, tight track, and the impact of the draw on the turf races at Del Mar, but I’m convinced that over the 1m 1f trip of the Filly & Mare Turf, the draw is not as big a deal as many are anticipating.
Rhododendron looks primed for a massive effort in this race. She has the speed for a mile and stays 1m2f well. Her form is out of the top draw with her early season seconds to Winter and Enable now looking particularly strong given everything that her conquerors did subsequently. The fact she had an issue in the French Oaks, meant she had a mid-season break, and she couldn’t come into this race in better form after winning the Prix L’Opera.
Lady Eli is a stunning race mare. She has won ten of her thirteen career starts, including a win at the Breeders Cup as a two year old, and she finished second on the other three occasions. She is unbeaten in three starts over 1m1f and looks a certainty to be there at the finish.
It’s a really strong race with some very talented fillies from both sides of the Atlantic lining up. Wuheida and Queen’s Trust are good supporting acts to Rhododendron from Europe. The trip is the worry for last year’s winner Queen’s Trust though. Fillies like Dacita, War Flag and Avenge are consistent performers too, but not quite in the same class as Lady Eli. If there is a filly capable of stepping up and shocking the field it might be Senga from France. She won the French Oaks but hasn’t been the most consistent of fillies. This firm ground and speedy track could play to her strengths, and she’s worth a throw-away each way bet.
Alternative: Lady Eli
Drefong is a short price to repeat last year’s victory and is drawn well in two. He has had a light campaign and Bob Baffert is a past-master at preparing sprinters for this meeting. I fancy him to blow these rivals away.
Mind Your Biscuits is a charismatic horse with plenty of talent. He enjoys listening to rap music in the mornings, and shows plenty of attitude on the track too. He won the Golden Shaheen in Dubai and came back to win a Grade Two at Belmont before disappointing at Saratoga behind Drefong. It’s worth noting he ran a clunker at Saratoga last year too before bouncing back with a decent run, and he’s reportedly been working well. Takaful is speedy but needs things to go his way.
Alternative: Mind Your Biscuits
The Del Mar turf track is a challenging track to run on as a horse and to ride as a jockey, but Mendelssohn and Ryan Moore proved that a European horse can get the job done. That said most of the other European challengers found the challenge beyond them and the Breeders’ Cup Mile will be a fierce test of the raiding team.
Ribchester is the best horse in the race but after a long season, and a tough race two weeks ago at Ascot, there is clearly a concern whether he will be able to produce his best around this unique, tight track on firm ground. However, Richard Fahey seems convinced that the horse is in the form to deliver on the biggest stage. He is so far clear on ratings that I’m willing to keep the faith.
World Approval looks a very solid favourite as he’s in a rich vein of form since being switched to a mile but his recent wins have been at Saratoga and Woodbine, a world away from this tight, fast track.
Heart to Heart has been in great form this season but Suedois managed to pounce and beat that horse in the Shadwell Mile. If that form can be taken at face value then he has a serious chance of winning this race given a finishing kick is such a crucial weapon.
Bolt D’Oro looks one of the most legitimate favourites of the whole Breeders’ Cup meeting. He has been the standout horse in terms of all week in the mornings, and his form to date is head and shoulders ahead of his rivals. He’s won all three starts, including a destructive performance in the Grade 1 Front Runner at Santa Anita on his last start. He will be hard to beat.
Aidan O’Brien runs US Navy Flag in a sporting crack at this dirt prize having achieved two Group 1 wins on turf in recent weeks. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from this approach in terms of future stallion values, but there is enough dirt influence in his breeding to suggest he can be competitive. O’Brien won the 2001 Juvenile with Johannesburg beating an American hot-pot favourite in Officer, so perhaps the scene is set for a repeat?
Selection: Bolt D’Oro
Alternative: US Navy Flag
If there is one race on Breeders’ Cup night that you can rely on to deliver a European success then it’s the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Europe has dominated the Americans in this contest and once again they launched a serious challenge for the prize in the form of Highland Reel, Ulysses and Decorated Knight.
** Update – Unfortunately Ulysses became a non runner on Friday night.
Highland Reel won this race last year with an aggressive ride from Seamie Heffernan but all the jockeys in this race will be more alive to that tactic this year than they were last. That’s not to say that they can do anything to stop it working however as Highland Reel is a supremely tough horse to pass and appears to have been conditioned to peak on this stage once again.
With Ulysses out of the race, Decorated Knight might emerge as the main danger to the favourite. His perfect trip is ten furlongs but if there is ever a place that he will last home over twelve then it is probably here at Del Mar. Cliffs of Moher will love the ground according to his trainer and should handle the track, whereas O’Brien seemed less sure Seventh Heaven would be at home around the tight Del Mar contours. You have to respect Andre Fabre challengers at the Breeders’ Cup but Talismanic is surely out of his depth in this field.
Beach Patrol is the leading US hope but his form looks a good way below the level set by the Europeans and this could see repeat of the 2004 European 1-2-3-4.
Selection: Highland Reel
Alternative: Decorated Knight
The Breeders’ Cup Classic rarely disappoints as the feature race at this two day extravaganza, and this year’s renewal is a compelling one. Arrogate came of age twelve months ago when beating the public hero California Chrome, and he then went on to win the Pegasus Gold Cup and the Dubai World Cup in style. He has lost his way since then though and is now bidding to end his career with a supreme comeback. His recent work has reportedly been good and his jockey is confident. His best would easily be good enough to win this. I’m willing to keep the faith.
He faces serious competition from his own stable as West Coast, Collected and Mubtaahij all have claims, and Gun Runner is the form horse but has never won over this trip before. Churchill and War Decree are also fascinating contenders to chuck into the mix. Churchill looked like being one of the stars of the season when he completed the Guineas double but the wheels have stopped turning so quickly since with defeats in four Group Ones. His style might suit dirt but he’s hard to fancy. War Decree is interesting as he’s unexposed and bred for this surface. But surely he can’t rock up and beat horses of the calibre of Arrogate and Gun Runner?
Arrogate is the horse to back. It would bring the house down if he can complete a historic comeback and that would be a memorable winning bet to have place.