THE Breeders’ Cup Classic is not America’s most celebrated race, nor is it any longer the richest. It remains, though, by some degree the most prestigious – and frankly, as far as this year’s edition is concerned, it is also a bit of a mess.
The $6 million event is less than four weeks away and all the US trials are done and dusted, yet the upper reaches of the various ante-post markets feature a number of horses who are either surrounded by doubts or unlikely to run.
Even the longtime favourite McKinzie was beaten at odds on in his trial, the Awesome Again, and is now minus a jockey following the sacking of Mike Smith. Not that ‘Uncle Bob’ Baffert will be short on offers, but we are hardly talking Arrogate versus California Chrome.
It is 4-1 the field for a reason. Just have a look at this list – albeit with the necessary caveat emptor, that things can always change, and not every bookmaker is quoting every horse mentioned.
However, all those listed were on offer at under the 25-1 mark at the time of writing.
Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC ‘CONTENDERS’
McKinzie – beaten in prep and looking for a rider; stamina doubts and well-beaten fav last year
Code Of Honor – needed DQ to win Jockey Club Gold Cup but now looking solid
Elate – mare was set to run but now uncertain after odds-on defeat at weekend
Game Winner – BC Juvenile winner out for season
Vino Rosso – east-coast star first past post in Jockey Club Gold Cup and proven at course and distance but hardly frightening
Maximum Security – top 3yo misses race after setback but could be back for Cigar Mile
Omaha Beach – spectacular return to action over 6f; has options in Sprint and Dirt Mile
Thunder Snow – won’t be seen until Dubai
Country House – promoted Kentucky Derby winner out for season
Yoshida – versatile and fourth last year and usually found out in G1s
Math Wizard – probably surprised his own connections with Penn Derby win; longshot status
Mr Money – beaten in Penn Derby
War Of Will – Preakness winner is at least a confirmed runner but only third in the Penn Derby
Mongolian Groom – see Math Wizard with reference to Awesome Again shock but set to be supplemented
Seeking The Soul – last year’s runner-up but miles behind in Awesome Again and struggles in major G1s
Higher Power – won Pacific Classic; stuffed in Awesome Again
Tacitus – won't run again this season
Owendale – comes in from bright lights of G3 Remington Derby in Oklahoma after coming fifth in Travers
Preservationist – has been retired
Do you see what I’m driving at? Without wishing to show any more disrespect, this is not the most stellar group in history, though there is still time for an intriguing new name to be added to the mix. Connections of superstar filly Midnight Bisou seem adamant she will not be switched from the Distaff in her bid for Horse of the Year honours, but what about leading turf performer Bricks And Mortar?
Although trainer Chad Brown is leaning towards the Mile, he is on record suggesting neither the Mile or the mile and a half of the Turf are the horse’s optimum distance. The Classic is a mile and a quarter, of course, which is. Albeit on an alien surface - though it is interesting to note the name of Bricks And Mortar’s sire: none other than Giant’s Causeway, who came oh-so-close to a famous victory on dirt under Mick Kinane in the 2000 Classic at Churchill Downs. He is hardly short of top horses on dirt.
If either (or preferably both) of Midnight Bisou and Bricks And Mortar were to show up, then the Classic suddenly looks a whole lot sexier, while Omaha Beach looks a must, though there’s the Pegasus and the new Saudi Cup further away if it is asking too much after a layoff.
Yet while connections of America’s top horses weigh up their options, there is another fairly obvious question: is this a Classic ripe for the plucking for a visitor?
Well, ‘ripe’ may well be overdoing it given hard-learned lessons over the decades when it comes to taking on American dirt in the Classic, where Arcangues remains the sole European-trained winner on that surface (Raven thanks to the biggest shock in BC history with his barely plausible 133-1 victory in 1993.
(For the purposes of this analysis, it is sensible to overlook the Raven’s Pass/Henrythenavigator one-two because it was on a synthetic surface that played closer to turf.)
Arcangues had been fourth of five to the Henry Cecil-trained Knifebox in the G2 Prix Dollar on heavy ground at the Arc weekend on his previous outing; seemingly the biggest thing he had going for him was the identity of his jockey and trainer, namely Jerry Bailey and Andre Fabre. That said, it seems unlikely Fabre will be asking Waldgeist to follow suit.
Arcangues sprang a 133-1 shock for Andre Fabre in 1993.
On the plus side, Arcangues’s unlikely success did at least happen at this year’s Cup venue Santa Anita, and there have been a series of transatlantic near-misses in the Classic, notably via a series of fine runner-up efforts. Both Giant’s Causeway and Sakhee, for Coolmore and Godolphin respectively, went down only after thrilling battles with the formidable Tiznow, while the likes of Toast Of New York and Declaration Of War (close third) were beaten in tight photo-finishes at Santa Anita.
Ballydoyle's Giant’s Causeway was denied by a nose by Tiznow in 2000.
Godolphin's Sahkee was denied by a nose by Tiznow in 2001.
Declaration of War was a close third for Ballydoyle in 2013.
Jamie Osbourne's Toast of New York was defeated by a nose by Bayern in 2014.
Go back to 1990 and you might recall an even more unlikely contender in the shape of the Paul Cole-trained Ibn Bey, who was beaten only a length by Unbridled at Belmont under Richard Quinn. Before his New York display, he had specialised in winning soft-ground G1s in Germany – plus the Irish St Leger!
The Paul Cole-trained Ibn Bey finished runner-up to Unbridled in 1990.
What most of these horses had in common was a US pedigree: they were by sires such as Storm Cat (Giant’s Causeway) and War Front (Declaration Of War). To stretch a point, even Ibn Bey’s sire, the great Mill Reef, was himself US-bred.
Apart from the simple fact that it isn’t easy to beat the North Americans on dirt at their own game, one of the central reasons for a relative lack of European success in the BC Classic is that so many top horses were ill-fitted to the task in pedigree terms.
Easy to say in retrospect, of course, and nobody wants to quell the spirit of sporting adventure: if anyone gets lucky, they’ll go down in the annals of the Turf (and Dirt). With all that in mind, here are six possible rolls of the dice.
(Saeed Bin Suroor)
See what I mean about left-field? But think about it: that was a hugely impressive return at Newmarket, he’s nice and fresh after a summer break and he is used to travelling the globe and taking his form with him. Moreover, he is by Dubawi (not Galileo!), though my layman’s analysis of the dam’s side suggests rather less encouragement. He’s also due to run at British Champions Day but you never know…especially now Thunder Snow is a no-go.
Arcangues was beaten at the Arc weekend, and so was Olmedo, more than four lengths behind The Revenant in the Prix Daniel Wlldenstein. Given that the 4yo was a short-priced favourite on the back on hugely positive reports from Rouget, it was a disappointing result, but that bare form hides a multitude. Olmedo pulled like a train as Cristian Demuro tried to restrain him behind a slow pace on really soft ground. He looks tailor-made for racing abroad: a strong gallop would be assured in the Classic, and his trainer loves a challenge. Oh, and he’s a French Guineas winner by Declaration Of War. Could dirt be his thing? (Or at least, faster ground somewhere plus a quicker pace). Interesting.
Almost has to be mentioned given Ballydoyle’s fondness for the Classic, which has loomed large in the Coolmore mindset for two decades. With speed enough to win the Juddmonte International at 1m2f, Japan seems their most likely option. But he’s by Galileo and the list of failures on that score makes for sobering reading. Mind you, that has never stopped them from trying in the past; then again, O’Brien said after York he was too much of a baby to be considered so the Turf seems more likely. Which might leave Magical looking for a race…
4. Circus Maximus
On the plus side, he carries the Niarchos colours (the family have loved the Breeders’ Cup since the days of Miesque) and O’Brien has a habit of running milers in the Classic. On the downside, he is a leading fancy for the Mile – and, moreover, he is also by Galileo.
5. Anthony Van Dyck
Has been quoted in betting and winning the BC Classic with a Derby winner has a certain ring about it, but really? He’s by Galileo, as if you hadn’t guessed, and he isn’t as fast as Japan. Then again, it wouldn’t be a bad way to redeem a tarnished reputation.
6. Van Beethoven
Could certainly see this one showing up. He’s run twice in the States already on grass and was beaten only two lengths in the Shadwell Turf Mile at the weekend. All right, he’s not good enough on what we’ve seen but he is by Scat Daddy (like last year’s fifth Mendelssohn) and if he improved on dirt? Either way, sure to be running somewhere at Santa Anita on November 2.