The virtuoso performances in racing are a thing of beauty, but it’s the duels that get the adrenaline pumping, the match-ups that define divisions within divisions, where the stakes are high and the drama higher.
So, let’s look at the eight head-to-heads that have the potential to make Breeders’ Cup 2019 a night – or two nights – to remember.
1. EUROPE vs USA
It’s the element that makes the Breeders’ Cup sing: always has been, always will be. The organic rivalry depends on the strength of the European challenge, more about quantity (33) than quality (none rated 125+ by Timeform) this year, no ‘bankers’ from these parts, but there’s enough for sure to light the touch paper. And this boils down, in many instances, to Aidan O’Brien versus Chad Brown.
The dirt is different, an American matter, and, though the Classic isn’t a classic, there are some big hitters on a collision course to placate the purists and to enrapture the European audience.
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
2. OMAHA BEACH vs EXPECTATION
Expectations are very high for Omaha Beach, just about the shortest-priced horse at the meeting, though we all know that the main story here is that the Dirt Mile is sponsored by Big Ass Fans.
It hasn’t been a straight road to the Dirt Mile, far from it, as Omaha Beach has taken an unorthodox route, from being the one-time favourite for the Kentucky Derby to winning his prep race over just six furlongs, against one of America’s top dirt sprinters (Shancelot).
The ‘bounce’ isn’t a British only concept, and it’s a concern – perhaps the concern – with Omaha Beach, having been absent for six months prior to his eyeballs-out effort in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship.
But on form he’s out on his own.
3. ALBIGNA vs DAAHYEH
It’s an even split in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, seven attacking from Europe and seven in a defence formation for the US, though the stand-out pair we know well, from Britain and Ireland.
Albigna has the trip in her favour, relishing the mile in the Boussac, but slow in the transmission, while a track like Santa Anita is the perfect playground for Daahyeh, but will she last it out?
Personally, I’d always go for speed over stamina on that tight turf track.
4. ANTHONY VAN DYCK vs SANTA ANITA
Talking of speed over stamina on that tight turf track, the big question in the Turf is to what extent if any will Santa Anita dim the light in Anthony Van Dyck, whose staying power won him the Derby. A mile and a half around Santa Anita, on the forecast fast ground, takes around 2.23.00, the time Highland Reel completed it in 2016.
It took 10 seconds longer than that for Anthony Van Dyck to get on top at Epsom.
That may well hurt him, compounded by the fact his main rival, Bricks And Mortar, who has been unstoppable in the US this year, has many gears to go to, but he has a point to prove at the trip.
Perhaps more than the track, the gallop they go will shape the outcome, and if it’s not a proper pace then Anthony Van Dyck will be in trouble.
5. COVFEFE vs COME DANCING
Two fine females, both coming off campaigns consisting of five starts and only one defeat. Come Dancing bowed to the outstanding Midnight Bisou, who has the Distaff at her mercy, but she has to concede a couple of years, and therefore a couple of pounds, to the three-year-old Covfefe.
The one blemish on Covfefe’s card this year (when overturned at 2/5) came at 6f, but since then, moved up to 7f, she has hit new heights, and the draw puts her in pole position, more so as Come Dancing has a tendency to fluff the start.
This head-to head in the Filly & Mare Sprint will go all the way to the wire.
6. ARIZONA vs STALL 12
There are a couple of things to factor in that make a wide draw for Arizona less of a worry than it would ordinarily be. Number one is his talent, and number two is his team-mate. If he is as good as he looked against Pinatubo in the Dewhurst, then he’s too hot for the Americans to handle, whatever passage he charts.
And then there’s Fort Myers next door in 13, who may act as some sort of Ballydoyle bodyguard to usher Arizona into a workable position.
7. DENNIS’ MOMENT vs EIGHT RINGS
These two power-packed juveniles are very much alike, so much so that, astoundingly, their records both read two wins and one unseat.
Dennis’ Moment is perhaps more the finished product, whereas Eight Rings still had some immaturity about him when winning the American Pharoah Stakes, and his trainer, Bob Baffert, knows exactly how to prime a champion two-year-old, having won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile four times.
With this pair squaring up in the straight, Friday will end in fireworks.
8. SISTERCHARLIE vs THE EUROPEANS
With Magical ruled out, it’s now a case of strength in numbers for the Europeans in ganging up on Sistercharlie. In an interesting late twist, Sistercharlie’s regular pacemaker, Thais, has been scratched, breaking an established connection and opening the door for one of the Europeans to dictate.
The raiding party from these parts have won seven Group 1s between them, but Sisterchalie has won that many on her own, including this event last year when overwhelming Wild Illusion, who was probably better than anything going over this year.