Trainer Aidan O'Brien at Del Mar ahead of the Breeders' Cup Nov. 2

Trainer Aidan O'Brien at Del Mar ahead of the Breeders' Cup Nov. 2

Anne M. Eberhardt

O'Brien Takes Two Shots at Ending Classic Drought

Dual Guineas winner Churchill carries main hopes for champion trainer.

The territories left for Aidan O'Brien to conquer are few and far between.

Already cemented as one of the greatest on either side of the ocean, the champion trainer crossed a new threshold Oct. 28 when Saxon Warrior captured the Racing Post Trophy Stakes (G1), giving O'Brien his record 26th grade/group 1 triumph of the year. 

With the burden of chasing the late Bobby Frankel's mark now off his back, O'Brien heads into the Breeders' Cup World Championships solely looking to pile on to a season for the ages for his Ballydoyle operation. Shortly after watching his charges take their first spins around the Del Mar track Nov. 2, however, O'Brien was reminded of one of the few accolades that has eluded him—a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) Nov. 4.

"I don't ever try and win any race because all we can do is our best to win a race. And when we win, we're more than grateful and delighted," O'Brien said when asked if his 0-for-14 record in the Classic weighs on his mind. "We take the races as the horses come and they are tough races. We're just lucky to have a couple horses to run in it again."

O'Brien will take two swings at bringing his Classic drought to an end Saturday when he saddles dual Guineas winner Churchill and group 2 winner War Decree in the $6 million test against a field that includes defending race victor and champion Arrogate  and multiple grade 1 winner Gun Runner .

For all his success in earning 11 pieces of Breeders' Cup hardware, O'Brien has had a fitful history in the Classic. The closest he has gotten to the brass ring came when Giant's Causeway  was beaten a neck by Tiznow  in the 2000 Classic and when Henrythenavigator came second to Raven's Pass in 2008, but his charges have finished fifth or worse 11 times.

In Churchill, he has a four-time group 1 winner who has stood his ground against the best in Europe, most recently running third against elders in the Oct. 21 QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1) at Ascot. Owned by Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith, the 3-year-old son of Galileo (IRE) has deep waters to swim in his first dirt try. Nonetheless, the fact he got on the plane to California signals O'Brien's faith in his versatility.

"(A Breeders' Cup start) was always possible (for Churchill). But we were very happy with him after Ascot," O'Brien said. "He just got stopped in Ascot and, a lot of people wouldn't have noticed what happened to him. But if you see it, he lost his momentum twice in the last two furlongs and that's a big disadvantage to him.

"But we were delighted with his run and if he came back well and was happy, we were always going to think about coming here. That's why he's here. We've had a lot of near misses along the way and ... that's what happens in group 1s, you just accept that and move on. You're just lucky to have runners in these races, really."