European representation at the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships this year looks as if it will be limited, with only one certain to contest the VO5 Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) at 11 furlongs: Yesterday, from trainer Aidan O'Brien. The connections from both Nebraska Tornado, from Andre Fabre's French yard, and Lord Derby's Ouija Board have made their first preferences elsewhere.
European runners, used to the wide open spaces of Newmarket and Chantilly, would seem unlikely winners of the Filly & Mare Turf over the tight turns of Lone Star Park. Also against them will be potentially hot weather, the short stretch, three turns, and a firm turf course. But it should be remembered the Euros had their best ever Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita last year under nearly identical conditions, including a 1-2-3 sweep of the Filly & Mare Turf.
The Filly & Mare Turf is the youngest of the Breeders' Cup races with just five runnings to date. Europe has won twice, with Fabre-trained Banks Hill in 2001 and Islington last year. In between came Bobby Frankel's Starine, an ex-European who beat Banks Hill and Islington into second and third, respectively. Starine had contested the race the year before, so both she and Islington won the Filly & Mare Turf at their second attempt.
The Frankel-trained Light Jig, who raced in Europe last year for owner Juddmonte Farms, has won four of six this year including a four-length romp in Oak Tree's Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT), and would appear the likeliest home-trained runner to reclaim the crown. The daughter of Danehill reportedly had been suffering from colic when she ran her only bad race of the year in Del Mar's John C. Mabee Handicap (gr. IT).
Flower Bowl Invitational Handicap (gr. IT) winner Riskaverse also figures prominently for trainer Pat Kelly, while WinStar Galaxy Stakes (gr. IIT) heroine Stay Forever put herself in the picture for trainer Marty Wolfson. But neither had won beyond 11/8 miles prior to their victories, so both trainers have pre-entered while not certain to run their horses.
Yesterday was beaten fewer than three lengths in this race last year and finished fourth in the Prix de l'Opera (Fr-I) in only her second race of this season. Nebraska Tornado hasn't won a race this year from four starts but has finished within two lengths of victory in her last three outings, all group I.
Ouija Board, trained by Ed Dunlop at Newmarket, could be the favorite in the Filly & Mare Turf if she goes here instead of the Turf, which is her first preference. Lord Derby's homebred daughter of Cape Cross won both the Epsom Oaks (Eng-I) and Irish Oaks (Ire-I) before running third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) against males. Of the likely Filly & Mare Turf runners, Ouija Board was ranked four pounds (119) ahead of the field in the final World Thoroughbred Rankings. She would be a $90,000 supplement into the race.
Wonder Again, winner of the soggy Diana Handicap (gr. IT) at Saratoga July 31, is looking to bounce back off a sixth-place effort behind Riskaverse in the Oct. 2 Flower Bowl.
The Filly & Mare Turf move to 11 furlongs after three runnings at 10 furlongs should be of benefit to the Euros, and they should be rewarded despite other factors possibly against them.