Preparing a horse for an event like the Breeders' Cup requires skill, judgement and no little luck. Some trainers seem to have an unerring knack for it, while for others the meeting is akin to a Sisyphean task.
Given the unfamiliar wagering territory the Breeders' Cup constitutes for many this side of the Atlantic, what follows is a trainer refresher...
Top Breeders' Cup Trainers: Overall Wins
The undisputed training king of the Breeders' Cup is 83-year-old D Wayne Lukas, whose 20 wins at the meeting looks set to stand as the target for at least another five years. Remarkably, Lukas is still training, and enjoyed his most recent Cup victory when Take Charge Brandi made all in the 2014 Juvenile Fillies at 61.7/1. However, he looks unlikely to have a runner this time around.
Second in the all time wins list, and bidding to close the gap on the top guy, is Bob Baffert. Baffert, 65, has 14 wins on his CV to date, including a hat-trick of Classics from 2014 to 2016. He will again have a strong hand in the showpiece event with both West Coast and McKinzie expected to line up. All 14 wins have come in dirt races.
In the bronze medal position, and vying with Baffert for second, is the master of Ballydoyle, Aidan O'Brien. He's claimed a dozen Breeders' Cup victories, ten on them on the lawn.
Now, here's one for the trivia buffs amongst you: can you name APOB's two Breeders' Cup dirt winners? Of course, everyone knows about Johannesburg, but who was the other? It was, of course (ahem), Man Of Iron in the 2009 Marathon. With little crossover between Baffert's main track runners and O'Brien's turfers, they may both narrow the differential with Lukas.
If Obie doesn't have to worry about Bob too much on the turf, he will be extremely mindful of the ascending star of Chad Brown. Brown saddled his first runner in 2008: Maram won the Juvenile Fillies Turf, setting the tone for the next decade where all but one of his ten Cup victories were achieved either on the grass or with a filly, or both. Brown will have a formidable hand to play once more, perhaps headlined by the hugely exciting unbeaten juvenile turf filly, Newspaperofrecord.
Also on ten career Breeders' Cup wins is Bill Mott, though his haul has been achieved from 95 starters (to Brown's 71), and began 21 years earlier with Theatrical in 1987. Mott was responsible for "the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar" who, after winning just two of his first 13 races, then went on an unbeaten run of 16, which included ten Grade 1's as well as the Dubai World Cup, which at that point had yet to receive G1 status. Like all other six-year-olds to attempt the feat, Cigar failed in his bid to repeat his Classic success the year after that famous line was uttered.
Mott's two chances this time look to be Channel Maker in the Turf - against a phalanx of top class Euros - and Yoshida, who had a spin in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot earlier this season, in the Classic.
Richard Mandella is one of three trainers to have saddled nine BC winners, and his performance is further praiseworthy for coming from just 42 starters, a sensational 21.43% strike rate at this most rarefied of levels. At this stage, however, it doesn't look like Mandella, trainer of triple-Cup-winning Beholder, will have a runner at the 2018 renewal.
Claude 'Shug' McGaughey and Todd Pletcher both also have nine winners. McGaughey's last Cup win was in 2005 and he looks likely to unleash interesting dark horse Code Of Honor in the Juvenile. Meanwhile, Pletcher has fired a lot of bullets - 131 at the last count - for his nonet, and will do so again, with Bulletin and Current exciting juvenile prospects on the Friday before a quieter Saturday by the look of things.
The best of the rest of the European trainers are Sir Michael Stoute, who has saddled seven winners from 39 starters; Andre Fabre, whose quintet of winners includes last year's Turf victor, Talismanic; and John Gosden, whose four wins have come from 33 runners. He's 0 from 12 since Pounced won the 2009 Juvenile Turf, and has endured some terrible luck in the interim, perhaps most notably with The Fugue (twice) and Golden Horn.
Leading Breeders' Cup Trainers, by number of wins - Europeans in bold italics (statistics courtesy of breederscup.com)
|1||20||164||12.20%||Lukas, D. Wayne|
|3||12||124||9.68%||O'Brien, Aidan P.|
|4||10||71||14.08%||Brown, Chad C.|
|4||10||95||10.53%||Mott, William I.|
|6||9||42||21.43%||Mandella, Richard E.|
|6||9||63||14.29%||McGaughey III, Claude R.|
|6||9||131||6.87%||Pletcher, Todd A.|
|9||7||39||17.95%||Stoute, Sir Michael R.|
|10||6||44||13.64%||Asmussen, Steven M.|
|10||6||35||17.14%||Drysdale, Neil D.|
|10||6||82||7.32%||Frankel, Robert J.|
|13||5||47||10.64%||O'Neill, Doug F.|
|15||4||42||9.52%||Casse, Mark E.|
|15||4||33||12.12%||Gosden, John H. M.|
|15||4||31||12.90%||McAnally, Ronald L.|
Top Breeders' Cup Trainers: By Strike Rate
As impressive as the achievements of the above hall of fame are, it is worth taking stock not just of the number of wins for each trainer, but also the strike rate. As alluded to already, two trainers with nine Breeders' Cup wins apiece have got to that number by quite different means: Richard Mandella is the most selective of the top performers, winning with more than one in five of his entries; while Todd Pletcher rolls the dice most often, winning about one from every fifteen starters.
Aidan O'Brien is another man to cast his net wide, his twelve scores coming from 124 runners at a one in ten clip. Meanwhile, Sir Michael Stoute has boarded just 39 horses onto the 'plane (ignoring last year's scratch, Ulysses) for seven victories, and has the second best strike rate of any trainer with more than three Breeders' Cup wins to his name.
Chad Brown's ten winners from 71 runners (one in seven hit rate) also counts as a top class performance.
Leading Breeders' Cup Trainers, by strike rate (4+ wins) - Europeans in bold italics (statistics courtesy of breederscup.com)
|1||9||42||21.43%||Mandella, Richard E.|
|2||7||39||17.95%||Stoute, Sir Michael R.|
|3||6||35||17.14%||Drysdale, Neil D.|
|4||9||63||14.29%||McGaughey III, Claude R.|
|5||10||71||14.08%||Brown, Chad C.|
|6||6||44||13.64%||Asmussen, Steven M.|
|8||4||31||12.90%||McAnally, Ronald L.|
|9||20||164||12.20%||Lukas, D. Wayne|
|10||4||33||12.12%||Gosden, John H. M.|
|11||5||47||10.64%||O'Neill, Doug F.|
|12||10||95||10.53%||Mott, William I.|
|14||12||124||9.68%||O'Brien, Aidan P.|
|15||4||42||9.52%||Casse, Mark E.|
|16||6||82||7.32%||Frankel, Robert J.|
|17||9||131||6.87%||Pletcher, Todd A.|
Selected Trainers' Breeders' Cup Record at Churchill Downs
The Breeders' Cup has been held at Churchill Downs eight times previously - in 2011, 2010, 2006, 2000, 1998, 1994, 1991 and 1988 - and it is worth remembering that the climate and track constitution in Kentucky is very different from a Californian setup. As such, the following are worthy of note:
- Just two of Bob Baffert's 14 victories came at Churchill, in 2011 and 1998. He has run 24 horses in Breeders' Cups at the venue (8.33%). Baffert also won with his sole starter, the peerless American Pharoah, the other time BC came to Kentucky, in Keeneland in 2015.
- Aidan O'Brien is 2/22 under the Twin Spires, both scores coming in 2011. He also recorded two victories (and a second place) from seven starters in Keeneland in 2015.
- Bill Mott has four Churchill Breeders' Cup wins to his name - two in 2011, one in 2010 and one in 1998 - from 27 starters. That's an excellent 14.8% hit rate. He was o from 4 in Keeneland, though Lea ran second in the Dirt Mile (behind the unstoppable Liam's Map).
- Todd Pletcher won three at Churchill in 2010 and two more at Keeneland in 2015. Those five came from 52 starters, at a decent rate of 9.62%.
It is worth emphasising the records of Pletcher and Mott - New York-based trainers - away from the west coast. The transit to Kentucky is shorter, the weather is more akin to east coast weather, and the one turn dirt mile is similar in that regard to Belmont, New York's monolithic main track. Their runners may be worth marking up in the Bluegrass State.
Other trainers to note
As I write, before the pre-entries, it is not yet known who will run what. But a trio of French trainers with identical winners and runners records are Pascal Bary, Jonathan Pease, and Freddie Head. Each has saddled three champions from eight attempts: Head of course with triple-Mile-winning Goldikova; Pease with Karakontie and Spinning World in the Mile, and Tikkanen in the Turf; and Bary with Domedriver and Six Perfections in the Mile, and Miss Alleged in the Turf.
It should be clear that the Mile is a race which has been kind to the French, but what may be less apparent is that Flaxman Holdings - the Niarchos family to you and me - have owned the four above in italics, as well as Miesque, a fifth winner for the venture in the Mile, and Main Sequence in the Turf.
If any of them nominate any of their inmates, especially in the Mile and especially if Niarchos/Flaxman-owned, they'll be worthy of at least a second look.