Each year, it seems the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) paints the same bleak picture for the American grass horses. Whether it’s Conduit, who captured the last two BC Turfs, or the 10-1 Red Rocks in 2006, or the 1,2,3,4 Euro blitz in 2005, the Americans have had a tough time defending their home turf.
English Channel made light of the Turf in 2007, but there were only two Euros in the eight-horse field, and Dylan Thomas was cooked in his gut-wrenching victory in the Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) at the end of a grueling eight-race campaign that year, and Red Rocks was off form, coming off two poor fourth-place finishes.
When Better Talk Now won in 2004, there was only one European runner in the eight-horse field at Lone Star and that was Powerscourt, who had been disqualified from first in the Arlington Million (gr. IT) and had won only one of six starts that year.
So, now that the Breeders’ Cup is back at Churchill Downs over a course that should be to their liking, how strong an invading force should we expect for the Turf? We already know that Goldikova, Makfi, and Paco Boy should make for a powerful trio in the BC Mile (gr. IT), and we haven’t heard anything definite yet about whether Rip Van Winkle will try the Classic (gr. I) again or opt for the Mile this time.
All the British bookmakers list Coolmore’s Fame and Glory as the favorite, at odds ranging from 3-1- to 4-1. The 4-year-old son of Montjeu has won nine of his 14 career starts and is riding a four-race winning streak, including group I victories at 1 ½ miles and 1 ¼ miles. He’s won all four races under little urging, and let’s not forget that he galloped in the Irish Derby (Ire-I) last year and was a good second to superhorse Sea The Stars in the English Derby (Eng-I) and Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I).
America’s two-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti is second choice at 7-1 with William Hill, but he is more likely for either the Classic or the Mile, as 12 furlongs, especially over giving ground, would be a major stamina test for him, and he has managed to find a way to lose six of his last seven starts. So, it would seem apparent that a change in either distance or surface is forthcoming. We have already stated an extensive case for him running in the Classic.
That brings us to Gio Ponti’s conqueror in the Arlington Million (gr. IT), Debussy, who is quoted at 8-1. This 4-year-old son of Diesis was 11-1 at Arlington and hadn’t won a race of note since narrowly taking the Prix Eugene Adam (Fra-II) in July of 2009. In 13 career starts, he’s finished out of the money in eight of them. Did his form improve that dramatically due to the addition of Lasix for the first time?
William Hill is quoting Fame and Glory’s stablemate Cape Blanco at 10-1 following his decimation of Rip Van Winkle and Twice Over in the Irish Champion Stakes, in which he took the track and ran off to win by 5 ½ lengths on the front end all the way. The son of Galileo had won the Irish Derby, as his trainer Aidan O’Brien seems to do every year, but was beaten 11 lengths by the ill-fated Harbinger in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I).
O’Brien now has to decide in which direction he wants to go with Cape Blanco, Rip Van Winkle, and Fame and Glory in regard to the Breeders’ Cup. Rip Van Winkle ran in the Classic last year, but he is much sounder this year with all his physical issues apparently behind him, and has not had as grueling a campaign as he did last year, when he chased Sea The Stars. With his miler speed and his ability to carry it, he looks like the logical Classic horse, despite his failure to come anywhere near Cape Blanco in the Irish Champion over ground that might have had a little more give in it than he likes.
Cape Blanco has natural speed and his broodmare sire, Presidium, is a son of General Assembly, who still holds the track record for 1 ¼ miles at Saratoga when he romped by 15 lengths in the Travers Stakes (gr. I). The son of Secretariat also won the seven-furlong Vosburgh Handicap in a blazing 1:21 flat. So, there is some dirt brilliance in his pedigree, and he could join Rip Van Winkle in the Classic, as the O’Brien-trained Henry the Navigator and Duke of Marmalade did in the 2008 Classic.
That would leave Fame and Glory as a leading contender and possible favorite for the Turf. But all this is conjecture, and Coolmore will have some decisions to make following the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) and Arc de Triomphe.
Also listed at 10-1 with William Hill are Khalid Abdullah’s hard-knocking Spanish Moon, who finished fourth, beaten only three lengths, in last year’s BC Turf, but who hasn’t started since finishing fourth in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-II) July 8; and stablemate Workforce, who romped by seven lengths in this year’s English Derby, but was badly beaten in the King George. Both colts are owned by Abdullah and trained by Michael Stoute, who won the last two BC Turfs with Conduit.
Another Euro to watch at 16-1 is Chinchon, who inhaled Take the Points and Winchester in the Betfair/TVG United Nations (gr. IT) in July over a firm course. But he showed little in last weekend’s Prix Foy (Fr-II) over soft ground.
Several bookmakers are now quoting last weeks’ St. Leger (Eng-I) winner Arctic Cosmos, who is being pointed for the BC Turf by trainer John Gosden after his victory at Doncaster. He’s never run worse than fourth in eight career starts and seems to be finding his best form now.
So, all in all, this looks like a potentially strong European force. The question is, who do we have in America who is capable of handling all these top-class Euros?
After last weekend’s Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont, which several years ago would have been the grade I Man o’War Stakes, we have to feel much better about our chances. The emergence of Al Khali as a legitimate grade I horse and the consistency of the late-closing Winchester has given the home team a solid pair following their one-two finish in the 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green.
Al Khali, a grand-looking son of Medaglia d'Oro , looked as if he were going nowhere in his career, and a mile and a half seemed way beyond his scope. But severe traffic problems after turning for home in the Bowling Green forced him to sit and wait for an opening. The fact he was able to do that and explode in the final sixteenth to nail Winchester on the wire bodes well for him in international competition. And you had to love his final eighth in under :11.
Winchester, who came flying late to beat stablemate Gio Ponti in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) in June, has now turned in nine straight solid efforts, and he too has to be taken seriously.
The only negative from the Bowling Green was the fact that the 12-1 shot Simmard , who hadn’t run since a last-place finish in an allowance race at Gulfstream back on Jan. 22, finished third, beaten a neck and a head. But he was a stakes winner in Canada last year, so who knows?
Now we come to the 3-year-old Paddy O'Prado , who is quoted at 12-1, and what makes him so appealing is that we don’t know just how good this colt really is. All indications are that he could be something special.
The son of El Prado was good enough to finish third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in the slop and third in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack. But on grass, he was brilliant breaking his maiden in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream, and is coming off consecutive victories in the Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) at 1 3/16 miles, the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) at 1 ¼ miles, and the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT), also at 1 ¼ miles. He has good tactical speed and has also come from far back unleashing a devastating turn of foot. The question is the mile and a half, and he’ll get a chance to show how he handles it in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) Oct. 2. How he does will go a long way in determining how strong the Americans will be in the BC Turf. If it proves to be farther than he wants to go, he can always shift gears and head for the Classic. But nothing so far has indicated he won’t handle the distance.
At 14-1 is the enigmatic Telling, who has looked like a champion winning the grade I Sword Dancer the past two years, but can’t win anything else. In fact, he’s never even been a factor other than a third-place finish in last year’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over a bog. How he’d fare against Europe’s best is anyone’s guess, but he definitely needs to step up big-time. Next we have Marsh Side, trained by Neil Drysdale, who is coming off an impressive five-length score in the Sky Classic Stakes (gr. IIT) at Woodbine. You never know when this 7-year-old is going to pop off a big one. He’s been around, and has run well at Belmont and Arlington, but only wins at Woodbine.
Drysdale also has Bourbon Bay (20-1), who hasn’t run since winning the San Juan Capistrano (gr. IIT) April 18 for his fourth straight victory, but the son of Sligo Bay has been working sharply and steadily and could be ready for a big comeback effort in the Clement Hirsch (gr. IT), if that’s where Drysdale decides to run him. This is a talented horse who is not to be taken lightly.
That’s pretty much it for the American contenders. Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT) Handicap winner Marlang, also trained by Drysdale, ran badly in the Sword Dancer and doesn’t seem to be on this level.
There are other good turf horses, but they have to prove themselves in better company before they can be taken seriously.