Roaring Lion will go for broke at the Breeders’ Cup by attempting to round off a magnificent campaign in the Classic at Churchill Downs, his first attempt on dirt, writes Jon Lees
The colt has been pre-entered in both the six million dollar Classic and four million dollar Breeders’ Cup Turf – with the Classic nominated as his first-preference target.
Roaring Lion clinched his fourth Group One victory of the year at Ascot on Saturday when he won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over a trip and on soft going that were not in his favour.
Yet Sheikh Fahad Al Thani is very keen to give the grey one more challenge before he retires to stud by pitching the son of US turf sire Kitten’s Joy on to a racing surface he has never experienced.
“Roaring Lion has been entered in both the Classic and the Turf, but the plan is to run in the Classic,” said David Redvers, racing manager to Qatar Racing.
“He’s never run on the surface, but Sheikh Fahad is very keen. The colt appears to have come out of Saturday in tremendous shape. It’s bizarre how well he seems to take his races. He was so fresh that John Gosden had to give him a canter this morning.
“We will keep an eye on him and make a final decision as close as we can to when he has to fly, but John has said he would not run Roaring Lion if the track came up sloppy.”
Although Roaring Lion has captured two ‘win and you’re in’ races this year, with the Juddmonte International and Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, those victories qualify him only for the Turf – meaning the colt does not have an automatic slot in the Classic, which is expected to be over-subscribed.
His place in the field will rest on the verdict of a panel comprising US racing secretaries and senior handicappers from Britain, Ireland and France. Chaired by Phil Smith, the former BHA head of handicapping, it will determine by conference call on Tuesday the make-up of the pre-entries in races which exceed their field limit.
It would be a major snub were Roaring Lion, who also won the Coral-Eclipse Stakes this year, to appear outside the top 14 – the maximum field for the Classic, when the pre-entries are released on Wednesday.
Under the selection process, the first seven places in the race are reserved for horses that have won one of the race’s Challenge races – or ‘win and you’re in’ -and points leaders.
That guarantees a berth for Accelerate, Discreet Lover, Pavel, Bravazo, McKinzie, Axelrod and Lone Sailor – some of whom will be big outsiders.
Under this system, there is no shortage of leading fancies who may need a nod through from the panel before getting a place in the Classic starting gate.
Among US-trained horses who are relying on the panel are Travers Stakes winner Catholic Boy, last year’s Classic second and third West Coast and Collected, Woodward Stakes one-two Yoshida and Gunnevera – plus dual Dubai Golden Shaheen victor Mind Your Biscuits.
As well as Roaring Lion, Thunder Snow, Godolphin’s Dubai World Cup winner, and the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mendelssohn – who has had an all-dirt campaign this year – are also seeking a start.
As such, more than one leading name could miss out.
Leading US racing journalist Mike Watchmaker, who covers the Breeders’ Cup in depth for the Daily Racing Form, suggests Roaring Lion could be among those to miss out – saying, “My best projection sees horses like Gunnevera, Roaring Lion, and Collected as quite possibly on the outside of the Classic looking in.”
Yet if ratings apply Roaring Lion should safely make the cut – unlike another British candidate Toast Of New York.
Trainer Jamie Osborne has given him an alternative entry in the Grade 2 Marathon Stakes – not a Breeders’ Cup race, on November 2.