Author: Nicholas Godfrey

ADOZEN random thoughts after a Breeders’ Cup to savour

1. You might not want him at a wet Wolverhampton on a Monday night, but Frankie Dettori’s skills are second to none on the biggest stages. After looking washed up just a few years ago, he is on top of the world once again, as amply demonstrated in a masterclass on Expert Eye in the Mile before making no mistake under immense pressure on Enable as Magical gave her everything she could handle in the Turf. Controversial as it is to suggest it, nearly a quarter of a century after his first Breeders’ Cup win on Barathea, he may well have wrested back the unofficial accolade of ‘world’s best jockey’.

2. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. Leading Californian-based trainer John Sadler was 0-for-44 at the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Accelerate still won. John Gosden was 0-for-7 In the Turf, while none of the eight Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners to run at the Breeders’ Cup had ever followed up. Enable still won. Only one British-trained horse had ever won the Mile in 34 previous runnings. Now it’s two in 35 after Expert Eye.

3. As magnificent as she clearly is, Enable has not reproduced her best form of 2017 in her three victories this term. Frankly, though, who cares? After an interrupted preparation, the Juddmonte filly has still won both the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup Turf and, as John Gosden noted, she showed ‘sheer guts and determination’ equal to her ability to thwart Magical, who would have won this race nine times out of ten. The pair pulled nine lengths clear of the third horse.

4. Magical apart, this was a disastrous weekend for Aidan O’Brien’s fearsome Ballydoyle outfit. The trainer’s record at the Breeders’ Cup is hit and miss but this was all ‘miss’. Before last weekend, his Cup record stood at 12 winners from 124 runners at a strike rate of 9.7%. Now it is 12 winners from 138 runners at a strike rate of 8.7%. O’Brien, who fielded more runners than any other trainer, drew a blank for the first time since 2014 and the third time in ten years. For the record, here are the finishing positions of O’Brien’s Cup squadron: 83497456809825.

5. That said, Mendelssohn would be of serious interest dropping back a furlong at lightning fast Gulfstream Park for the Pegasus World Cup. In a similar scenario to his Jockey Club Gold Cup effort, the UAE Derby victor Mendelssohn ran yet another fine race, sticking on for fifth in the Classic despite being hustled to take the lead and then setting too fast a pace. Thunder Snow may be tough to beat when he defends his Dubai World Cup crown in March. 

6. Those who vote for the US Horse of the Year face a dilemma. One might consider any horse who wins the Triple Crown to be a ‘gimme’ and Justify will probably still win, but his premature retirement has won him few extra friends, and Accelerate has now put the seal on a remarkable season by overcoming gate 14 for an accomplished victory in America’s most prestigious race. I’m just glad I haven’t to vote. By the way, we’ll probably see Accelerate once more before he begins stud duties, in the Pegasus World Cup. Distaff winner Monomoy Girl is also headed there.

7. US Champion Trainer Chad Brown, ultra conservative by nature, may well face a struggle against his own instincts when it comes to the unbeaten Newspaperofrecord after the rout of her rivals in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf. Despite having trained a plethora of top turf performers (usually ex-Europeans), Brown has never shown any inclination to run them in Europe. He did, though, acquire Newspaperofrecord for 200,000gns at Tattersalls; now she could conceivably be on her way back to Newmarket for the 1000 Guineas or, more likely, Royal Ascot. Mind you, the latter would rule out the $1 million Belmont Oaks in Brown’s own backyard, so probably best not to hold our breaths.

8. Although California has become the event’s semi-permanent home in recent years, Churchill Downs offered a timely reminder that other places can do a pretty grand job as well. A two day attendance figure of 112,673 was the third-highest in Breeders’ Cup history and the sun even came out on Saturday. The Cup is supposed to ‘travel around from track to track’, and we’re back at Santa Anita in 2019 before returns to both Keeneland and Del Mar. When, though, will New York ever see another Breeders’ Cup? Belmont Park in 2005 was the most recent.

9. Seldom has any Breeders’ Cup been as ‘formful’ as heavily fancied horses won race after race. Five favourites and six second favourites on the US parimutuel won. There also seemed to be no discernible bias on the main track, though anyone on the fence on the turf looked to be in trouble over both days. There was a nice geographical spread about the winners, too, with five from the west coast and three from Europe (all Britain) alongside six more or less from the east (New York, Philadelphia and Kentucky).

10. If I were a European trainer, the idea of having a runner at the Breeders’ Cup might appear something of a doubleedged sword as several animals seem to fly out on a ‘one way ticket’. Queen Of Bermuda, fourth for William Haggas in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, now joins Graham Motion while The Mackem Bullet has run her last race for Brian Ellison and now joins Wesley Ward. The Black Album stays at Churchill Downs under the guidance of Rodolphe Brisset and Princess Yaiza heads to Christophe Clement in New York.

11. The Juvenile Turf Sprint is a welcome addition to the menu. For once, here is a new race that does not detract from any other existing contest unlike, say, the Dirt Mile, which continues to draw horses away from both the Sprint and the Classic.

12. Running horses with turf pedigrees in the Classic on the ‘off chance’ they might adapt to the dirt seldom pays dividends but at least Roaring Lion came back safe and sound. In that respect, it was a shot to nothing for his connections, and while it came to nothing, his presence certainly added a bit of spice.

Nicholas Godfrey
International sportswriter

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