John Gosden admits it is impossible to predict how Roaring Lion will face the kickback when he bids to crown a stellar campaign with victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
After suffering an odds-on defeat in the Craven Stakes and finishing fifth in the 2000 Guineas, few would have envisaged the Qatar Racing-owned colt would go on to become one of the stars of the season by winning five of his next six starts.
But he proved himself the best Europe has to offer over a mile and a quarter with victories in the Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes, before showing he has spades of courage to go with his undoubted class when defying a drop to a mile in the QEII at Ascot.
The son of Kitten’s Joy is asked an even tougher question on what will be his final career start as he takes on the speedy Americans in their own backyard and on dirt for the first time.
Gosden said: “He’s travelled incredibly well and although he is going to experience a completely new ball game with dirt coming into his face, and a lot of kickback, if this was a mile-and-a-quarter race on turf he would beat anything.
“It is the kickback (that is the worry) and if the track is sloppy that’s probably a no-go.
“It’s completely different tactically in this race, as the Americans like to jump and go, while we like to see our horses finish.
“They’re so fast from the gate, the American horses, and they’ll go the first quarter way quicker than the last quarter, so you don’t think you’re going to be anything but off the pace.
“The problem is with the dirt in the face, the horses climb because they’re not used to it and they lose the rhythm of their breathing, which is a huge problem.
“Being drawn down in (stall) two, he’s going to see a lot of dirt coming back at him from there.”
David Redvers, racing manager for the owners, views a tilt at one of the most prestigious dirt races as a risk worth taking, with victory sure to significantly increase his already huge appeal as a stallion.
He told At The Races: “Roaring Lion is the most incredible horse we’ve had anything to do with. People have really taken to him and I can’t over-stress what an extraordinary thing this horse is.
“To run in a Guineas trial, the Guineas, a Derby trial, the Derby and then go unbeaten for the rest of the season and still be in a position where John Gosden is prepared to stick him on a plane because he’s so fresh, just shows he’s cut from a different cloth really.
“If he can transfer his rating to dirt and gets a relatively clear run and doesn’t have to face too much of it (kickback) and was to win, then obviously he’s upped the ante considerably and he’s the best horse in the world on any surface of his age.
“Every time you enter a horse race you’ve got something to lose, but hopefully it’s a tiny risk and reputation-wise there’s nothing to risk. If he gets a face full of dirt and loathes the experience, people will understand that it’s the end of a long season and he didn’t handle the surface.”
While underfoot conditions will be alien to Roaring Lion, that will not be the case for the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mendelssohn.
The Scat Daddy colt was a brilliant winner of the UAE Derby on the Meydan dirt in March and although he floundered in the Kentucky Derby on his next start, he has been placed on each of his three subsequent starts on dirt in America.
O’Brien said: “With Mendelssohn, Ryan (Moore) has been very keen to stick with him and forfeited other rides along the way knowing the plan was to bring him for this one.
“Although he is a Group One winner on grass, we’ve looked upon him as a dirt horse and after being very impressive in Dubai, we took him to the Kentucky Derby where we weren’t prepared for the slop and in the race he had to be very aggressive with all the kickback coming at him.
“After Churchill Downs, we decided to go slow and give him two races before this one, but we then decided to put in a third because there would have been too big a gap.
“He’s been getting better from day to day here. He’s had a good preparation we’ve gradually built him up and are pretty confident that he can go forward again.”
Saeed bin Suroor saddles Thunder Snow, who has had this prize as his target since winning the Dubai World Cup in the spring.
Leading hopes for the home team include John Sadler’s Accelerate and Bob Baffert’s pair of Mckinzie and West Coast.