Nicholas Godfrey on the Breeders' Cup

Nicholas Godfrey casts his eye over the major trainers ready to leave their mark at next weekend's Breeders' Cup, live on Sky Sports Racing.

  • Thursday 29 October
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Breeders' Cup trainers: spotlight on the magnificent seven

Bob Baffert

Bob Baffert

Age: 67

BC record: 15 wins from 119 runners (12.6%)

2020 contenders: Authentic, Improbable, Maximum Security (Classic), Classier (Juvenile), Princess Noor (Juvenile Fillies), Gamine (F&M Sprint)


Only his great friend D Wayne Lukas (no runners) has trained more Breeders’ Cup winners than ‘Uncle Bob’, whose CV features a Classic hat-trick between 2014 and 2016 with Bayern, American Pharoah and Arrogate.

Baffert could use a decent Breeders’ Cup because despite a sixth Kentucky Derby success, a bad smell has lingered around his barn this year with negative headlines involving the controversy surrounding Justify’s Santa Anita Derby and assorted positive dope tests – two of them involving star filly Gamine. With analgesics for human back pain, cough syrup and jimsonweed cited in various instances, they’ve got some serious cross-contamination issues in California.

Baffert is likely to saddle at least two favourites at Keeneland, where hopes for another Classic success justifiably high as Improbable is joined byMaximum Security and Derby victor Authentic. With six previous wins in the juvenile dirt races, any Baffert two-year-old demands consideration, though unbeaten Princess Noor will face stronger rivals than she’s encountered in weak west-coast races and Classier steps out of a maiden. Baffert’s most successful race, however, is the Sprint with five victories, including his breakthrough success with 19-1 chance Thirty Slews in 1992. Shame he hasn’t got a runner.

Watch the 2020 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th November.

Aidan O’Brien

Aidan O'Brien

Age: 51

BC record: 12 wins 147 runners (8.2%)

Top 2020 contenders: Magical, Mogul (Turf), Circus Maximus, Lope Y Fernandez, Order Of Australia (Mile), Peaceful (F&M Turf), Battleground (Juvenile Turf), Mother Earth, Snowfall(Juvenile Fillies Turf),Lipizzaner (Juvenile Turf Sprint)

Apologies for banging an old drum but a selective approach is demanded when considering the Irish behemoth – both at the Breeders’ Cup and US racing as a whole. No European trainer has saddled as many Breeders’ Cup winners as O’Brien, but then again, nobody has saddled anywhere near as many runners. He habitually arrives mob-handed; his overall record stands at 12-for-147 for a strike-rate just over eight per cent.

Despite immense firepower, O’Brien has never won a Breeders’ Cup fillies’ race (Found won the Turf against males); nearly all his victories come from just two races, the Turf (six) and the Juvenile Turf (four). The other two are Johannesburg’s Juvenile (on dirt) and Man Of Iron in the now-defunct Marathon (on synthetic).

O’Brien’s overall North American record in recent seasons is anything but a thing of beauty. Athena’s surprise victory in the 2018 Belmont Oaks is O’Brien’s sole North American winner since Mendelssohn in the 2017 Juvenile Turf, where Anthony Van Dyck and Arizona have been beaten since.

With the likes of Magical, Mogul, Battleground, Peaceful and Circus Maximus on duty this time, a hat-trick of nul points seems almost unthinkable. Just be careful, folks.

Chad Brown

Age: 41

BC record: 15 wins from 91 runners (16.5%)

2020 contenders: Dunbar Road (Distaff), Digital Age, Raging Bull, Uni (Mile), My Sister Nat, Rushing Fall, Sistercharlie, Nay Lady Nay (F&M Turf), Complexity (Dirt Mile), Front Run The Fed (Turf Sprint), Reinvestment Risk (Juvenile), Public Sector (Juvenile Turf), Editor At Large (Juvenile Fillies Turf)

Hard to argue with a strike-rate of 16.5% at the Breeders’ Cup – significantly higher than anyone else with a similar number of runners. Mind you, it is just as well I’m not writing this piece before the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, because it would have been necessary to point out that while Chad Brown’s reputation with turf horses was fully deserved, he had yet to win the Juvenile Turf, Mile or Turf.

Then, boom! America’s champion trainer four years running duly won all three races at Santa Anita with Structor, Uni and subsequent Horse of the Year Bricks And Mortar. Brown’s Breeders’ Cup CV remains lopsided, however, heavily in favour of the female turfers with which he made his name, largely with ex-French types. He has five victories in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf – a race he has made his own – plus four more in the Filly & Mare Turf. Defending Mile champ Uni is also a mare, and 13 of his 15 Cup winners have been on grass.

While businesslike Brown hasn’t been quite his usual dominant self in 2020, he stands second only to the prolific Steve Asmussen in prize-money terms on a national basis. He can again rely on familiar names like Uni – one of four Brown probables in the Mile –Sistercharlie andRushing Fall, while Complexity may start favourite for the Dirt Mile after a strong G2 effort at Belmont.

Todd Pletcher

Age: 53

BC record: 11 wins from 141 (7.8%)

2020 contenders: Valiance (Distaff), Halladay (Mile), Likeable (Juvenile) Mutasaabeq (Juvenile Turf), Union Gables (Juvenile Fillies Turf)


By his own exalted standards, the seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer hasn’t been as dominant at G1 level in recent seasons, clearly being outshone by Chad Brown on the New York circuit.

Such things are relative, and at the time of writing dual Kentucky Derby winner Pletcher stands on the verge of becoming only the eighth trainer his history to reach the 5,000-winner mark.

Moreover, he seems to have abandoned the scattergun approach to the Breeders’ Cup that meant no fewer than 17 runners in 2006, the most ever saddled by a trainer (yes, more than even Aidan O’Brien has ever run). He drew a blank, the sort of result that plays havoc with the old strike-rate.

Fewer runners have produced better results for Pletcher, with winners at each of the last two Breeders’ Cups, notably last year’s Classic success with Vino Rosso at Santa Anita. There are revival signs elsewhere, too: Pletcher regained the trainers’ title at Gulfstream Park for their championship winter meet before doing the same at Saratoga with 32 winners, wresting back the title from Brown for the first time since 2017.

Equally adept on dirt or turf, Pletcher will have a handful of intriguing contenders at Keeneland, among them Sheikh Hamdan’s Mutasaabeq, who is out to thwart the Europeans in the Juvenile Turf – his trainer won in 2010 with Pluck – plus speedy Mile contender Halladay and fellow G1 winner Valiance in the Distaff. Note Pletcher’s impressive record over the years with fillies.

Bill Mott

Bill Mott

Age: 67

BC record: 10 wins from 101 runners (9.9%)

2020 contenders: Tacitus (Classic), Channel Maker (Turf), Horologist (Distaff), Casa Creed (Mile), Frank’s Rockette(Sprint), Harvey’s Lil Goil (F&M Turf)


Forever associated with the great Cigar and the youngest trainer ever inducted into the Hall of Fame aged 45 in 1998, Bill Mott seems to have been around forever – and virtually has, having started training at the age of 15 and wining the South Dakota Futurity with a horse called Kosmic Tour before he was out of high school!

More than 50 years and 5,000 winners later, New York-based Mott commands as much as respect as any trainer in North America and remains a major force on the big stage. He’s also quietly rounded into top form ahead of the Breeders’ Cup with a series of graded-stakes since August – several of them by horses set to run at Keeneland.

While Mott is unlikely to saddle any obvious favourites, his runners can rarely be safely overlookedFrank’s Rockette comes in off a seven-length blowout at Belmont Park, and even turf veteran Channel Maker seems to be in the form of his life after a pair of Grade 1 wins. Then again, he’s been righteously thumped at the last two Breeders’ Cups.

Classic hopes rest with the disappointing Tacitus, who generally seems to find one or two too good whatever the company. He looks up against it, but almost everyone said the same about Drosselmeyer, a similar type who won America’s most valuable race in Kentucky in 2011.

Steve Asmussen

Steve Asmussen

Age: 54

BC record: 7 wins from 54 runners (13.0%)

2020 contenders: Echo Town, Nashville, Yaupon (Sprint), Archidust (Turf Sprint), Calibrate, Jackie’s Warrior (Juvenile), Thoughtfully (Juvenile Fillies), Cowan, County Final (Juvenile Turf Sprint)


Stands second all-time in career victories in North America, having reached the career landmark of 9,000 winners in September and well on the way to 400 victories in this COVID-19 interrupted season.

However, Asmussen deals in both quantity and quality – witness four Horse of the Year titles (Curlin 2007 and 2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Gun Runner (2017). For all his multiple stables mopping up thousands of races at minor venues, he takes a much more selective approach at the Breeders’ Cup, where a strike-rate of 13% is more than healthy.


As such, it is clear Asmussen’s Cup representatives tend to be well intentioned – and he’ll be represented by a hot favourite in the shape of unbeaten two-year-old Jackie’s Warrior in the Juvenile. The son of Maclean’s Music is four-for-four with two G1 wins and biggest Beyers in the division as he stretches around two turns at Keeneland.

Asmussen claimed the Sprint in 2019 with Mitole and a career-ending injury has robbed him of another potential winner in Volatile. Lightly raced three-year-olds Yaupon and Nashville catch the eye as supersubs, though. Both are up in class, but Yaupon has barely been headed in four career starts and Nashville has won two by a cumulative margin of 21 lengths.

Brad Cox

Brad Cox

Age: 40

BC record: 3 wins from 12 runners (25%)

2020 contenders: Arklow (Turf), Monomoy Girl (Distaff), Beau Recall, Factor This (Mile), Knicks Go Owendale (Dirt Mile), Essential Quality (Juvenile), Abarta (Juvenile Turf),Aunt Pearl (Juvenile Fillies Turf)

After saddling a pair of winners at last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, Kentucky-based Brad Cox has kept up the good work in 2020, featuring in the Top 3 all season long.

Although Cox’s main base is down the road in his native Louisville at Churchill Downs, he boasts a fine record at nearby Keeneland, where he broke his Grade 1 duck as recently as April 2018.

With home-court advantage he looks primed to leave a sizeable impression across the two days with a plethora of fancied runners headed by top racemare Monomoy Girl, who is favourite to reclaim her crown in the Distaff after going unbeaten in three starts this year  following her return from an 18-month layoff.

Winner of both the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs during her magnificent three-year-old campaign, Monomoy Girlmissed the whole of last year owing to colic and a hamstring injury. Her career record now stands at 12 wins from 14 starts – and one of those defeats was a DQ. She has been beaten only once on the track, by a neck as a two-year-old.

But this is no one-horse band. Aunt Pearl is strongly fancied to repel the visitors in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Godolphin’s Essential Quality looks chief threat to Jackie’s Warrior in the Juvenile on dirt and Knicks Go has won both starts (albeit in vastly lesser company) since joining Cox by a cumulative 18 lengths. Last time out, he posted a massive 107 Beyer when making all at Keeneland.


Watch the 2020 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th November.

Nicholas Godfrey on the Breeders' Cup
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