Europe’s challenge for the Breeders’ Cup

breeders cupThe European challenge for this year’s Breeders’ Cup trip to the West Coast of America is pretty much sorted out now. There are fewer horses than last year going next week, and although there is one fewer race for them to take part in, that isn’t a factor in the reduced number of challengers.

The race that’s gone this year is the Juvenile Sprint. That attracted only five runners in 2012, none of them from Europe. It’s not, then, a major loss from a card in which there are races for just about every combination of turf/dirt; juvenile/older; sprint/mile/marathon, fillies and mares/all comers. It must be a nightmare working out which race to run in.

There are, as things stand, 19 European horses making the trip, down from 27 in 2012. In shedding half a dozen, have we maintained quality? By the way, I’m taking a Ryder Cup approach here; so all European horses are “us/we” against the Americans and assorted oddments from elsewhere, “they/them.”

Before we look at who is going, it’s worth considering what we might consider a successful venture to the Breeders’ Cup. Many people reckon we had a dire time of it last year, but let’s compare our efforts with how “they” do at Royal Ascot. The Breeders’ Cup offered 15 races last year. We won two of them, both races for two year olds. George Vancouver took the Juvenile race to Ireland for Aidan O’Brien, and Flotilla floated back to France with the Juvenile Fillies’ title for Mikel Delzangles. Those winners benefited from the Lasix ban on juveniles, which persists this year, but will be gone in 2014.

We can add to that a third for St Nicholas Abbey in the Turf, and the same position for The Fugue in the Fillies and Mares event.

At this year’s Royal Ascot, where there are twice as many races as at the Breeders’ Cup, there were eight non-European runners. Between them, they went home with a win (No Nay Never in the Norfolk Stakes), a second place (Sweet Emma Rose in the Queen Mary) and a third, (Krypton Factor in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes). This latter is trained in Bahrain, further from America than we are, but No Nay Never and Sweet Emma Rose both hail from Wesley Ward’s California stable.

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What does this all add up to? For the Europeans in America there were four finishers in the 60 places across all the races. That was with 27 runners. For the non-Europeans at Ascot, three placings from 120, achieved with just eight runners. Perhaps it’s a case of Europe throwing too much mud at the wall? Or maybe our trainers think we have superior racehorses and lead us to expect too much? You decide.

So who is, and perhaps as importantly, who is not going to the Breeders’ Cup in a week’s time? Perhaps the most notable absentee is Toronado. Richard Hannon jnr explained why on the stable website. "Toronado worked at Lingfield on Tuesday morning, but, having had a break since the wind operation that he had after York, he clearly needs a bit more time, so we will put him away for next season, when the Breeders' Cup will be his ultimate target.”

I wouldn’t call last Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth II winner Olympic Glory a substitute for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He’s in the same ownership as Toronado, and Hannon was always clear that only one of them would go. This race has a quarter of the European contingent amongst the possible 15 runners, with Aidan O’Brien double handed with Cristoforo Columbus and Magician, and Mikel Delzangles similarly represented by last year’s Juvenile Fillies’ winner Flotilla and Mshawish. It’s one of the big ones for Europe.

In the Classic, Europe goes to war with what sounds like a piece of gardening equipment and a declaration. Marco Botti will probably send Planteur over, but hasn’t finally decided yet after the horse tailed off in the Prix Dollar at Longchamp, where he set off far too quickly. He does have in his favour proven experience on a polytrack - if not a dirt - track having won the Listed Blue Square Bet Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield back in February, and run placed in the Dubai World Cup on tapeta.

That’s something Aidan O’Brien’s Declaration Of War does not have. Last week O’Brien brought Declaration Of War and Magician over to Southwell for a run on the Fibresand there. Joseph O’Brien rode each of them, alongside some other Ballydoyle Group winners in two separate gallops over a mile. Although the events were behind closed doors, clerk of the course at Southwell, Roderick Duncan, was watching, and described Declaration Of War as “truly impressive.”

O’Brien will be hoping the trip to Nottinghamshire helps his colt go better than Giant’s Causeway, beaten by a neck in the Classic in 2000 after a similar spin there before jetting off to America. The Classic will be the last race for the winner of the Queen Anne and Juddmonte International winner, as Declaration Of War is off to the Coolmore Stud when he gets home.

The Juvenile Fillies’ Turf on Friday is shaping up into a really strong contest, which Charlie Hills, trainer of Shadwell Fillies’ Mile winner Chriselliam reckons will decide which horse is champion two year old filly. Strangely, he pointed to her maiden win at Warwick as being as important as the Group 1 victory at Newmarket in shaping his thinking about the Breeders’ Cup. He said, “She won her maiden at Warwick where she broke the course record and handled the turn pretty good, and she went round Haydock okay. She had a good turn of foot, which will be key round there, but we will want to make sure she settles nicely in the first half of the race.”

If his first runner at Santa Anita is to be a winner, she’ll have to beat two other top European horses, as well as the home team. French trainer Phillipe Sogorb reckons the track will suit his Cheveley Park winner Vorda. He said, “I think she will stay a mile in the US as she will have time to catch her breath around the turns. I would, however, be more doubtful that she would in Europe as she is very small and her pedigree is pure speed, but we will find out in time.” It’s a big step up in distance for Vorda, as she hasn’t raced beyond six furlongs.

Marco Botti’s unbeaten Rockfel Stakes winner Al Thakhira is a third major player from Europe in this race and the trainer doesn’t reckon she will have any problems moving up from seven furlongs to a mile, nor with the turns. Ryan Moore rides Al Thakhira in this race and Planteur in the Classic if he goes. Add in Dermot Weld's Flying Jib and this looks to be a race that Europe is targeting.

In the Juvenile Turf Richard Hannon’s Shamshon and Charlie Appleby’s Outstrip could be joined by Giovanni Boldini and Wilshere Boulevard from Aidan O’Brien’s stable. The Fugue has two entries, in the Turf (12 furlongs) and the Fillies’ and Mares’ Turf (10 furlongs), with preference for the first of these. The Turf is also an alternative engagement for Magician, and Jeremy Noseda will hope that Grandeur does more than just make up the numbers,especially as he won the Twilight Derby on the Friday under card last year.

If The Fugue were to go in the Fillies and Mares Turf race, she would line up alongside Michael Stoute’s one runner, Dank, and the final French entry, Romantica, representing Andre Fabre.

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