Hope Springs eternal on day one of the Breeders’ Cup
The torrential rain that fell earlier this week in Lexington, Kentucky was replaced by glorious sunshine and a brisk breeze yesterday and Keeneland racecourse, staging the Breeders’ Cup for the first time, looked an absolute picture. The vista from the grandstand at the majority of American racetracks, bar Santa Anita, tends to be man-made constructions, be they houses or skyscrapers yet here all the eye can see is rolling fields, trees and stud-land. Nothing but natural beauty.
But the torrential rain that fell has played merry havoc with race analysis of the six turf races at The Breeders’ Cup. How will this turf track ride? Which horses will it suit? Locals with knowledge of the course yesterday afternoon confidently predicted that the ground would be no worse than good. Some quietly speculated it might even be quick. Although not necessarily relevant, the dirt track was being described as ‘muddy’ when racing started yesterday lunchtime. After just a few races it was changed to ‘good’. A couple of races later the description was changed to ‘fast’ and a new track record was set for 6.5 furlongs. The sun and the breeze were working their magic on the sand. What might they be doing to the turf?
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
In the opening race, the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, I am convinced that Cymric is going to go very close. When he just failed by the narrowest of margins in France on Arc day, I glanced at his all American breeding, saw John Gosden’s name and thought “Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf”. Sure enough a few days later the target was announced. He looks the perfect type of horse for the race, trained by a man who has won it twice before. All eyes have been on Golden Horn in the morning but Cymric has looked fantastic, and his work rider hasn’t stopped smiling about how well the horse is. The stall thirteen is a concern and just heaps more pressure on jockey William Buick, as he bids to win his first Breeders Cup race after near misses, and arguably missed opportunities, on The Fugue in both the last two years. In Cymric I think he has his path to redemption and a first Breeders’ Cup success.
Hit it A Bomb is clearly well regarded at Ballydoyle but wanted firm ground and has the outside draw to boot so I’ll pass, and his stablemate Shogun is the second string and appears held by Cymric. I can see Birchwood running well however from a perfect draw in 6 and for a trainer that has had a stellar season. He was racing way too far out against Air Force Blue but still ran well in third, and if ridden with a bit more restraint around this tight track I can see him chasing Cymric home for a Godolphin 1-2. The American challenge lacks a standout contender so a couple of longshots worth considering are Camelot Knight and Highland Sky who had troubled passages in their preps and can run on late
Each Way: Birchwood
Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile
Liam’s Map is one of the shortest priced favourites over the thirteen Breeders’ Cup races and quite frankly he deserves to be. He’s a progressive lightly raced horse who put up a sensational front running display to win the Woodward at Saratoga. A similar display here would make him impossible to beat. His run the time before a neck behind leading Breeders’ Cup Classic contender, Honour Code is even more significant form. Lea is a likeable and versatile horse having run 3rd in the Dubai World Cup earlier in the year followed by two solid Group 1 dirt efforts and then a latest start on turf where he finished second in Canada to Mondialiste. He has a touch of class and as honest as they come and he can chase home the favourite.
War Envoy runs for Aidan O’Brien but is very hard to make a case for. He won the Britannia handicap at Royal Ascot which is admirable, but that form is a world apart from taking on the world’s best dirt horses. For all he might improve for the first race on dirt, which would be no surprise given his pedigree, I suspect this will simply be more of an opportunity for Ryan Moore to gain some valuable experience riding on the dirt surface in advance of his big race ride on Gleneagles on Saturday.
Win: Liam’s Map
Each Way: Lea
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
I have spent hours looking at the thirteen races over the two day Breeders’ Cup meeting, and one of the horses I am most confident about winning is Alice Springs in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She has rock solid form with the two best fillies in Europe, Minding and Ballydoyle, both of whom happen to be her stable-mates, giving trainer Aidan O’Brien clear sight of how good this two year old filly is, and how logical her fit is in this race. When all the O’Brien horses made their way to the track for some gentle exercise yesterday, one of the Ballydoyle team made it quite clear that Alice Springs was the horse they were most confident in by some margin. She’s drawn well, has Ryan Moore on board, and is difficult to oppose.
The main danger to the favourite comes from Illuminate who is a classy two year old over six furlongs but must have stamina doubts over this trip and on ground that could be on the dead side. On balance she is one to oppose.
There’s been decent money all week for Nemoralia but the fact that there’s been a change of plan from an original intention to run in dirt, after a solid performance in The Frizette at Belmont, to running back on turf doesn’t inspire confidence. Particularly as the reasoning was simply that Songbird is too hard to beat in the dirt race tomorrow. She doesn’t look good enough on turf to beat Alice Springs. My each way alternative to the favourite, or one for the forecast perhaps, is Harmonize. She put up an awesome eyecatching performance in her prep, The Jessamime, and is trained by the Hall of Fame great, Bill Mott. She reportedly worked better than Bill Mott’s grade 1 miler Seek Again earlier this week and confidence in Harmonize is high.
Win: Alice Springs
Each Way: Harmonize
Breeders Cup Distaff
The Breeders Cup Distaff is missing the two biggest names in this division, and the last two winners of the race, with Beholder first aimed at the Classic, and then scratched, and Untapable defecting from the race just two days ago. As a result there’s the chance for a new star filly to emerge from the pack and Wedding Toast could well be that horse. She simply couldn’t have been more impressive in winning her last three starts and rounds into this race in spectacular form. Kiaran McLaughlin has oozed confidence every time he’s been interviewed about this horse, and remember this is a trainer who has trained a Breeders’ cup Classic winner and a Dubai World Cup trainer. He is not known either for being over-confident ahead of big races. Take the hint.
It’s a deep and talented field however so no cakewalk for Wedding Toast. I’m A Chatterbox improved to win the Cotillion last time and has the perfect stalking style for this track and trip. Got Lucky won the Spinster here at Keeneland with a dogged late running display from Untapable and Yahilwa, and will likely be coming late again. Yahilwa has been put up by quite a number of the local form experts (they call them handicappers here) as a good each way bet as they believe she hasn’t had races run to suit of late yet has still run big races. For all that I am going to take a bit of a punt on Curalina. She had a big reputation earlier in the year but has come up disappointingly short on her last couple of starts. The word is she’s back to her early summer best and at the odds I’ll take a chance on her.
Win: Wedding Toast
Each Way: Curalina
This however is just the appetiser for the most tasty of Breeders’ Cup dishes tomorrow. Has there ever been a better field assembled for the event? In any normal year a multiple Group 1 winning European horse like Golden Horn, with victories in the Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Irish Champion and Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe all under his belt would be the undisputed star-turn. Yet this year he plays a supporting actor role to the US equine superstar, American Pharoah, the first winner of the American Triple Crown since 1977 and the first such winner to be able to now have a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Classic, given this race was only born in 1984. Throw in fantastic European challenges for both the Filly & Mare Turf and the Mile, headed by Legatissimo and Esoterique respectively, the Hollywood-type story of Runhappy in the Sprint, a first Breeders’ Cup ride for English jockey switched to American jockey, Sophie Doyle, and a host of rides for our star jockeys, Dettori and Moore across the card, and this truly is a race meeting to savour and enjoy. Throw in the magic of a new, more UK friendly timetable for the event, and all British racing fans and punters can enjoy the 9 race extravaganza from just gone four o’clock in the afternoon through to half past nine, well before bed-time and a good hour before Match of The Day. There’s no excuse to miss this, not that anyone would want one.