The Europeans felt more at home around the Monmouth Park quarantine barn the morning of Oct. 24, thanks to the clouds and rain that became heavy at times.
None of the British or Irish trainers with Breeders’ Cup runners had arrived, so leading Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh held center stage. He has four excellent rides in the 11 Breeders’ Cup races Friday and Saturday.
Three of his four mounts - Achill Island (Juvenile Turf), Excellent Art (Breeders’ Cup Mile and Dylan Thomas (Breeders’ Cup Turf) are provided by Ireland’s champion trainer Aidan O’Brien, whose five horses arrived at Monmouth Park Tuesday evening after a smooth journey.
The O’Brien horses, accompanied by about 20 staff, including security personnel, are due to come out of quarantine in time to go out on the track Thursday morning.
British-based Jeremy Noseda supplies Murtagh’s fourth ride, Simply Perfect (Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf).
“I have got some very nice rides this weekend and am looking forward to it," the jockey said.
Murtagh has a good Breeders’ Cup record, winning twice from six starts. He has been successful in the Turf before on Kalanisi in 2000.
Dylan Thomas is generally odds-on favorite with British bookies for the $3-million, 12-furlong Turf after his Arc win.
"I don’t think the tight turns will be a problem for Dylan Thomas,” Murtagh said. "He has got speed, and on this track that speed will be important. He is big horse, a big galloping horse, but he is pretty agile.
"It looks like he is going to be tough in that race. Aidan (O’Brien) has got great faith in the horse, and I have good faith in him to have the horse ready for the day.
"I have not walked this turf course yet, but they say it was getting firm. So the rain today should leave it pretty good.
"I have not been through the form yet, but I will sit down and do that. English Channel (in six) is drawn beside me, so either I will be following him or he will be following me.
"He is the best horse over the distance in America, but you have Red Rocks, who won the Turf last year, and the old horse Better Talk Now, who has won the Turf and been second in it, too. You have to respect them all - they would not be turning up unless they had a shot in it.
"Dylan Thomas seems to have the complete package. The good ones have speed, stamina, and a great ability to overcome disadvantage.
"Dylan Thomas has a great turn of foot over a mile-and-a-half. I don’t think you can get to the bottom of him; there always seem to be a bit left in reserve. In the Arc, the second looked like he was going to beat him, but Dylan Thomas found a little bit extra.
"That has probably helped him last so long. He is winning without having too many hard races. Hopefully he will be able to save a bit this week."
Murtagh took Simply Perfect out for a canter on the main track Wednesday morning. "Simply Perfect went out with a pony and was lovely and relaxed this morning,” he said afterward. “But when meeting so many horses going down the backstretch, she was wanting to avoid accidents.
"She seems very well, gave a little jump and a kick, and is nice and fresh. She has not had many hard races during the summer, so hopefully she will be fresh enough to run a good race on Saturday."
The pony has now been booked for the rest of the week.
Murtagh finds American grass tracks much the same but would have preferred Simply Perfect to be drawn more toward the inside rather than in stall 11 of the 12 runners.
His first Breeders’ Cup ride this year is on Achill Island in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf over a mile.
"Achill Island ran well in the race at Ascot (to be second). He stayed the mile well and has won a group I since,” said Murtagh. “He is drawn a little bit wide, but Aidan likes him, and his 2-year-olds have definitely been improving all through the year.
"He said they were off-color mid-season -- but look at the results at home in Ireland, and he winning a lot of 2-year-old races. Achill Island is a solid horse, and if he can run the same as last time or maybe a little bit better, he should be there or thereabouts.”
Murtagh has yet to ride at Monmouth Park. "I think it is great that there are Breeders’ Cup races on Friday as well as Saturday. I have been asking if there any spares rides going on Thursday or Friday just to get a feel of the place,” he said.
"It will definitely help with Achill Island being on Friday and giving me an insight to the track, but I find most places when you walk the course, look at a couple of videos, and even the day before watch the races, you kind of get a feel for a place."
Excellent Art, Murtagh’s mount in the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Mile on Saturday, is drawn 13 of the 14 declared runners. "His draw is not great. He is drawn wide and that will be against him,” said the experienced jockey, who won the Mile in 1995 on Ridgewood Pearl, his first Breeders’ Cup ride.
"I was just reading the paper, and they have put down new grass here, and that has helped with horses coming from behind. Before then, the horses on the speed would stay there,” added Murtagh.
"Excellent Art is a good horse, with a good turn of foot, and I am just hoping that he will have a nice position at the top of the straight and he can pick them up in the straight.
"He is one of the best milers in Europe, and he is coming over here with a big reputation. He deserves a bit of luck after being touched off by Ramonti a few times. I would have loved to have been drawn four, five or six, but we have 13, and we will have to overcome that.
"There are a couple of options if you are wide. After the jump is when you decide where you are going to be. The trainers I ride for are very good and tend to leave it up to me.
"If you jump well and can travel up there in a nice position and can get in great or if you miss the kick or are a bit slow, you have to ride for luck and stay back. I think it would be a disadvantage to be sitting fourth or fifth (and be) three or four wide.
"I was reading some papers today, including Racing Posts (the British daily racing paper) from the weekend, and one of the writers was very good to say about me ‘the Europeans’ hottest jockey.’ After the draw (Tuesday) I was a bit down, and you read in the paper that you are the Europeans’ hottest jockey; then you have to overcome that.
"It does help when you are on a roll and riding the good horses. When the gaps come, you are able to take them. This year I have been on bit of high - I have been all over the place and been very busy.
"This is what you strive for as a jockey - to be here for the Breeders’ Cup weekend riding four fancied horses. Last week Canada, this week Breeders’ Cup, and there are more big occasions to come before the year is out. Let’s hope we can keep it going."