INTERNATIONALS IN THE BREEDERS' CUP
NOVEMBER 2, 2012
Breeders' Cup Saturday
Although Santa Anita's reversion from synthetic Pro-Ride to dirt has ended European interest in such main-track events as the Juvenile and Classic, international intrigue abounds in the Breeders' Cup races on turf.
Accordingly, here's the intelligence briefing on the cavalry invading Saturday.
|DUNDONNELL -- Juddmonte Farms homebred brings arguably the strongest form to a competitive race. The Roger Charlton trainee got his first-crop sire First Defence off to a fast start at stud with a 12-length maiden conquest at Lingfield, and in juvenile course-record time to boot. Dundonnell once again encountered his preferred firmish ground in the Acomb at York, rallying to beat a very good Mark Johnston colt in Steeler. Later Steeler beat Juvenile Turf runner Artigiano in the Royal Lodge and most recently checked in third to early Epsom Derby favorite Kingsbarns in the Racing Post Trophy. Dundonnell met with a narrow defeat in his only outing in the interim, a half-length second to Toronado in the Champagne at Doncaster. Toronado, one of Richard Hannon's most-touted juveniles, had everything his own way on the front end that day, and Dundonnell performed well to close the gap as much as he did. The top two were clear of one of Godolphin's admirable servants, Tha'Ir, in third, giving further evidence of the depth of the race. Dundonnell was under serious consideration for the Dewhurst and Racing Post Trophy, but the wet conditions ruled him out, to the benefit of the Breeders' Cup. He descends from the male line of 1990 Classic winner Unbridled and 1995 Juvenile winner Unbridled's Song. First Defence is out of Honest Lady, runner-up in the 2000 Sprint, and Dundonnell is himself out of a full sister to global supersire Danehill.|
ARTIGIANO -- Godolphin colt rates just behind Dundonnell in light of his runner-up effort to Steeler in the Royal Lodge, but it would be no surprise if he steps up at Santa Anita. Bred on the potent Distorted Humor/Seattle Slew-line cross, Artigiano has been a consistent improver all season. He was beaten two lengths by Hannon's top-class Olympic Glory in the Superlative on heavy ground, and reduced that margin to just a half-length next time in the Vintage at Glorious Goodwood. The Mahmood al Zarooni pupil took another step forward in the Royal Lodge, where he had Steeler on the ropes until they hit the rising ground. Artigiano won't be subjected to such a stiff test going a flat mile here. Last year's Juvenile Turf upsetter, Wrote, also came out of a loss in the Royal Lodge, and Artigiano could be a similar overlay at 8-1 on the morning line.
FANTASTIC MOON -- Trainer Jeremy Noseda, who has finished fourth in this race with both Awesome Act (2009) and Strike the Deal (2007), believes that Fantastic Moon is a better Juvenile Turf prospect than either of them. Another overlay at 12-1, Fantastic Moon technically ranks beneath Dundonnell through collateral form, but that is partly a product of his extreme come-from-behind tactics. The Dalakhani colt flew late to deny Tha'Ir in the Solario at Sandown, but was buffeted in the Royal Lodge, couldn't regroup, and suffered first loss when fifth. A similar trip would ruin his chances at Santa Anita, but Noseda is astute enough to know that ahead of time. Speaking to Graham Cunningham in a video on sportinglife.com, Noseda intimated that Fantastic Moon would secure a more forward early position for new rider Kieren Fallon.
GEORGE VANCOUVER -- Trainer Aidan O'Brien must be respected in this race, having sent out Wrote as well as a couple of near-miss seconds in Westphalia (2008) and Achill Island (2007), and George Vancouver has the profile to keep up the percentages. Like his stablemate Infanta Branca (an also-eligible for the Juvenile Fillies Turf), he is from the first crop of star miler Henrythenavigator. Undone by soft to heavy going in his first couple of starts, he had to resort to the Polytrack at Dundalk to break his maiden, but did so handily. George Vancouver finally got good ground in the Prix Morny and finished well to take second, beaten three-quarters of a length by the undefeated Reckless Abandon. Although he disappointed next time out going six furlongs at the Curragh, George Vancouver signaled that he's going the right way with a third to Europe's presumptive champion juvenile, the unbeaten Dawn Approach, in the seven-furlong Dewhurst. Another step up to a mile on firm turf could bring out additional improvement from the well-bred colt. Out of millionaire Versailles Treaty, he is a half-brother to Grade 2 victor Saarland.
LINES OF BATTLE -- Although he doesn't have Group 1 placings like his stablemate George Vancouver, this fellow O'Brien runner also has upside. A debut maiden winner over Jim Bolger's tough Leitir Mor, Lines of Battle wasn't disgraced when sixth to Dawn Approach in the Coventry at Royal Ascot. He was just outdueled by another Bolger pupil, Grafelli, in the Tyros and wasn't seen again for 2 1/2 months. Reappearing in the Star Appeal over the Polytrack at Dundalk, Lines of Battle drove to a good-looking decision, leaving Infanta Branca behind in fourth in her comeback. The addition of cheekpieces seemed to help the colt along on his learning curve. He could progress again here, but post 14 won't help.
RISING LEGEND -- New recruit to the John Sadler barn was left on the also-eligible list for his potential U.S. debut. Formerly trained by Hannon, the Rock of Gibraltar colt has been competing at a lower level than the other Europeans in this race. Rising Legend dropped his first four starts, finally broke his maiden in a weak race at Brighton, and won a nursery with the assistance of a four-pound weight concession. As a three-quarter brother to the terrific sprinting mare Danehurst, he's a useful prospect for the U.S. scene, but not necessarily in this spot.
STARSPANGLEDBANNER -- The former Australian and European champion sprinter should still be living the good life as a Coolmore stallion, but fertility problems sent him back into training with O'Brien. Making his first start off a nearly two-year layoff, the son of Choisir flashed speed, but understandably tired to a tailed-off last in the Phoenix Sprint at the Curragh. Starspangledbanner did himself justice next time, rallying for a good second in the Renaissance Stakes. The winner, Maarek, later captured the British Champions Sprint at Ascot. But Starspangledbanner hasn't had any luck since. He was a logical contender on paper for the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, only to find the heavy going impassable and again trailed. Shortening up to five furlongs for last Friday's Mercury over Dundalk's Polytrack, he was outpaced at the trip, but reported home a decent fourth in what was essentially a workout. The Starspangledbanner of 2010 would have been a much more compelling figure. Although his runner-up effort in the Renaissance hints that he still has ability, it's doubtful that he can recapture his old glory, especially over a unique downhill course that will present its own challenges of raw speed and agility. Post 14 makes it even trickier.
ST NICHOLAS ABBEY -- Defending champion is right in his element going 1 1/2 miles on a left-handed course, but will probably have to run even better than he did a year ago to beat a true American star in Point of Entry. St Nicholas Abbey has had another productive campaign, hitting the board in six of seven starts. When encountering these race conditions, the O'Brien veteran just missed to Cirrus des Aigles in the Dubai Sheema Classic and later romped in the Coronation Cup for the second straight year. His formline with Cirrus was further enhanced when that French gelding finished second to the all-conquering Frankel in the Champion Stakes. St Nicholas Abbey ran three fine thirds over the summer, beaten by Danedream in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth going right-handed, by Frankel in the 10 1/2-furlong Juddmonte International, and by Snow Fairy and Nathaniel in the 10-furlong Irish Champion. His only blot this year was a toss-out 11th in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on bottomless ground last out. While he ought to bounce back here, it's worth noting that he's had a more demanding schedule ahead of this trip to the Breeders' Cup. Last year, he didn't start out in Dubai, and he had the benefit of a late-summer break. In contrast, he's been continually on the go in 2012. That might mean nothing, or if he ends up being a touch flat, it would mean a lot in hindsight.
|SHARETA -- The Aga Khan homebred is another who seeks to rebound off a completely uncharacteristic ninth in the Arc. In two respects, the Turf shapes up well for her: she'll get firm turf and a fast pace that will make it a truly-run affair, bringing out her stamina. Last year's Arc had both prerequisites, and Shareta outperformed her 66-1 odds to finish best of the rest behind Danedream. The daughter of Sinndar has verified that result with two significant victories this season, just reeling in Filly & Mare Turf favorite The Fugue in the Yorkshire Oaks and capturing the Prix Vermeille. But the big question mark hanging over her head is whether she'll act as well around Santa Anita as around the vast, sweeping expanses of Longchamp or York. She's yet to win at the left-handed Saint-Cloud, although she has run some excellent efforts in defeat there. Still, Shareta can be outkicked by horses with a superior turn of foot, and such a scenario is likelier at Santa Anita. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre had just about said as much after the Yorkshire Oaks, when he virtually ruled out the Breeders' Cup: "She's not a filly for America, as her action is too long and the track at Santa Anita is too short." Hence the Turf appears to be a change of plan for what is reportedly her swan song. That didn't work out too well for the same connections' Sarafina last year.|
TRAILBLAZER -- Japanese contender has a serious chance, if he doesn't regress off a huge runner-up effort in his U.S. debut in the Arroyo Seco (formerly the Oak Tree) Mile. Trained by Yasutoshi Ikee, whose star pupil is Japanese Horse of the Year and Arc near-misser Orfevre, Trailblazer was in the form of his life at this time last year. He took advantage of an eight-pound break in the weights to defeat the grand old campaigner Oken Bruce Lee in the Copa Republica Argentina, then followed up with a fourth against an international field in the Japan Cup. Among those Trailblazer beat that day were Danedream and Shareta. Wheeling back only two weeks later for the Hong Kong Vase, Trailblazer could do no better than sixth behind Melbourne Cup hero Dunaden. He kicked off 2012 on a high note by taking the Kyoto Kinen, but his Japanese career, and hopes of jetting off to Dubai, were squelched by bleeding problems. The Breeders' Cup then became his objective. Racing with Lasix in the Arroyo Seco, he would have done well to make up any ground at a distance shorter than he'd ever tried. But Trailblazer exceeded expectations, rallying boldly to fall a half-length shy of Mile contender Obviously in near track-record time. That was a fantastic prep for the Turf, but he must avoid the pitfalls of his compatriot, Red Desire. She too had bleeding issues, ran a tremendous race first time out in the United States, but actually regressed to finish fourth in the 2010 Filly & Mare Turf.
TREASURE BEACH -- St Nicholas Abbey's stablemate has found life tougher since his hard-fought wins in the 2011 Irish Derby and Secretariat Stakes. Indeed, he appeared an unhappy globetrotter until last time out, when finishing second to Point of Entry in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. The yielding ground at Belmont might have given him a little boost, but he'll have no such crutch in the Breeders' Cup. Given how Treasure Beach was used as a pacemaker in last year's Arc, it would not be unheard of if he were employed as a tactical assistant for St Nicholas Abbey. He won't need to set the pace, with the likes of Little Mike, Optimizer, Turbo Compressor and Slim Shadey all prominent. But he might try to make an early move to put the leaders under pressure, and possibly force Point of Entry to move sooner than he'd like, before St Nick arrives.
COGITO -- Reddam colorbearer would be a total surprise in his first start for Doug O'Neill. His career-best effort was a solid second in the Prix Eugene Adam to Bayrir, the eventual Secretariat winner, while beating a couple of subsequent Group winners in Fractional and Starboard. Yet that isn't sufficient for a race of this caliber, and the rest of his record provides unflattering signals. The well-bred son of Giant's Causeway showed promise when taking his first two career starts in England, but the form of his Heron Stakes victory has not held up at all. Cogito deserves a pass for his eighth in the St James's Palace, in which several were hampered by a fatally-stricken rival. He has a couple of excuses for his lackluster fourth in the Jamaica Handicap in his U.S. debut. The Belmont turf was likely softer than the officially-listed "good," and Cogito put himself in a tougher spot by breaking slowly. After that kind of display, perhaps the Twilight Derby would have been a more realistic option.
EXCELEBRATION -- But for a cruel twist of fate, Excelebration would have gone down in history as one of the most consistently brilliant milers that Europe has produced in the modern era. He still could garner that description, but he will most likely be remembered as the classy horse who kept chasing Frankel, each victory of his own merely serving to prove his conqueror's greatness. Since finishing fourth in his career debut, Excelebration has won every single race he's contested, except for his five run-ins with Frankel. He has finished second to the phenom four of those times, the lone exception being his troubled third in the 2011 St James's Palace. Purchased privately by Coolmore, Excelebration was transferred to O'Brien for 2012. After more drubbings at Frankel's hands in the Lockinge and Queen Anne, his connections decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and he studiously swerved Frankel. A lesser creature might have been damaged beyond repair, his heart and spirit crushed by Frankel, but Excelebration simply did what we always does away from Frankel: win. He beat Cityscape by 1 1/4 lengths in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville, and by a much more resounding three lengths in the Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot in his latest. That was Excelebration's most comprehensive career victory -- he was on cruise control throughout, overcame traffic trouble, and stuffed Cityscape in short order. Cityscape, racing on his preferred soft ground, ran much better than his somewhat tame third behind Mile favorite Wise Dan at Woodbine. Extrapolating from that verdict, Excelebration could have Wise Dan's measure.
|MOONLIGHT CLOUD -- If Excelebration is Frankel's proxy, then Moonlight Cloud is going to bat for Australia's wondermare Black Caviar. A furiously-closing second to Black Caviar in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee, she came up just a head short of inflicting a first defeat upon the world's best sprinter. Although one can otherwise poke holes in the overall strength of the Diamond Jubilee form, Moonlight Cloud has plenty else to recommend her. She is trained by five-time Mile winner Freddie Head, famous for his jockeyship aboard Miesque and his conditioning of Goldikova. It would be hyperbole to put her in that category just yet, but she does own two consecutive, wide-margin wins over males in the Group 1 Maurice de Gheest sprinting about 6 1/2 furlongs at Deauville, and she just earned her first victory at a mile in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin. In the latter, she prevailed narrowly over Godolphin's able Farhh, who boasts a pair of runner-up finishes behind Frankel as well as placings to Nathaniel and So You Think this year. Two starts back, Moonlight Cloud was a mightily-troubled fourth to Excelebration in the Marois. She was banged into, lost position, yet still closed well and would have been much closer without the interference. She still has to be ranked below Excelebration until she proves otherwise, but Head has been sounding rather confident this week.|