By Jon Lees,
Laurens may be missing the Breeders’ Cup – but that will not halt Karl Burke and PJ McDonald’s pursuit of top-level success as they head to the US next week to make their debut at America’s two-day extravaganza.
Laurens provided Burke with four Group One wins this year, and a fifth was supplied by Havana Grey – whose Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes success at the Curragh in September earned him an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
Despite a subsequent defeat in the Prix de l’Abbaye, in which he was eighth, Havana Grey flies to Louisville on Friday – accompanied by the two-year-old filly Comedy, who is pre-entered in the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
“It will be my first time at the Breeders’ Cup, and my first runners in the United States for a long time, and I am looking forward to it,” said Burke.
“Havana Grey ran a great race at Longchamp but just wasn’t quite good enough on the day – but he owes us nothing and he is off to Whitsbury Manor Stud when he comes back.
“He’s got a ‘win and you’re in’, and he deserves a chance at the race. I am under no illusions it will be a tough one.”
Havana Grey was ridden in his last two starts, including at the Curragh, by Richard Kingscote.
But regular rider McDonald was out injured during those starts and will return for his final run.
“PJ has been with him all the way through, bar when Richard rode him,” said Burke.
“He has never been out there. We are not thinking we are definitely going to win, but it’s a good chance for PJ to have a look at the Breeders’ Cup as well.
“Havana Grey is quick into his stride – he is not electric out of the gates.
“He was very quick at the Curragh under Richard Kingscote, but it is a slight concern. I hope with a good draw he can get away, and if they go too hard he is very strong in the middle parts of a race. Five and a half furlongs is probably his ideal trip.”
Comedy won a Group Three prize at Deauville in July, after which she was bought by New York-based Marlene Brody – for whom she finished under four lengths ninth in the Cheveley Park Stakes.
“Comedy was purchased to run at the Breeders’ Cup,” said Burke.
“She is in great form and she is very quick out of the gates. I’ll be gutted if she doesn’t get in the race, but I think it is going to be quite a strong division.”
The Breeders’ Cup provides McDonald with another big-race opportunity to focus on, having had to sit out Laurens’ last two Group One victories in the Sun Chariot and Matron Stakes after suffering fractures to his ankle and heel in a freak paddock accident.
“With the filly finished for the year, it gives me another big ride to look forward to,” he said.
“It will be a new experience for me, and I am really looking forward to getting out to Churchill Downs to see what it’s like.
“I have never ridden in America before. You can never get enough big-race experience. It is massive to me.
“Havana Grey will probably have to put in a career best, but he has been a consistent little horse throughout his career. I think he has only produced two under-par performances in his whole career.”
The pre-entries for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, which will be released on Wednesday, have attracted a record European entry.
However, Alpha Delphini – who earned an automatic slot in the Turf Sprint by winning the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes – will not be among the contingent.
“He didn’t travel (well) to France, so I am sure he won’t travel to America,” said trainer Bryan Smart.