Breeders Cup Marathon Trends
The Breeders Cup Marathon is one of the new races added when the Breeders Cup moved to a two day event. It is unusual inasmuch as it doesn't really suit any of the entries! Specifically, very few US races are run over such an extreme distance as a mile and three quarters; and no European races are run on dirt surfaces.
So the domestics have an advantage with the surface, and the imports have the legs. But which horses are best suited overall?
There have been five renews of the BC Marathon so far, three of them at Santa Anita and two at Churchill Downs. But the race conditions have changed, and changed again, making trends analysis tricky.
In 2008, the inaugural Marathon was run over a mile and a half on Pro-Ride, a synthetic surface which was akin to the polytrack known well to European horses. No shock then, that Muhannak, a winner at Kempton and Dundalk, brought home the bacon.
A year later, it was still Santa Anita and still Pro-Ride, but this time the race was run over a mile and three-quarters, arguably even further favouring the Euro raiders. This time it was Man Of Iron's turn to claim the prize for Aidan O'Brien. It may be noteworthy that neither of these Euro winners was the first choice of the away team.
In 2010, the Breeders Cup roadshow moved to Churchill Downs, and to proper fast dirt. Just two Euros shipped this time, Precision Break and Bright Horizon, and they could fare no better than seventh behind Eldaafer, a first home winner.
Churchill was again the venue in 2011, and it was again the home team which prevailed: Afleet Again to be precise. This time a trio of Euros made the flight, including a first French foray, but they filled three of the last four places. Indeed, the only thing preventing a 'reverse clean sweep' was the sad breaking down of favourite, AU Miner.
After two bad reversals for Europe, it was hoped that a return to the warmth of Santa Anita last year would revitalize their prospects. Alas, no. With the Pro-Ride now a distant memory, replaced by the same kind of fast dirt that had demolished foreign hopes in Louisville, the two Irish entries - the only two from Europe - both pulled up.
But there was a new twist to the Marathon story as it was Calidoscopio, an Argentinian runner with proven dirt and distance form, that bagged the spoils in most unlikely fashion. It's a race well worth a watch, as the winner was almost tailed off with a circuit to run.
The key points to note in that race were, firstly, that the Irish runners hated the ground, and it will be interesting to see which - if any - European horses make the trip this time. And second, horses unused to this sort of distance went off too fast and were caught by a one-paced dirt stayer in the shape of Calidoscopio.
So, if we can find a horse with dirt and distance form, we have almost all of the required elements for a Breeders Cup Marathon winner.
Other Breeders Cup Marathon factors to note
Although Man Of Iron won this in 2009 as a three-year-old, the older horses have the edge overall with two 4yos, a 5yo, and the veteran Calidoscopio doing the business aged nine last year.
Three of the five Marathon winners have been non-US horses: two from Europe and one from Argentina, and it does look a race in which the American horses are ripe to be taken on, despite the European dislike of a fast dirt surface.
Four of the five Marathon winners won last time out, and the other was a running on second, beaten less than a length, so favour a strong last race.
Three of the five winners had a mile and a half-plus victory to their names already, and one other had won over half a furlong shorter than that. Look for stamina at least for a mile and a half.
Key Prep Races for Breeders Cup Marathon
It's difficult to say which races might be key preparatory events for the Marathon, though there is one 'Win and You're In' (WAYI) race, the Clasico Belgrano in Argentina, won by Ever Rider. The short-priced favourite there, Soy Carambolo, disappointed but would be a player if he was entered in the Marathon.
A win at Dundalk, and a run in the Diamond Stakes there, featured in both the European Pro-Ride winners' profiles. But the world has turned since then, and the poly-to-dirt angle that this would now represent is less likely to pay a dividend. Jim Bolger's Parish Hall won it this year, with the Ballydoyle favourite, Afonso de Sousa, in third.