Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien said that Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) contender Rip Van Winkle is fine and did not show any indications of his recurring foot problems when he went to the track at Santa Anita early Nov. 4.
"Everything went well," O’Brien said after observing his large Breeders’ Cup World Championships contingent on the track for the first time. "Everything is fine. He didn’t lose the movement. His foot seems fine. His off-hind was giving him a little bit of trouble couple of weeks back, but it has been fine the last week."
O’Brien said Rip Van Winkle’s foot problems this year started last winter when the colt developed an infection in his heels.
"He got a very bad infection in his heels over the winter, and the infection got into all his feet," the trainer said. "The layers were coming off as the whole year went through... it’s amazing that he has raced at all. I have never seen a horse go through what he has gone through, and he kept doing it."
Owned by Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor, Rip Van Winkle has won half of his eight career starts and earned $915,117. Included among his victories this year were consecutive group I wins in the BGC Sussex Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, in his most recent start on Sept. 26.
Assessing his colt’s chances against a well-balanced Classic field that sports 10 grade/group I winners, O’Brien said Rip Van Winkle will be competitive if he runs to the level he showed during his European season.
"He is the most natural athlete I have ever had," O’Brien said. "He is a beautiful mover. Rip is a very brilliant horse. But he has had a long hard season, and he has been swimming against the tide all season. The journey (shipping to the U.S.) took a little more out of him than the others, and I was very worried until this morning. If we can get him anywhere close to what he can do (he will win). That is what you dream and hope for. "
O’Brien said Rip Van Winkle and most of the other Breeders’ Cup horses in his barn will not run on the anti-bleeder medication Salix because they have not shown any indication they need it. The only O’Brien runner entered to run on anti-bleeder medication is Man of Iron, who runs in the Marathon.
The trainer said not using Salix when his horses run in the U.S. is a departure from past practices. Race-day medications are prohibited in Europe but many overseas stables generally use allowable medications when their horses run in the U.S., especially in the Breeders’ Cup.
"Our attitude always was ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’," he explained. "Our Breeders’ Cup horses did run on Lasix (the forerunner of Salix) before. He (Man of Iron) had a little bit of a cold during the season and the others didn’t. We reckon if we can get them to perform near the ratings they ran at home, they all have big chances. There is a chance it (Salix) might flatten them. I would be for no medication. We don’t use any medication at home. The theory is that our horses always have to be sold it they are not good enough to be stallions. So the belief is to have them in a way they can be sold so there is no artificial damage done to them. Who knows what is the right thing? We decided to leave them be natural and do what we’ve been doing all year."