Nicholas Godfrey on the Breeders' Cup

Nicholas Godfrey begins his look ahead to Keeneland 2020 by outlining why Ghaiyyath should run in the Classic.

  • Tuesday 22 September
  • Blog
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Okay, admittedly we’ve been here before – about 12 months ago, to be precise, just after Benbatl had thumped King Of Comedy by five lengths in the Group 2 Joel Stakes at Newmarket.

Why not target the Breeders’ Cup Classic? That was the helpful suggestion posited in this slot. For some reason – maybe decades of international achievement made them think they knew better – the head honchos at Godolphin decided against heeding such sagacious advice, and instead went for British Champions Day at Ascot, where the son of Dubawi sank in the mud.

He was soon to be tried on dirt, winning a round of the Maktoum Challenge at Meydan before coming third, beaten by only Maximum Security and Midnight Bisou, two of America’s top dirt specialists, in the first edition of the Saudi Cup. Benbatl was duly made favourite for the Dubai World Cup before the race was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

To be fair, this year’s Classic at Keeneland looks a bit hotter than the 2019 version, but Saeed Bin Suroor is again talking about Champions Day as he prepares to unleash Benbatl on Friday for a repeat success in the Joel Stakes. Quite why the prospect of testing conditions at Ascot should offer such a tempting opportunity is hard to fathom, and it would be nice to think US dirt might offer an alternative for a six-year-old who has already demonstrated that he has a degree of aptitude for non-turf surfaces. Maybe he’ll do both.

However – and apologies for taking a while to get to the point – this isn’t a column about Benbatl, because there’s another son of Dubawi, a much higher-profile Godolphin performer, who would be a fascinating contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

I’m talking about the giant-striding superstar Ghaiyyath, the horse responsible for the best performance in the world this year according to official handicappers, the winner of three Group 1s before his defeat after a fierce duel with Magical at Leopardstown.

Despite such exploits, not everyone is entirely taken by Ghaiyyath, the memory of his abject effort in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe not easily forgiven. Indeed, in recent years it is hard to recall a top-class racehorse who has so divided opinion. Hawk Wing, maybe?

While it would be stretching the elastic to snapping point to claim Ghaiyyath actively embellished his reputation in his Irish defeat, the manner in which he battled to the line – despite the constant attentions of his rival throughout – surely gave the lie to the suggestion that here is any sort of paper tiger, a glass-jawed hero. Sure, any aura of invincibility has been dented – but so has that suggestion that Ghaiyyath could easily be undone and would simply wilt If he did not get things his own way in front.

Be that as it may, now the burning question is where he should run next. Well, everyone else has had their say, so here’s my two cents.

In the immediate aftermath of Irish defeat, the only smoke signals emanating from Godolphin were Charlie Appleby’s statement that the horse was destined for a “short break”.

Though at the time of writing he is still quoted in ante-post lists for the Arc, his brief holiday would seem to rule out any thoughts of visiting the Bois de Boulogne just three weeks after Leopardstown.

Good. Not least because the five-year-old has always shown that he goes really well fresh, his powerful, pulverising running style perhaps taking more out of him than it appears.

While everyone loves to see the best horses taking on each other, even without the evidence of 2019, it is blindingly obvious that a mile and a half around Longchamp on likely bad ground is never going to be Ghiayyath’s game.

Sure, he has won at the distance, and won impressively – and victory at ParisLongchamp in adverse circumstances would be a triumph indeed, shutting up those lingering critics once and for all. But not only does it come too soon, Ghaiyyath is a son of Dubawi out of an Irish Guineas winner (Nightime); the Arc is probably not the wisest option if you’re looking to see the horse in optimum circumstances.

Ghaiyyath runs out an eight-length winner of the Dubai Millennium Stakes over 1m 2f.

Which takes us into October and November, when the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup Turf are said to be under consideration.

Obviously, he could run in both races – previous statements about his being best when fresh notwithstanding. Ascot is the obvious target, and while the ground is unlikely to be right up his street, the prospect of a rematch with Magical is tantalising indeed.

After that, the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland also has its attractions: the Stateside opposition is unlikely to be entirely taxing – have you looked at their middle-distance turf division lately? If Ghaiyyath is to be sent over a mile and a half again, then a US turf track might be the place to do it, though it is far from certain his long stride would be suited by tight turns, and there’s no guarantee of decent ground at Kentucky in November.

Despite its attractions, though, I would not be looking at the Turf. Come on guys: why not roll the dice at the Classic?

Ghaiyyath is by Dubawi, offering real hope he might appreciate the dirt, certainly rather more hope than the endless sons of Galileo that have been tried on the surface by Coolmore in America’s most prestigious race. (Indeed, if Ghaiyyath was owned by the Coolmore team, he’d probably already be on the plane. Actually, that’s not entirely true, because he’d probably run in both the Arc and the Champion Stakes first.)

Admittedly, the dam’s side of Ghaiyyath’s pedigree suggests dirt is no slam-dunk for the horse: his dam is a daughter of Galileo who won on heavy ground. On the plus side, and perhaps the most compelling argument, is Ghaiyyath’s unremitting style of running, grinding his rivals into absolute submission. He can run the finish out of his rivals; even if he is taken on, he might be able to break their spirits one-by-one, while similarly robbing turn-of-foot merchants of their ability to deliver any sort of telling burst.

Put simply, Ghaiyyath’s modus operandi looks tailor-made for an attritional US dirt race. Think Ghostzapper, or something like that.

The potential upside is immense; the downside seemingly negligible (although there must always be a degree of hesitation in using such a phrase when one considers poor old George Washington).

In fact, why even bother with the Champion Stakes, which looms as the more conventional option, for fear of rendering the Breeders’ Cup Classic as an afterthought. After all, there is nothing like putting all your eggs in one basket. Especially if they chuck in Benbatl as well.

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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