After the year we’ve head, of desperate times and dividing lines, we needed some transatlantic togetherness via a star-studded spectacle that showcased our sport, and Keeneland delivered: the 2020 Breeders’ Cup was good for the soul.
The primary function of the self-styled World Thoroughbred Championships is to define each division, to crown a champion, but the by-product is to set up the following season, which is the point of this piece, to look to the future and examine the elements of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup that both impact and invigorate next year, in America and indeed Europe.
THE COUNTDOWN IS ALREADY ON TO THE KING’S STAND
Battaash had it all his own way in 2020, in a defensive campaign that took in only three-races, his go-to races in Britain, safe in the knowledge that he’s peerless for pace around these parts. But something is coming for him next year.
The ¾-length margin by which Golden Pal won the Juvenile Turf Sprint last Friday doesn’t reflect what he did, a power-packed performance to overcome stall 14 and then overdrive into a clear led into the home straight. And straight after there was some fighting talk by Wesley Ward about righting the wrong from this year’s Royal Ascot with Golden Pal.
Add in the distinct possibility of another international raider coming across in the shape of awesome Aussie Bivouc, whose win in a Group 1 at Flemington last week almost had to be seen to be believed, not to forget Breeders’ Cup heroine Glass Slippers, and the race of the summer looks like being the King’s Stand, for which it’s currently 5/1 the field, reflecting that Battaash will have his hands full.
ANOTHER AMERICAN ADVENTURE TO ASCOT?
“I’m very open to the idea of taking her to Royal Ascot.”
The break-out star of the Breeders’ Cup was undoubtedly Brad Cox, whose stock has risen right through the year, a statement he signed by taking eight runners to Keeneland and winning with four of them, including Aunt Pearl.
We all got carried away when Newspaperofrecord ran away with the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf in 2018, believing she might conquer the world, not to be, but that needn’t be a blueprint for Aunt Pearl, who won the same race in strikingly similar style, all action, from the front. The way she whizzed around the bends at pace plugs in well with the Coronation Stakes, and it’s an obvious option for Brad Cox to bring his burgeoning brand to Britain.
NASHVILLE THE NEXT BIG THING
Steve Asmussen took two crack 3-y-o sprinters to Keeneland, splitting those Aces, with Yaupon made favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, only to fluff his lines, overawed and overmatched. Oh, how it might have been different if he’d have sent Nashville to the Sprint.
In winning a Grade 3 on the undercard, Nashville barely left the bridle in steamrollering his field, in a time that was faster at every stage than the Sprint itself, over the same course and distance. There are of course nuances in the draw and dynamics that means those races aren’t completely comparable, but even so it was the punchiest of performances by Nashville, and the future of sprinting in the US belongs to him.
THE EUROPEAN UNION
The success of the Europeans at Keeneland will surely generate a 2021 Breeders’ Cup travelling team to Del Mar that’s even higher on quality and quantity. Having won all four races on the turf on the Saturday, along with two seconds and a third in the three juvenile events on grass on Friday, not to mention the Melbourne Cup earlier last week, we got a prompt and powerful reminder that British and Irish thoroughbreds are still the world’s best stock, therefore more or less obligated to go after the massive money overseas.
Godolphin had a winner, with the Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality taking the Juvenile, but Charlie Appleby was a notable absentee, strange given his firepower and his usual foreign focus, and he might be ruing not giving Pinatubo one last whirl, considering that the second and third in the Mile were horses who Pinatubo had made look ordinary at various times this summer.
One final European point with a nod to the future is how the Arc meeting connected to the Breeders’ Cup this year, with three of the four Euro winners coming on from Longchamp. As the late-comer to the autumn party, Champions Day can feel like the odd one out in the defining dates, and will continue to do so whilst squeezed between the established events, but those established events – of Arc weekend and the Breeders’ Cup – could hardly be better bedfellows, as this year proved, worth keeping in mind for 2021.
Pinatubo wasn’t the only temptation resisted by Charlie Appleby at the Breeders’ Cup, as for a long while the talk of the Turf was Ghaiyyath, easy to envisage him enjoying himself powering around Keeneland, not to be, retired rather than risked, but, believe it or not, we can get from Ghaiyyath to the Greatwood.
That’s because when he won his very first race, Ghaiyyath beat none other than Proschema, who’s front and centre for the big handicap at Cheltenham on Sunday. On the Flat, for Tom Dascombe, Proschema rose all the way to a rating of 105, capped by contesting the 2018 St Leger, and that’s both a pertinent and positive perspective, given he’s had just four starts over hurdles, heading to the Greatwood with a mark of 131.
Proschema is still to tap into all of that Flat ability, but the Greatwood, on the Old course, will be about as close to a Flat race as it gets, especially on the forecast ground, and Proschema warmed up for it at Wetherby with a strong-travelling second that looks better still after Anemoi went in again at Chepstow. Yes, he’s near enough favourite for the Greatwood, but if you were profiling the winner it would look a lot like Proschema, being a 5-y-o still stacked with potential for hurdling, on top of the fact he’s managed by one of the best target trainers in the business.