Space Blues bids to add his name to an illustrious list of European-trained winners of the Breeders’ Cup Mile when he leads a two-pronged attack from Charlie Appleby on the Del Mar showpiece.
The Prix de la Foret victor is joined by stablemate Master Of The Seas, who was runner-up to Poetic Flare in the 2000 Guineas but has been restricted to just two outings since that effort on the Rowley Mile.
Having won his maiden over a mile as a two-year-old, Saturday’s distance is not quite an unknown for Space Blues – but he has not run over it since his third career start, and has made his name as a crack six and seven-furlong performer.
Appleby said: “We’ve been delighted with his last two starts when winning both the (City Of) York Stakes and then the Foret. This will be the last run of his career; I’d imagine we’ll be retiring him after this. He’s done us proud.
“I feel a sharp mile round Del Mar will suit him. As we’ve all seen, he’s a great traveller. It’ll be quicker ground than he’s run on in his last two starts, but it doesn’t worry me becaue he won in Saudi Arabia on quick ground, and at Deauville. He’s a very versatile horse.
“He’ll travel for fun around there – and if the gaps appear he’s got the acceleration.”
Master Of The Seas returned to action with a creditable third place in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket in September, before finishing seventh in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot – where the ground was not in his favour.
With William Buick aboard Space Blues, James Doyle takes the mount on Master Of The Seas.
Appleby said: “We probably saw him at his best when he was just touched off in the Guineas on quick ground. He won the Craven Stakes before that Guineas second, then met with a setback.
“I was delighted with his comeback run in the Joel Stakes. He’s most definitely come forward from it fitness-wise. On Champions Day the ground was just too soft for him. I was keen, though, to get another run into him because he’d missed a large chunk of the summer.
“He’s come out of that race well, and I think back at a mile on quick ground will suit him.”
Aidan O’Brien won the race for the first time last year, when Order Of Australia led home a one-two-three for Ballydoyle.
His representative this time is 1000 Guineas heroine Mother Earth, a filly who has barely put a foot wrong but has not always enjoyed the best of luck – as witnessed by the trouble in running she suffered in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.
O’Brien said: “She’s been unlucky probably her last twice. The horses who beat her at Leopardstown she beat four or five lengths the next time, but when that happens (trouble in running) you lose Group Ones – and you never like that.
“I thought her last run at Ascot (fifth in the QEII) could be her best, because she clocked the final two furlongs better than any other horse’s time in the race.
“She seems well so far, and we’re looking forward to seeing her run. If there is a decent pace, she will run well.”
O’Brien added of the Breeders’ Cup in general: “It’s a special event at the end of our season. It’s great that the horses can come together and be compared across the world, at various distances and ages.
“It’s great prize-money; the racing is competitive, and everybody is looked after very well. I think at this time of year it’s where everybody likes to be with a horse good enough to compete in those championship races.”
The Paddy Twomey-trained Pearls Galore is another contender for Europe with strong credentials, after finishing second in the Matron and occupying the same spot in the Foret.
Dangers abound among the home squad, notably Mo Forza (Peter Miller/Flavien Prat), Smooth Like Strait (Mike McCarthy/Umberto Rispoli) and In Love (Paulo Lobo/Alexis Achard).
Of Smooth Like Strait, Rispoli said in his blog for XB Net: “Although his front-running style will always leave him potentially vulnerable to a fast finisher, a win in this super competitive heat will make up for a season where he’s only been a whisker shy of greatness.
“His work sectionals have been sharp, and this race has been the plan all year. Hopefully, we can pull it off together from the front end. It will take a Herculean effort against the likes of Space Blues and In Love, but I couldn’t ask for a more willing or talented partner.”