Aidan O’Brien has been the dominant force in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Team Ballydoyle have won the race six times, with four of those victories coming in the past half-dozen years. Highland Reel was successful 12 months ago and is back for another crack. Sir Michael Stoute’s Conduit was the last horse to win back-to-back Turf’s, and the Newmarket trainer saddles Highland Reel’s main challenger, the vastly improved four-year-old Ulysses.
The race may be billed as a face-off between O’Brien and Stoute, or indeed the joint-favourites Highland Reel and Ulysses. But interestingly, the most successful jockeys in the Turf’s history happen to be Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore, with four wins apiece. The Italian picked up the ride on Ulysses, ensuring the pair have their own head-to-head in a battle for supremacy.
The leading protagonists have met a couple of times already this summer. Highland Reel impressed when winning the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on fast ground over 10 furlongs. Ulysses was no match for him that day, though ran a solid race to finish third. They met again at Ascot but were unable to land a blow on the mighty filly Enable. Of the pair, it was Ulysses this time that came off best finishing runner-up, with HR a good way back in fourth. That was at 12 furlongs, but crucially in more testing conditions.
Highland Reel is a different beast on fast ground, though he needs to have recovered fully from his exertions on Champions Day, when finding Cracksman untouchable in testing ground. That was just a couple of weeks back, and though O’Brien has said that Moore looked after the colt once the chance of victory had gone, that’s not how I saw it. Struggling in fifth a furlong out, the five-year-old was ridden right to the line, finishing a gallant third. Many believe that he’ll remain a fresh horse having missed a couple of months prior to Ascot. Nevertheless, that run could easily have left its mark.
Ulysses on the other hand, has had a month off since a terrific third-place finish in the Arc. The ground had gone against him at Chantilly, yet he again travelled powerfully throughout and was one of the last off the bridle.
There’s little to choose between the pair, and I’m finding it difficult to favour one over the other.
Yet again Chad Brown has a leading contender for a Breeders’ Cup race, with Beach Patrol looking the best of the home team. A consistent performer, the four-year-old has finished in the first three in nine of his 11 turf starts. He was a mightily impressive winner of the Joe Hirsch Classic last time, a race that has gone to several Breeders’ Cup turf winners in the past. That looked a career best performance, and with track, trip and ground to suit, he looks a realistic shot at 8/1.
At the beginning of the year I was sure that Seventh Heaven would prove herself an outstanding middle-distance performer. Sadly, she’s spent most of the summer off the track, and has only recently returned to action, latterly finishing down the field in the Arc. She’ll have her ground this time, though the sharpness of Del Mar is not ideal. I’m not sure she’s quite ready for this, though Aidan says she’ll improve plenty for the Chantilly run.
Though favourites again have a poor record, with just one win from the last 10, this remains a race that usually goes to a fancied contender. It looks like the top three in the betting have it between them. I find myself leaning towards Ulysses for Sir Michael. The four-year-old appears to be at the peak of his powers, and can get the better of Beach Patrol and Highland Reel in a thriller. Best of luck to those having a punt.