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Raven's Pass came across the pond to win last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Will history repeat itself?
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Rick Samuels

Countdown to the Cup: Can it Happen Twice?

On April 17, 2008, American racing fans were immersed in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), and no one was even giving the Breeders’ Cup a second thought. But across the Atlantic, there was a scene being played out that would have a far greater effect on the Breeders’ Cup than anyone could have imagined.


The Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) was only 16 days away and the English Derby (Eng-I) about a month and a half away. At Newmarket, 10 3-year-olds lined up for the one-mile Craven Stakes (Eng-II).


In the final furlong, the two favorites battled it out, locked together in a furious duel. At the wire, it was Juddmonte Farms’ 2-1 second choice, Twice Over, trained by Henry Cecil, the winner by a nose. Finishing a game second was the 6-5 favorite, Raven’s Pass, trained by John Gosden.


Some six months after the Craven Stakes, Raven's Pass came to America and won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) over the synthetic surface at Santa Anita. It is now a year later, and it looks as if Twice Over, following his victory in the Oct. 17 Champion Stakes (Eng-I), could very well be on his way to California to try to emulate the horse he nosed out in the Craven.


Ironically, Raven’s Pass and Twice Over would meet again that spring in the St. James’s Palace (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot and would finish second and third, respectively, behind Henrythenavigator, who also would journey to Santa Anita that year, finishing second to Raven’s Pass in the Classic. Is it possible that the one-two finishers of the Craven Stakes and the first three finishers of the St. James’s Palace Stakes could wind up with two wins and a second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race that had been defended so successfully and courageously by America’s best horses for 25 years before being contested on a synthetic surface?


If so, that would not only be America’s worst nightmare, it would extend Aidan O’Brien’s nightmare in the Classic, a race he’s been trying so hard to win for Coolmore since the heartbreaking defeat of Giant's Causeway  in 2000, and continuing with the sound defeats of Galileo, Hawk Wing, Hold That Tiger, and Oratorio, and the tragic death of George Washington. But still he and Coolmore persevere.


Before the Champion Stakes, O’Brien looked to have a European stranglehold on this year’s Classic, with two top-class runners, Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman. This is supposed to be O’Brien’s year. He has the Pro-Ride surface again and he has twice the firepower he had last year. Unlike most years, he’ll be sending two relatively fresh horses who have not had long, hard campaigns and who have not peaked in major races like the Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I).


But in the Champion, he not only had to endure a disappointing performance by his star middle-distance 3-year-old, Fame and Glory, he saw the possible emergence of a European threat for the Classic. As of now, it looks as if Twice Over’s connections are thinking seriously about running.


Oh, and by the way, if anyone is unfamiliar with Twice Over’s sire, Observatory, he is the horse who put an end to Giant’s Causeway’s five-race group I winning streak by upsetting the Ballydoyle colt by a half-length in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) at odds of 14-1.


If anyone deserves to win the Classic it is O’Brien and Coolmore, who each year keep coming back and giving the race a European flavor. They’ve tried everything. They brought Hold That Tiger, third in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), to Belmont Park for the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) in 2003 to give him a prep on the dirt, and he finished second to Mineshaft , but couldn’t duplicate that form in the Classic. In 2006, they sent their Irish Derby (Ire-I) and Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) winner Dylan Thomas to Belmont to experiment on the dirt in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), but he finished last of four, beaten 32 lengths, and that plan was scrapped.


This year, in Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman, they have two champion-caliber milers, who have both run big against Sea the Stars stretching out to 1 1/4 miles. Mastercraftsman, winner of the group I Irish Two Thousand Guineas and St. James’s Palace Stakes, was sent to Dundalk in his last start to see how he handled the synthetic surface and he cruised to an easy victory. Rip Van Winkle, who gave Sea the Stars a scare in the 10-furlong Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), established himself as the best male miler in Europe with victories in the group I Sussex Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. He is held in such high regard, he’s been established as an overwhelming 3-2 favorite for the Classic with William Hill.


The Ballydoyle pair appeared to have this year’s European Classic invasion all to themselves, boosted by England’s synthetic specialist Gitano Hernando’s upset victory in the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) in his U.S. debut. But now comes Twice Over at the 11th hour to give O’Brien and Coolmore something to think about. After all, Henrynavigator had defeated Raven’s Pass in three of their four meetings last year. But once again, the Classic turned on them.


As for Twice Over, after winning last year’s about 1 1/4-mile Prix Eugene Adam-Grand Prix de Maisons-Laffitte (Fr-II), he proceeded to lose his next six starts, although he did run well in the group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and Lockinge Stakes at Newbury. Following a dreadful performance in the Eclipse Stakes, in which he finished 16 lengths behind runner-up Rip Van Winkle, Cecil put him in softer spots to get his confidence back. He won allowance-caliber races at Doncaster and Goodwood before springing his 14-1 upset in the Champion Stakes for his first group I victory.


He is now being considered strongly for the BC Classic. He’s already knocked off Fame and Glory and now will set his sights on Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman. But both Ballydoyle horses are primed and ready for huge performances, and you know O’Brien and Coolmore are “craven” a victory this year.


More BC angles


Last week, we listed several Breeders’ Cup hopefuls with interesting angles – Presious Passion, Rail Trip, Square Eddie , Skyrush, Amen Hallelujah, and Forever Together.


Since that column, Regal Ransom has been added to the list of Classic possible starters. The Super Derby (gr. II) winner has the BC Dirt Mile as an alternative. Godolphin has several brilliant horses who would fit in the Dirt Mile, including last year’s BC Juvenile winner Midshipman, but they have nothing for the Classic. So it is possible they might lean in that direction.


Last week, we mentioned the possible pace scenario regarding Rail Trip and Quality Road. If Regal Ransom does run in the Classic, it changes the whole scenario, with the son of Distorted Humor having already scored wire-to-wire victories in the UAE Derby and Super Derby. And his jockey, the veteran Richard Migliore, has always been a strong rider on frontrunners.  So, we’ll have to see how this plays out.


Just as a matter of interest, Regal Ransom is a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) contender Devil May Care, winner of the Frizette Stakes (gr. I)


Here are some additional angles to take into consideration when trying to decipher the Breeders’ Cup races.


AIKENITE  – It doesn’t take a genius to know that the Dogwood Stable colt ran a huge race in the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I), closing fast from ninth to finish second, beaten a half-length. Not only did he come home his final sixteenth in under :06, it should be noted that because of the configuration of the track, the finish line was located at the sixteenth pole. So, for him to close the way he did with such a short stretch, it makes his performance all the more impressive.


LIFE IS SWEET – Remember her? After three futile efforts against her illustrious stablemate Zenyatta, this powerful stretch runner will surely welcome a race without the big mare, and will get it if Zenyatta’s connections decide to go for the Classic. She was way too far back in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), but still closed strongly to finish third, even though she never threatened the top two. Back on her favorite track, Santa Anita, over which she won three consecutive graded stakes early in the year, she lost touch with Zenyatta on the far turn, dropping well behind her stablemate, and actually closed better than it looked on paper to finish fourth, beaten a length for second and 2 1/4 lengths for all the money.


She should get a much livelier pace to run at in the Ladies Classic than the :49 2/5 and 1:12 4/5 crawl in the Lady’s Secret. What was interesting to note was the fact that when the running did pick up from the three-quarter call to the stretch call, she ran that fourth quarter in :22 3/5. Even with some of the phony closing fractions we see on Pro-Ride that still is impressive. Even without Zenyatta, she most likely will be a decent price in the Ladies Classic and shouldn’t be forgotten.


BEAUTICIAN – Look for big improvement from the daughter of Dehere after an absolutely horrendous trip in the Darley Alcibiades (gr. I), in which she was hopelessly trapped in the stretch while full of run. By the time she was able to angle out for running room the race was all but over and she was left with way too much to do, settling for fifth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths. And is there anyone hotter right now with 2-year-olds than Kenny McPeek?


In other Breeders Cup news:


The tough and consistent Capt. Candyman Can, a seven-furlong specialist who was a fast-closing second in the Phoenix Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, will be pointed for the BC Sprint (gr. I) instead of the Mile in the hope there will be enough speed to possibly soften up the pace horses. If they do falter, even a little, you can bet this guy will be flying at the end.


Take the Points, who scored his second straight grade I victory in the 1 1/8-mile Jamaica Handicap, likely will bypass the Breeders’ Cup and wait for the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT). There really isn’t a Breeders’ Cup race that suits him, being basically a nine-furlong to 10-furlong grass horse.


Godolphin, which could have as many as 10 Breeders’ Cup starters, has added Gladiatorus to the BC Mile field, joining stablemate Delegator, who currently is co-second choice with William Hill at 5-1. Gladiatorus, at 10-1, earned his way into the Mile picture with a victory in the group I Premio Vittorio di Capua in Italy. He was no factor in three group I stakes in France and England prior to that, but did win the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) by 3 1/4 lengths back in March.