If Winchester were to capture the Nov. 6 Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), the Virginia homebred would provide his owners, Bertram and Diana Firestone, with yet another prestigious victory for the history books.
The Firestones (no relation to the tire manufacturer) burst onto the racing scene with their filly Genuine Risk, who became the first female winner of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) since Regret in 1915 when she trounced males in the 1980 running.
Prior to that, when Triple Crown winner Secretariat’s breeding rights were syndicated for what was then a record $6 million, the Firestones bought shares that entitled them to a mating with one of their mares each year.
The Firestones, who own Newstead Farm near Upperville, Va., will now attempt another great feat with Winchester, who made his first five starts in Europe. The horse began campaigning in the United States during the summer of his 3-year-old season, and has since won the 2008 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) and this year’s Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (both gr. IT).
Winchester, a bay son of Theatrical who boasts a record of 5-5-2 from 19 starts and earnings of more than $1 million, is trained by Christophe Clement.
“I think the (firmness) of the turf is a bit irrelevant for him,” said assistant conditioner Christophe Lorieul, who tuned the horse up for the Breeders’ Cup race with a 1 1/4-mile gallop at Churchill Nov. 4. “He’s run on any kind of ground…we would hope for a little shower to take (the firmness) away a little bit, but he’s been performing on any kind of turf, so it’s not really a concern. He shipped well, and is doing great.”
The firm nature of Churchill’s turf has been a concern to some of the other connections of Turf contenders, including 7-5 morning line favorite Workforce, winner of the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I), who will be making his first start in the U.S. in the Turf. Workforce’s trainer Sir Michael Stoute said he would make a decision on race day Nov. 6 as to whether the son of King’s Best would actually go postward in the race.
“Workforce is the horse to beat, but (his connections) are very concerned about the ground,” said Lorieul of the English-bred horse, who is one of three foreign-bred horses in the race.
“Winchester is a bit tougher; he’s a bit of a boy, and you have to watch him, but otherwise, he’s in great shape,” added Lorieul of Winchester’s temperament. In addition to Winchester, Lorieul also assists Clement in training Gio Ponti, who is 4-1 in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT).
Winchester, who is 8-1 on the morning line in the Turf, will break from post 2 under Cornelio Velasquez.