Posts

Blue is the colour – It’s Appleby and Buick Again

Appleby and Buick were at it again as D’bai landed the Group Three John Of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.

Dutch Connection appeared to be Godolphin’s main hope of success and was sent of the 6/4 favourite. But it was the ‘boys in blue’ number two that proved superior on the day. Travelling powerfully through the race, the progressive four-year-old quickened impressively at the furlong pole before fending off the rallying Larchmont Lad, to win by a head. Tabarrak had also launched a promising challenge but faltered late on to finish a neck further back in third.

Buick, fresh from his Epsom Derby victory on Masar, said of this latest success: “He had a good winter in Dubai and won the seven-furlong handicap very well. Charlie (Appleby) used the Windsor race as a prep for this and it's worked well. He travelled really nice through and I would have liked to have had another horse to follow and to wait a little bit longer to be honest. But he stuck on well in fairness to him. He's a very talented horse.”

Appleby has his horses in tip-top shape and said: “D’bai travelled very well today and really put his head down when he had to. He holds an entry in the Group One Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and we will keep the race on our radar, but he could also head for the Group Two Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. D’bai is a Group Three winner over seven furlongs now, so it seems logical to keep him over the same distance, but the way he travels in his races suggests that a fast run six furlongs could be right up his street. We will see how he comes out of the race and talk things over.”

Dutch Connection proved disappointing, failing to quicken as the front three kicked for home. He kept on at the one pace back in fourth, and Charlie Hills must be scratching his head. The trainer would have hoped for much more following such a promising return in the Lockinge. Larchmont Lad had been ‘put-up’ as a decent each-way punt by yours truly in my Friday piece. He ran a cracker in first time cheekpieces and looks capable of winning at this grade.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Whilst Godolphin continue to make the headlines in the UK, over in America the Bob Baffert show is once again in full swing. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Arrogate and of course the mighty American Pharoah, are just a handful of Baffert’s equine stars to have dominated the American racing scene. Having landed the Triple Crown in 2015 (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes), American Pharoah became the first racehorse to win the Grand Slam, completing a stunning haul of victories when landing the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Justify is his latest superstar, and on Saturday night the giant three-year-old chestnut colt completed the Triple Crown. “It was meant to be,” said Baffert. “I was just watching the clock. It was going to be my friend or the enemy. I was like, 'Oh Mike, Oh Mike, don't empty that tank.”

Of his place among Baffert’s best, the trainer added: “I wanted to see that horse's name up there (with the other greats) because we know he was brilliant from day one. And I am so happy for Mike Smith. There is no one more deserving than him.”

Smith, now 52, said of the winner: “This horse ran a tremendous race. He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing. I can’t describe the emotions going through my body right now.”

Unraced as a two-year-old, Justify has now won six on the spin in just 111 days. The jockey added: “To win six races in such a short amount of time like he’s just done is just an unbelievable feat on his part. Really, Bob has just done a tremendous job to get this horse to do what we just got done.”

He can now expect a well-earned rest, prior to a return in the autumn and a date with destiny at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

Breeders’ Cup – The Players

Just when you thought we’d done with the Flat and could now focus on the Jumps, along comes the Breeders’ Cup from Del Mar in California.

America’s two-day end of season jamboree has again attracted a wealth of talent from Europe, with Aidan O’Brien sending a battalion across the Atlantic in search of further Grade One success.

Our own Matt Bisogno (The Boss) set off in his private jet earlier in the week, and is no doubt working tirelessly from a sunbed on the Corona Del Mar Beach. It’s a meeting that Matt loves and Geegeez covers extensively.

For today’s piece I’ve decided to highlight the major players, both human and equine, in the hope of unearthing potential winners. It’s a tough gig, as we know very little about the American horses, and experience tells us that despite such a sizeable European raiding party, it will be the home team that remain dominant.

One of the most successful trainer’s in Breeders’ Cup history, is Californian handler Bob Baffert. He landed a pair at last year’s meet, including the outstanding Arrogate in the showpiece Breeders’ Cup Classic. That made it three on the trot in the Classic, and he has three leading contenders for Saturday’s renewal. Arrogate returns in hope of defending his crown, but Baffert also saddles the vastly improved Collected and the outstanding three-year-old West Coast.

Baffert said of the younger challenger: “He’s a horse that’s on the improve, he likes a mile-and-a-quarter, he deserves a shot. We know how tough these three-year-olds can be this time of the year.” The trainer’s trio of Classic winners were all aged three.

Baffert also has a tremendous record in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (dirt). With five victories over the years, he has another returning champ in Drefong. The four-year-old colt is a short-priced favourite to repeat the success of 12 months ago. He’s unbeaten in completed starts and will be ably assisted by the most successful jockey in Breeders’ Cup history, Mike Smith.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Smith landed a hat-trick at last year’s meeting, equalling his best haul from the 2013 event. He’s a jockey that is always in demand, and the horses he rides need a closer inspection from prospective punters. One that looks to have a great chance is Unique Bella in the Filly & Mare Sprint. This enormous three-year-old is by leading American stallion Tapit, out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, and is unbeaten this term. She truly is a huge beast and clearly immensely talented. The track may be a slight concern, though when she gets rolling she’s a sight to behold.

Aidan O’Brien lies third in the table of all-time most successful Breeders’ Cup trainers. He’s certainly not travelling light this year and will be hopeful of adding to his tally of 11 winners. He could get off to a great start with the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday. Happily and September are a talented duo, with the former a winner of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly last time. Personally, I fancy the latter to run a huge race on ground that she will love. I also believe that her physique (diminutive) will be better suited to the tight turns of the Del Mar track.

Rhododendron must have a great chance of landing the Filly & Mare Turf for Team Ballydoyle. Her victory at Chantilly last time, shows that she is back to something near her best, and this 1m1f trip ought to be ideal. It looks a cracking renewal with Chad Brown’s Lady Eli a serious challenger.

Roly Poly is one of the unsung heroes of the squad and looks sure to run well in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Whilst Highland Reel aims to win back-to-back Turf’s with Ulysses and stablemate Seventh Heaven amongst the main rivals.

The aforementioned Chad Brown tends to get his fair share of winners. Just the one last year, followed on from a pair in 2015 and a treble in 2014. Lady Eli was chinned on the line in last year’s Filly & Mare, but has a furlong less to travel this time round. He also has Dacita and Grand Jete in the race, with both having claims at decent prices. I favour the latter, who is beautifully bred, and should be suited by both track and trip.

He also has a leading contender in the Juvenile Fillies Turf in Rushing Fall. Unbeaten in two starts, she was impressive last time at Keeneland, though will need to improve again if she is to defeat the Ballydoyle duo.
Wes Ward is well known to UK racefans, and though not prolific at the Breeders’ Cup, he does have the outstanding sprinter Lady Aurelia, entered in the Turf Sprint. The five-furlong trip around Del Mar should prove ideal and she’ll take some beating.

He also has interesting contenders in the Fillies Juvenile Turf and the Juvenile Turf. The filly is Ultima D, who at 25/1 is a relatively unconsidered challenger. Yet this daughter of Scat Daddy improved for a step-up in trip last time and has the speed to make her presence felt on this ‘trappy’ track. He saddles Hemp Hemp Hurray in the Juvenile Turf, a race he won in 2014 with Hootenanny. This fella also has plenty of speed and looks capable of out-running his odds of 20/1. Four European horses stand at the head of the betting, though I’d be keen to take them on.

Finally, a mention for World Approval who appears to be one of the home team’s ‘certainty’ of the gathering. He’s favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and was impressive last time when thumping Lancaster Bomber in the Woodbine Mile Stakes. Ribchester and Roly Poly should give him more to think about, though both have had hectic campaigns. Suedois could be interesting having won his last two starts at the trip. The ex-sprinter has the gears to trouble these, with O’Meara and Tudhope loving these foreign jaunts.

It’s sure to be a cracking spectacle at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable Flat racing season. Let’s hope that the European contingent land a few telling blows. And let’s all hope that Matt has a wonderful time on his ‘working vacation’ in California. Yeah, enjoy yourself Boss!

Monday Musings: Baffert and O’Brien United in Cushioned Defeat

You’d be hard pushed to stand Bob Baffert alongside Aidan O’Brien and suggest they have too much in common, apart from the obvious knack of winning major races around the planet, writes Tony Stafford. Baffert, 64, is the white-haired extrovert who specialises in the big-money pots – Arrogate, for instance collecting both last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup in March this year.

He also ended US racing’s 37-year wait for a Triple Crown winner two years ago when American Pharaoh added the Belmont Stakes in June to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes triumphs, the first since Affirmed and Steve Cauthen won all three races in tight finishes with Alydar back in 1977.

I had a fleeting and slight connection with Baffert during his two earlier Triple Crown near-misses, both with horses he trained for Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation, with which I had a much closer association. He was already approaching 50 years of age when Point Given, a disappointing Kentucky Derby favourite in 2001, atoned with triumphs in the Preakness and Belmont that spring/early summer.

Then the native Arizonan sourced War Emblem, winner of the 2002 Illinois Derby, securing a 90% share for the Prince, with original owner Russell Reineman retaining 10%. He immediately won the Kentucky Derby, from the front, and followed on in the Preakness. That made four successive Triple Crown race victories for trainer and owner, but a bad stumble at the start and an early bump meant the intended New York coronation was never to be. Baffert had to wait another 13 years for his place in US Turf history.

It is with some element of disbelief that we realise Aidan O’Brien has yet to win an English Triple Crown. The quietly-spoken Irishman, busy founding a family dynasty set to dominate his country’s racing industry for many years – wish I could look into that particular future, or else live to 110! – did go agonisingly close, though. Still a few years younger than Baffert was when I first encountered him, Aidan would appear to have plenty of time to find the right horse to complete that elusive treble.

In 2012, Camelot shrugged off French Fifteen to win the 2,000 Guineas before an odds-on five-length romp at Epsom preceded another simple task (if such a thing is possible in a Classic) at The Curragh. All that remained for the champion and his young rider Joseph O’Brien was the St Leger, but despite getting the trip well enough, he could not peg back Encke.

The subsequent involvement of that horse in the Godolphin steroids scandal which cost Mahmood Al Zarooni his job must leave O’Brien feeling cheated out of the right to have prepared a 16th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Nijinsky, handled by Ballydoyle predecessor, but unrelated Vincent O’Brien in 1970.

The only other dual 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner of the present millennium was Sea The Stars, in 2009. In a sequence of unbroken success following a debut fourth place, the John Oxx-trained colt was guided to shorter-distance races after Epsom, and won successively the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion before ending his stellar career back at a mile and a half in the Arc. He never won by more than two and a half lengths, but always looked far superior to his opponents.

As a stallion he has already produced Taghrooda (Oaks and King George) and Harzand (Derby and Irish Derby), while three of his late-developing sons, Stradivarius, Crystal Ocean and Raheen House are among the strongest candidates for this year’s St Leger.

Your first 30 days for just £1

But to come back to my point about the similarity between the two disparate characters, it is their ability to shrug off defeat for a star inmate, even when the star is beaten by a stablemate.

It happened to each of them over the weekend. On Saturday night in Del Mar, Arrogate, officially and also by popular vote, the Best Horse in the World, suffered a second successive defeat in the Pacific Classic, following an earlier inexplicable fourth at 1-20 in the San Diego handicap, his first run since Dubai in March.

Baffert had been at a loss to explain that “out with the washing” run, but had a more optimistic reaction to the half-length reverse behind his Collected on Saturday. Here he was again sluggish, but rallied to good effect behind the all-the-way winner, who now has an identical seven wins from ten starts career tally to Arrogate. Where they differ is that Collected, whose only defeat in his last six runs was in the 2016 Preakness when he was distanced, has yet to make the £1 million mark, while Arrogate has amassed more than £13 million.

While clearly disappointed, saying it was like his younger son beating his elder son, Baffert managed a similar philosophical reaction to O’Brien’s yesterday when Magical and Donnacha O’Brien, his younger son, beat Happily, ridden by Ryan Moore (successor as stable jockey to elder son, Joseph), with September (Seamie Heffernan) fourth in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at the Curragh.

“I expect they’ll all go to the Moyglare”, said the trainer, confident in the knowledge that victory for one of these Team Coolmore fillies represents shared success for them all. Once again it was the Galileos to the fore with Rhododendron’s full-sister coming home ahead of Gleneagles’ and Marvellous’s full-sibling.

The Camelots have been a little slow to get going, as did the Nathaniels last year, but with Enable, in line for yet another win this week in the Yorkshire Oaks, leading the way, Nathaniel’s owners, headed by Lady Rothschild and Newsells Park, have been enjoying watching a flurry of winners, generally at a mile and a half.

Since the King George, where Enable joined Winter as the best of a top–class generation of fillies, products of Nathaniel have won nine more domestic races with five in a row from August 11-16 and a Newbury double on Saturday.

The only potential opponent for Enable from Ballydoyle is Alluringly, who ended a losing run with a strong-finishing win in a Gowran Listed race over just short of ten furlongs, but whether connections fancy a third go at Enable after progressively emphatic beatings from the Gosden filly at Chester and in the Oaks is questionable.

Wednesday’s Juddmonte International at York throws up the tantalising prospect of Churchill stretching out to a mile and a quarter (and a bit) after his St James’s Palace reverse, and an encounter with Cliffs of Moher, second to now-retired Wings of Eagles in the Derby and hampered when fourth behind Ulysses in the Eclipse last time out. It would help Churchill’s stud prospects if he could get that Group 1 win at the longer distance, but stablemate Cliffs of Moher could easily give him a run for his money, never mind the others.

I hope Raheen House takes his chance in the Great Voltigeur, a race I’ve loved ever since Hethersett won it in 1962 and helped me collect a vast sum – possibly £50 – after a small stakes patent copped, with Sostenuto (Ebor) and Persian Wonder the other legs, as a 16-year-old. That a Bournemouth betting shop manager would allow my bet and then pay me out after my round of pitch-and-putt at Tuckton Bridge remains a source of wonder 55 years on – we were on holiday and mum and dad went shopping! – but he did and I followed up with a nice bet on Hethersett, my favourite horse of all time, in the St Leger. For the record, my favourite jumper ever was L’Escargot.

Years later, Hitman, in whom I had a share, broke down in the Voltigeur, but I still look forward to it as the best guide to the Classic. Let him run there Brian, please.

Meydan Mauling – Jack’s The Lad

Jack Hobbs put in a monster performance to win the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan on Saturday.

Sporting blinkers in the hope of sharpening his concentration, the Irish Derby winner of 2015 looked to be back to his best, cruising into contention turning for home, before powering clear for a two-length success over Aidan O’Brien’s talented filly Seventh Heaven. Postponed was sent-off favourite, but last year’s winner could only manage third. Highland Reel proved disappointing, trailing home last of the seven starters.

The winner had looked keen for much of the race, but when popped the question by William Buick, he had all the answers. “He's a classy horse,” said the Godolphin jock. “The blinkers probably have helped, John said earlier in the week he was in great shape and he was proven right. This night is horse racing's Olympics, it's very important, certainly when wearing the royal blue, so I'm very happy.”

A thoroughly satisfied winning trainer, John Gosden said: “When Godolphin bought into him they wanted to run him in this race and I said, 'as a five-year-old, not at four'. We had a quiet year last year, but his form at Ascot was rock solid (the Champion Stakes). He's a lovely horse. He's got semi-blinkers on, they're only little, but in the Champion Stakes he spent the whole time dreaming.”

Of the campaign ahead, Gosden said: “With a horse like this, after they've run here you need to freshen them up and I would like to look at the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot and then the King George, which are ideal races for him.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Highland Reel was only fourth in this race a year ago, but went on to have a terrific season. He’s sure to bounce back, and clearly thrives on his racing. O’Brien was thrilled with his filly, and she could prove a top-class performer over the summer. The Ballydoyle Chief said: “For the filly, it was also her first run back and I was delighted with her, it sets her up nicely for the coming months.”

Seamie Heffernan was also impressed, saying: “On her first run of the year she has run a cracker. She's a double Group One winner and I'm delighted with her.”

Of Postponed, Andrea Atzeni refused to be downbeat, saying: “The pace was a bit slow for my horse, which I was a little bit worried about in such a small field, and on that ground, he didn't find the gears that we all know he possesses.” Roger Varian’s six-year-old did have the benefit of a run earlier in the month, and I’d expect he’ll be a little disappointed that ‘match-fitness’ failed to work in his favour.

A barnstorming performance from the ‘King of the Dirt’, brought the curtain down on this year’s Dubai World Cup. Arrogate stormed from last to first, to win the feature event, and take his earnings to a staggering $17,084,600. It’s incredible to think that Baffert’s superstar only made his racecourse debut less than a year ago. He takes his winning streak to a magnificent seven, and it’s hard to imagine him getting beat any time soon.

An emotional winning trainer spoke of his stable hero, saying: “When he missed the break, I gave him no chance at all. I was so mad at myself, thinking I shouldn't have brought him - that's the greatest horse I've ever seen run, it's unbelievable, I can't believe he won. Mike did a great job, he didn't panic. When he turned for home I said, 'If he wins he's the greatest since Secretariat'.”

Clearly overwhelmed by it all, Baffert went on: “I can’t believe we won that race. On the turn for home from being last early on he used that tremendous long stride and he gobbled up the ground. I have to admit, I have my heart doctor here and for a few moments I was on red alert. If anyone in racing wasn't super impressed with that, well they must be seriously missing something. Sitting back there, Mike let the big kid gather himself and as soon as he saw them in front of him he picked up in an amazing way. I got very emotional as it was like a Hollywood-style finish.”

It’s likely that Arrogate will now be given a decent break, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic again the major target at the end of the season. For the likes of Jack Hobbs and Seventh Heaven, a shorter break has been earned, before the likelihood of further clashes during a thrilling summer of action in the UK.

Baffert Breeders’ Cup Joy – as Arrogate leaves it late

A dramatic Breeders’ Cup 2016 came to a thrilling conclusion, when Arrogate landed the Classic, giving Bob Baffert his third straight success in the race.

California Chrome had been sent-off favourite for the showpiece, and turning for home appeared to have his young rival on the ropes. But under a power-packed drive from the all-time leading Breeders' Cup rider Mike Smith, the giant striding colt devoured the Santa Anita dirt, and gradually gathered in the favourite, getting his head in front as the line approached. It was a fabulous performance from a horse that had announced himself as a potential star when winning the Travers Stakes in record time at the end of August.

“Deep down, I really wasn't sure if we could beat California Chrome, because I still have total respect for the horse. He's a great horse,” said an elated Baffert. “Turning for home, I thought I was going to run second, but there's nothing wrong with that, because Chrome is a really good horse, and running second to him is no bad thing. I never thought he would be able to catch him.”

Smith was winning his 25th Breeders’ Cup race, but could barely believe he had captured this one, when saying: “You just don't see things like this from a young three-year-old. He literally was prancing after the race was over. He's so talented and has amazing stamina. He could have gone around again. He's incredible.”

Art Sherman accepted defeat gracefully, the trainer appreciating the magnitude of the winning performance, when saying: “I didn't really know where I stood, because he's a three-year-old against Chrome. Sometimes they're not that strong against older horses. But this is a good horse that beat him, a very good horse.”

Arrogate’s victory capped an enthralling Breeders’ Cup, which saw so many outstanding performances.

On Friday evening, the previously undefeated three-year-old Songbird, could not withstand a relentless challenge from one of the great mare’s, Beholder. In one of the most pulsating Breeders’ Cup battles, the pair fought hammer and tongs over the last quarter mile of the Distaff. At the post a mere flared nostril separated the heroic duo.

Your first 30 days for just £1

On this occasion the outstanding pilot, Mike Smith, became the vanquished, with the equally sensational Gary Stevens the victor. At 51 and 53, these pair are ‘Jedi Knights’ of the saddle. And they certainly used ‘the force’ with barely a lightsaber in sight. Hands and heals for practically the length of the straight, we witnessed true masters of their trade, rolling back the years. The Distaff had it all. This was likely the last dance for Beholder, but for Songbird the sweet sound of success will surely be heard on countless more occasions.

After the epic race, Mike Smith summed up the performance of both fillies: “She ran incredible and I’m so proud of her. The real Beholder showed up today. That was probably the best race she has run in her life. My filly made her reach down as deep as she has. In losing, I feel like we won. We got beat a short nose. Beholder is retiring, but my filly will get bigger and stronger next year as they all do when they get older. She’s a true champion.”

With two American equine heroes somewhat stealing the show, it was terrific to see two more familiar names raising the spirits of the ‘home team’.

Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien can always be relied upon, and they once again struck gold whilst others left disappointed. Queen’s Trust found the lightning quick conditions to her liking, and under another masterly ride, this time from Frankie Dettori, came with a withering run to nail Lady Eli in the shadow of the post, and lift the Filly & Mare Turf. It was a thrilling victory for a filly that has performed exceptionally well at Group 1 level throughout the summer.

O’Brien saddled two of the top three in the betting for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. And yet again, the man-on-top proved key to success. Seamie Heffernan put in an inspired performance from the front. Setting even fractions for the bulk of the race, he pulled several lengths clear aboard Highland Reel, before sending the colt for home with around half a track remaining. The field failed to cover the move, and victory was secured. Flintshire finished best of the rest, with the wonderful Found staying on powerfully for third.

“He's the type of horse that's brave in front,” said Heffernan. “And when he wants to go, you let him go and he turns it on. I thought there were a few horses that were going to come from the back and come quick. So if I was going, I wanted to go early.”

“We know he gets a mile and a half very well,” O'Brien said of the winner. “We know that he handles fast ground. He doesn't mind dictating. He doesn't mind sitting in. So it was straightforward, really. But Seamus executed it brilliant. He was very happy to make the run, and when he did, he controlled the race perfectly.”

The Heffernan masterclass was mirrored by so many outstanding jockeys throughout the meeting. A wonderful Breeders’ Cup, where we witnessed so many dazzling performances, both equine and human. It proved a fitting conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable Flat racing campaign.

Breeders’ Cup Baffert – Back For More

Bob Baffert is one of America’s outstanding trainer’s, having tasted huge success in the American Classics, along with holding an enviable record in the Breeders’ Cup.

Brought up on the family farm in Arizona, Baffert was just 10 when he started racing Quarter Horses purchased by his father. The seed was sown, and as a teenager he worked for $100 a day in racing events on the outskirts of his home town.

By the age of 20, he had progressed to training horses, and gained quite a reputation. In the 1980s, Baffert moved to California, and his involvement with Thoroughbreds began. He got his first big break in 1992, when Thirty Slews won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Baffert has landed a host of Classics since capturing his first in 1997, when training Silver Charm to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He came so close to securing the Triple Crown, when just touched off by half a length in the Belmont. Baffert was to suffer similar frustration a year later when Real Quiet took the opening pair of Classics before going down agonisingly in the Belmont Stakes by a nose.

He finally captured the Belmont in 2001 with the outstanding chestnut colt Point Given. The three-year-old had previously won the Preakness, but failed to land the Kentucky Derby when only fifth. He concluded the campaign with victory in the Travers Stakes, making it nine wins from 13 career starts, earning a staggering $3,968,500.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Then followed a quiet spell for the trainer with regards to the Classics, though Baffert continued his love-affair with the Breeders’ Cup. In 2007 he captured the Sprint and the Juvenile Fillies, whilst a year later again landing the Sprint along with the Juvenile.

But it was in 2015 that the handler finally achieved the Triple Crown dream. American Pharoah was bred in Kentucky by his owner, Ahmed Zayat. He became Champion two-year-old in 2014, and a year later swept all before him, completing an incredible season with victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He became the first horse to complete the Triple Crown for 37 years, and during an incredible career earned $8,650,300.

This weekend Baffert hopes to taste further success in the Breeders’ Cup at his local track, Santa Anita Park. His stables are just a short stroll from the racecourse, and his team of thoroughbreds work at the track daily. He has a powerful team primed to take on all-comers, and the betting suggests he has every chance of landing a valuable prize or two.

California Chrome is thought by many to be the ‘nap’ of the meeting, but in Arrogate, Baffert has a worthy challenger for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with the trainer looking to win the event for the third time in a row. His three-year-old stormed to victory in the Travers Stakes, looking exceptional, and breaking the track record in the process. He did his final piece of work yesterday at the Santa Anita track, and a relieved Baffert said: “He went nice. It was good to get it out of the way. I was a bit tense today. He's a beautiful-moving horse, but he still has to run against California Chrome.”

Though Arrogate looks to have a huge chance, it’s Dortmund that appears to be Baffert’s best hope of Breeders’ Cup glory. He is a short-priced favourite to take the Dirt Mile, and chased home California Chrome last time at Santa Anita. That was over nine furlongs, and the mile looks ideal for this classy colt. He’s five from six at the California track, and will take some stopping.

Baffert has a terrific record in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and has another great chance of success with the four-year-old Lord Nelson. The winner of three Grade 1s already this summer, he arrives off the back of an impressive win in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes in October. Baffert also has three-year-old Drefong in the race. With only five career starts to his name, he will be taking on older horses for the first time, but is another Grade 1 winner, having won in Saratoga back in August.

Despite achieving so much over the years, the drive to succeed shows no sign of diminishing. This looks sure to prove an exciting Breeders’ Cup for Baffert and his team.

Phenomenal Flintshire – Consistency Personified

Arrogate handed Bob Baffert a stunning success in the race in which his star American Pharoah suffered a shock defeat 12 months earlier.

The three-year-old was being tested in graded company for the first time, and shot the opposition to pieces in winning the Travers Stakes in the fastest time ever recorded for the race, and in doing so, shattering the Saratoga track record.

Sent to the front, and setting a searching pace, he never looked in any danger, and scorched clear turning for home, winning by a yawning 13 and a half lengths. Mike Smith had his work cut-out to pull up the winner, proving just how much remained in the tank of this exciting youngster.

“Last year you probably could have poured me out of a shot glass,” Baffert recalled. “We were pretty dejected. I felt bad for the horse. He ran hard, he ran his heart out. The whole town came out to see him do something like Arrogate did today. I'm just glad to be back here with another chance at it. And my horse, what he did today is pretty incredible. He looks like a superstar in the making. I think the fans will remember watching a horse like this, because I know, when I see performances like this, they're very rare.”

Sky Bet responded to the win by introducing Arrogate to their Breeders' Cup Classic market at 5-1, with California Chrome heading the market at 7-4. Those odds could prove pretty generous come November.

Your first 30 days for just £1

On the same card, a more established Juddmonte Farms star, Flintshire, completed back to back victories in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes. Held up at the rear for much of the race, he cruised into contention approaching the final turn, before Castellano, much to his relief, found a gap on the rail. The jockey asked his mount to make his move, and the race was quickly put to bed.

Castellano was full of praise for his outstanding ally, with the success sealing his place in the Breeders' Cup Turf on November 5. “I was very lucky to go and cut through on the rail and accelerate,” the rider said. “He's a phenomenal horse. I've never seen any horse with that much acceleration on the grass.”

First or second in all bar one of his last 13 starts, and 10 of those being at Grade/Group 1 level, Chad Brown’s six-year-old has become something of an international phenomenon. He’s been runner-up in two Arcs, a Breeders’ Cup Turf and a Hong Kong Vase, and has become a model of consistency at the highest level. He’s sure to go close in November at Santa Anita, regardless of the opposition.

Whilst the radar was set on the Breeders’ Cup over the pond, on this side of the Atlantic, many have their sights on Ascot’s Qipco British Champions Day in October.

On Saturday at Goodwood, Lightning Spear finally put in a performance worthy of the praise he had been adorned by his trainer David Simcock. Always highly thought of, he came with a withering late burst to win the Celebration Mile. He’d run a cracker earlier in the campaign, when a close third to Tepin in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. A return to Ascot for the QEII now looks a realistic target, for which he is best priced 16/1.

Speaking to Channel Four Racing after the victory, Simcock said: “That's a massive relief, honestly. We've always thought the world of him and he was brilliantly nurtured by Olly Stevens. We've just picked up the pieces. We were so pleased with his first start in the Queen Anne and watching his last two races you wouldn't believe it and you feel sorry for the horse as he's very, very good. I'm not one to hype horses and I think he's really talented. He's got a really good turn of foot. Everything is aimed towards Ascot now and we'll have a really good go at the QEII.”

As we approach September, those end of season targets are coming around at pace. The Arc meeting at Chantilly is only a month away. We have little more than six weeks to wait for the British Champions Day at Ascot. And then it will be the turn of Santa Anita to play host to the Breeders’ Cup. Exciting times lie ahead.

Breeders’ Cup 2015: A Homecoming for the Ages

Breeders' Cup XXXII, hosted for the first time by Keeneland racecourse, in Lexington, Kentucky, was billed as a homecoming for the franchise. As the birthplace of so many champions - Kentucky can boast to have bred 78% of all US-bred Breeders' Cup winners, and 64% of all winners since inception - this was a venue as fitting as any to host the end of season 'World Thoroughbred Championships'.

Romance and appropriateness aside, questions had been murmured regarding Keeneland's ability to accommodate such a vast jamboree. After all, this is no Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby annually welcomes 170,000 racegoers and revellers; nor is it Santa Anita, host six times since 2008 and nine in all, thus possessing a bombproof blueprint for staging the event.

Moreover, the last time the Cup was hosted outside of those two venues, at Monmouth Park in 2007, it was something of a disaster with rain and logistics making that year memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is surely more than coincidence that it took another eight years for a new venue to be chanced.

The main risks were perceived as the weather - as Bayern was winning the 2014 Classic in sunny Santa Anita, snow was falling in Keeneland - and those pesky logistics: could a track unaccustomed to 50,000+ crowds cope with such a phalanx of fans? As time soon told, there was little about which to fret.

*

One of the great things about racing, and about Breeders' Cup week in particular, is that horses are largely trained under public scrutiny on the track. What makes Cup week so special is that global equine superstars congregate in a single place, allowing aficionados unprecedented access to their horsey heroes.

So it was that this week, as well as the likes of Golden Horn and Gleneagles, familiar friends of European track dwellers, the best of the rest also strut their thang for all to see. Best of the best is a chap called American Pharoah, a home bred born and raised in the state of Kentucky - where else?

American Pharoah completes his final workout

American Pharoah completes his final workout

Winner of the Triple Crown in America, the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 (and only the fourth since 1948), this fine fellow has enjoyed a special year, and was already assured Hall of Fame status courtesy of that terrific treble in the early part of the season.

A few moments before AP graced the training track, his main rival, a five-year-old mare called Beholder, also cantered a couple of circuits. Sadly, her interrupted preparation - she spiked a temperature during transit from California - caught up with her and she was withdrawn from the field.

If there were a few initial clouds of doubt regarding the venue for 2015 Breeders' Cup, there were no such reservations about the quality of the participants. The brain fails when trying to recall a deeper entry, as the winners of the Derby, Arc (Golden Horn both), 1000 Guineas (Legatissimo), and English, Irish (Gleneagles both) and French 2000 Guineas (Make Believe) all flew in to represent the European Classic generation.

A robust older, and younger, Euro contingent supplemented the established stars, and they in turn joined the biggest names on the US scene this year: Liam's Map, Private Zone, Runhappy, among many others.

The stage was thus set for what is a slightly lop-sided two day extravaganza, with four races on Friday little more than an amuse bouche ahead of Saturday's vast a la carte selection [personal preference would be for one further race - the Turf Sprint perhaps - to move to Friday making a slightly less unbalanced 5-8 split].

Friday Races

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

First up, the Juvenile Turf, and the word in McCarthy's, Lexington's obligatory Irish home from home, was that Hit It A Bomb could not get beaten. Strange then, in the face of such confidence, that he was sent off at 7.2/1 against 9/2 in the early running here in Blighty. The reasons for his market uneasiness were threefold: inexperience off just two lifetime starts, lack of Group race form, and a "parking lot" draw.

As it transpired, Hit It A Bomb had three things in his favour: a rapid early pace which strung the field out; Ryan Moore riding a perfect race (again); and his own incredible talent enabling him to surge to the lead in the last few yards having spotted a dozen rivals distance turning in.

1-0 to Europe and, with so many top-notch turfers still to come, hope swelled for a strong European weekend.

**

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Little Euro interest in race two, the 'Dirty Mile', as the shortest priced favourite of the entire weekend, four-year-old Liam's Map, was 'expected'. And for good reason. Liam's Map had charted a course to five wins in a very light seven race career, including by a wide margin and with a career best Beyer speed figure in Grade 1 company on his most recent start.

Generally a need the lead type, the question here was that if he was taken on early how would he react? Missing the break was an unfortunate beginning, and then when forced to check numerous times on heels behind the pace-pushing pair of Mr. Z and Bradester it looked as though the shallow odds were in deep water.

Shuffled back to a boxed in seventh, albeit only two lengths off the lead, rounding the far turn, Todd Pletcher's grey colt showed all his class when the gap finally came, ceding first run but not first past the post to a game and clear second best, Lea.

In the circumstances, this was an effort that could be marked up and marked up again. Sadly, that will be for academic purposes only, as Liam's Map now travels the ten miles from Keeneland to Lane's End Farm's breeding sheds to begin his new career.

**

Juvenile Fillies Turf

The second of the two juvenile turf heats, this time for the girls, and with Alice Springs, Nemoralia and Illuminate in the field, Team GB/Ire looked promising. In the event, the raiding party again failed to deliver as it has done in all bar two of the eight renewals. It may be no coincidence that the two victories came in the two 'Lasix off in juvenile races' years (Lasix being an almost ubiquitously applied elixir in American racing to restrict horses' bleeding) of 2012 and 2013.

That was supposed to lead to a wider ban on the drug at Breeders' Cup but, instead - and perhaps partially as a result of Europe sweeping the board in the juvie turf events at those two Santa Anita meetings, the US horsemen revolted and the Breeders' Cup Committee reneged.

Still, before we get too morally pugnacious, it should be noted that most of the European team - including both of its winners - were deploying raceday medication. So was main Euro hope, Alice Springs, here. She ran a great race in second, possibly squeezed a little in the straight, behind by Canadian-based Mark Casse's maiden Breeders' Cup winner, Catch A Glimpse, and in front of Jeremy Noseda's all-too-late runner, Nemoralia. It was to be a great weekend for Casse.

**

Breeders' Cup Distaff

With Beholder's defection to the Classic, and latterly her defection from the meeting, the Distaff looked wide open and lacking in star quality. Five year old Wedding Toast was favoured, but she ran a lacklustre race having used plenty of petrol trying to secure her preferred front rank berth.

In the end it was a dirt double for Todd Pletcher, as he welcomed Stopchargingmaria into the winners' circle. She'd run a flat fourth last time out and had failed to better a 95 Beyer in 15 career starts. In beating Stellar Wind, a progressive three-year-old but one which had also failed to surpass 95 Beyer, this looked a moderate renewal. Indeed, every previous winner since 2005 had recorded at least 100 on that speed scale.

For the record, here's the tape.

**

A crowd of 45,000 watched the Friday action and, as one of them, I felt the track handled the numbers well. Queues for wagering, drinks, food and toilets were all shorter than at big UK race days, and there was the usual relaxed Breeders' Cup crowd vibe throughout. The sun even poured a beautiful sunset over Keeneland on Friday evening as a portent of what was to follow during its next arc.

The sun sets on Day One of Keeneland's Breeders' Cup

The sun sets on Day One of Keeneland's Breeders' Cup

**

Saturday Races

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

A bigger crowd of just north of 50,000 were in attendance on Saturday, though many of them were yet to arrive as the young ladies prepared for the first of nine Cup races on Saturday, a nonet culminating with American Pharoah's bid for pole position in the pantheon of American racehorses.

Songbird, a winner of three, including two consecutive Grade 1's in dominant fashion, shipped east from California. Her form was in a league of its own, her speed figures were in a league of their own, she looked set to have her own way on the front again, and she traded commensurately short at 3/5.

As the gates opened, she catapulted to the front and never saw a rival, easing off to a near six length verdict over the pick of the East Coast entries, impeccably bred Rachel's Valentina (by Bernardini out of Rachel Alexandra). Songbird is the best winner of this I can remember. So, while Beholder (2012) went on to great things including beating the boys up this year before injury intervened ahead of the Classic, this filly could take on the lads much earlier, perhaps even having a tilt at the Kentucky Derby.

Her time here compared favourably with the Juvenile winner though, as we'll see, that one didn't have quite such a straightforward trip.

This is one to enjoy, as have all her races been, three of them Grade 1, which she's now won by a combined 22 lengths, for an average 5 1/2 length winning margin. She's a fleet-footed filly. Fact.

**

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

Next up, the Turf Sprint. Run for the eighth time, but the first time at the intermediate distance of five and a half furlongs, that proved to be the key to unlocking a big-priced winner. Mongolian Saturday was his name, and his beautifully swathed connections were a treat for thousands of appreciative spectators, many obliged in their search for selfies.

The perfect Mongolian Saturday... in Kentucky

The perfect Mongolian Saturday... in Kentucky

Running free of Lasix, the son of Any Given Saturday was to kick off a noteworthy 'clean' Sprint double, the only runners in their respective races not on the 'juice'.

He'd been a tremendous servant to connections all season running some competitive speed figures and finishing in the frame in his previous ten races.

But back to that aforementioned distance key. Mongolian Saturday had won his only five and a half furlong turf race; and second placed Lady Shipman had won four of five turf starts at the trip. They were two of only four in the field with a strong record at the precise range which, in races decided by fine margins, may have tilted the scales in their favour.

Specifically in relation to the winner, he's run a sensational race, having been drawn on the wide outside, been gunned to contest a 22 second flat opening quarter, and hung tough in the straight to win by the proverbial fag paper. This was Florent Geroux's second Cup win of the weekend and his third in all after Work All Week's Sprint triumph last year. He's a name to note.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Mongolian Saturday was a 15.9/1 chance on the tote board, having been 25/1 here.

Here's the race: heart-breaking if you backed Lady Shipman, heart-warming if you were a North American racing fan based in Ulaanbataar!

**

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint

Now eight years old, the Filly and Mare Sprint has still to welcome its first three-year-old winner, but that didn't stop Cavorting being sent off the warm 3.4/1 favourite. She ran pretty well in truth, eventually finishing fourth having been held up from her outside draw, but she was no match for Wavell Avenue.

That one, giving Chad Brown his first dirt winner at the Breeders' Cup and his sixth Cup win overall, reversed the form with La Verdad from Belmont's Gallant Bloom Handicap. If this race had been the same distance as that one - six and a half furlongs - the result would have been the same. But this was seven furlongs, and the visual impression of Belmont was confirmed at Keeneland, as La Verdad's stamina gave best to Wavell Avenue's late run.

La Verdad and Wavell Avenue ran the same races for 6.5f

La Verdad and Wavell Avenue ran the same races for 6.5f

Taris looked the unlucky filly, caught on heels for much of the home straight, and Simon Callaghan's Coolmore four-year-old can be marked up on this effort. This viewer thought Taris's jockey, Gary Stevens, was a tad lily-livered about making something happen and probably should have been at least second if he'd switched to the three path about a furlong and a half out. Uncharitably, Stevens blamed La Verdad for checking his run up the rail, but he was looking for a miracle gap and it was a poor ride, plain and simple.

Anyway, don't take my work for it. Judge for yourself...

**

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf

Run for the first time over nine and a half furlongs, the shortest distance in the race's 17 year history, Europe had a very strong hand. Legatissimo has carried all before her on our side of the pond this year, winning the 1000 Guineas, the Nassau and the Matron Stakes, and running close seconds in the Oaks and Pretty Polly, all Group 1's.

Here she was sent off the 9/10 jolly, with a trio of further solid European Group 1 performers in Miss France, Secret Gesture and Queen's Jewel in support. The worry for Legatissimo, long season aside, is that she tends to take a while to hit her stride, something inconducive with the inside turf oval at Keeneland.

Concerns proved well founded, as Moore's firm rousting took a furlong to elicit the desired response, during which time Stephanie's Kitten had kicked in her more instant turbo and burned through a dream split between the fading trailblazers to put the race to bed.

This was a second Breeders' Cup success for six-year-old Stephanie's Kitten, who won the Juvenile Fillies Turf back in 2011; and she'd also run a game second in this race last year. Her 2015 victory took place just six miles from where young Stephanie was born and raised as a kitten, and it is to there that she will now be retired to the paddocks. This was a seventh BC triumph for Chad Brown, hard on the heels of his sixth in the previous race.

Queen's Jewel, with Lasix aiding her constitution for the first time, was hampered in the initial furlongs and ran home best of all in third. But it would be ambitious to suggest the early impediment was the difference between victory and defeat. It was not.

Irad Ortiz, Jr., architect of Secret Gesture's "taking down" in the Beverley D. had a dream trip through a packing field here to prove the scourge of Europe once again. He's surely used up two of his nine Kitten's lives in recent weeks.

**

Breeders' Cup Sprint

This looked a great race in prospect, and it was the fairy story of the weekend, though with a Roald Dahl (or Edgar Allan Poe if you prefer) ending. Trainer Maria Borell had been successfully tilting at windmills all season with her gorgeous three-year-old Super Saver colt, Runhappy. This young chap, and his young trainer, are very hard not to love. Both go about their business with passion and talent, and both wear their hearts on their sleeve.

Here, Runhappy was up against a much more battle-hardened foe in the shape of Private Zone, a six-year-old veteran of 30 races, against Runhappy's six prior outings. Private Zone had been invincible this season at seven furlongs, but was dropping back an eighth here, against a progressive long-striding six furlong specialist.

The fractions were ridiculous, Private Zone dashing out from stall 13 to share the lead through the first quarter in 22.05, and the half mile in 44.31. What a huge race he ran in defeat eventually yielding to Runhappy late in the last furlong in a finishing time of 68.58 seconds. That's an average seconds per furlong of 11.43. Whoosh! Track record.

Runhappy had a wide trip in the three path around the turn so he too can be marked up on what is already a phenomenal run. Moreover, this was the first time he'd sat off the lead, rating in third. It caused him little or no inconvenience as he bounded up the home stretch to win going away. He'll get seven easily, and may stretch out to a mile if that rating style can be harnessed.

There was to be the ultimate sting in the tail, however, as Borell learned the morning after "the best day of my life" that she would no longer be training the horse. This staggering bombshell was delivered as it emerged that there was a conflict of opinion between the trainer and the owner's racing manager about Runhappy shipping west to continue his racing career.

For a young trainer who has done nothing wrong - and a heck of a lot right, regardless of the raw ability of her horse - that must be so hard to take. Horse racing is a cruel sport at the best of times, but decisions like this beggar belief, and I trust the owner, a mattress salesman, continues to sleep soundly at night. I'm confident I wouldn't be able to.

Here's the unbridled majesty of Runhappy gunning down a gladiator...

**

Breeders' Cup Mile

The Mile has been about France and America since Ridgewood Pearl last claimed the prize for Britain or Ireland in 1995. That was 20 years and 50 runners ago, and that sequence extended to 52 runners here.

In truth, before the race it looked like one for the French, who had a fearsome line up of G1 scorers in Make Believe, Impassable, Esoterique and Karakontie. But, for whatever reason, they all misfired and misfired badly, running no better than fifth between them.

The winner, Tepin, had been clear pick of the domestic squad coming in to the Mile, having blitzed a massive seven length Grade 1 victory over course and distance (soft turf) four weeks earlier. She proved that career best to be no fluke, stalking obvious pace angle, Obviously (!), before finding herself five clear with a sixteenth to go.

As is often the case in the Mile, regardless of the host track, there was scrimmaging on the inside rail, the Gallics clambering all over each other. Mondialiste, held up as usual, saw daylight too late but flew home for a clear second for Danny Tudhope and trainer David O'Meara. Clearly my Friday night pep talk with the cuprous conjuror had worked its magic!

Tepin, 4.9/1 at the off but available at 14's just a few days ago in Britain, had the perfect position off a steady pace, and gave her trainer, Mark Casse, his second win of the meeting, and jockey Julien Leparoux his sixth Breeders' Cup win overall.

Here's the race again:

**

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

The antepenultimate Cup race of 2015, the Juvenile, looked a touch sub-standard on paper, and so it proved. Nyquist, one of only two unbeaten colts in the race, and one of only two unbeaten on dirt, had a tough post in 13 to overcome.

Things looked insurmountable as jockey Mario Gutierrez was forced six wide around the first turn. But that was down to three wide into the second turn, and Nyquist's stamina kicked in to forge the pairing into a three length lead in the straight. By the line, he was all out to hold another wide-drawn wide-tripper, Swipe, but hold him he did to reward backers at odds of 4.7/1.

The pair pulled more than two lengths clear of their field and, though it was probably a moderate field, this duo can be rated slightly higher than the finishing time for their efforts.

In what looks a wide open Durrrby year in 2016, both deserve their places near the head of the market, albeit at prices (20/1 Nyquist, 33/1 Swipe) that reflect the openness of the heat. Brody's Cause also had a shocker of a run, finishing caked in filth for a staying on third, and his 33/1 quote is moderately attractive too, this first loss on dirt perhaps down to inexperience as much as anything.

Songbird is the 16/1 favourite with British books, and there are surely worse 16/1 shots than her, notwithstanding that she may not take in the Kentucky Derby, and that it is very, very hard to win that race with her run style (only War Emblem, 2002, has led gate to wire since 1988).

A lot will change between now and the 'run for the roses' in the first weekend in May but, for now at least, this may be the best trial there has been so far.

**

Breeders' Cup Turf

The last of the six grass races is the immaculately-named Turf, a mile and a half contest. It has been an awful race for favourites down the years with highly-touted 'obvious' Europeans routinely beaten. Against that backdrop, Golden Horn - winner of the Arc and Derby this season, as well as the Coral-Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes - attempted to buck the trend.

In opposition was a solitary further Euro, Found, a filly who has a propensity for close up defeat and who ran an unlucky five lengths ninth in the Arc in her only try at the distance. It was her general malady of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory rather than that Arc run which put this scribe off the 'wrong' Euro in a race I traditionally call wrong, and from which I am now considering self-exclusion.

Suffice it to say that, in the face of an ordinary enough challenge from Team USA and the presence of an only remotely interesting South American challenger, Ordak Dan, I wagered heftily on Golden Horn at what turned out to be a too good to be true local quote of 4/5. Way to return significant profits from whence they came!

In the race itself, Goldie Hawn looked to have few problems with his trip, likewise Found. Indeed, likewise all, so the result has to be seen as fair if not necessarily representative. After all, whilst Found over Golden Horn is credible, that the pair were no more than a length or so in front of Big Blue Kitten and, more notably, Slumber, implies one or both of the shippers ran some way below their best.

Maybe it was their long seasons, maybe the travel, more likely a combination of both. But the differential between Derby/Arc-winning form has to be more than a length superior to the pick of the local crowd, doesn't it? What is worth taking away is that both third and fourth were trained by Chad Brown, comfortably the best American trainer of Breeders' Cup turf runners, and a man to keep well onside going forwards.

For those who didn't back Golden Horn - especially if you did take some of the incredibly-generous-and-not too-good-to-be-true 6.4/1 on Found (exacta paid a whopping 20/1) - here is the re-run.

**

Breeders' Cup Classic

Despite a dozen races having been confined to the record, those Breeders' Cup propagandists had it bang on the money: "The Best Is Yet To Come".

The best was yet to come. Not the best race, you understand. That was probably Runhappy's cold-blooded assassination of the ageing warrior, Private Zone. But the best racehorse. A fellow by the name of American Pharoah.

The 'Pharoah' was a champion coming into the race, having won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes - the Triple Crown. He was the first since 1978 to achieve this mythical feat and he did it at a time when American racing was pleading for a shot in the arm of his ilk.

Since the Belmont in early June, AP had raced twice: first he confirmed superiority over his age group in the Haskell, but then... he... was... beaten. Gasp.

Just as tactics got the better of Golden Horn in mid-season, so the Pharoah was tactically mastered in the Travers. Not by a single horse, but rather a 'double teaming' whereby Frosted - a rival here - buttered him up on the speed before Keen Ice - another rival here - ran by in the lane. Not. In. The. Script.

But if gamblers love a golden child, they love a story of loss and redemption more. In truth, there was little to redeem, AP losing nothing in defeat due to his valiant efforts in the face of tough breaks. He was akin to a Tour de France champion being mastered by team tactics on an Alpine stage, but with General Classement victory assured.

Here, his task was simplified considerably by the late defection of Beholder. The clear main danger had not been herself since travelling to Kentucky, and she succumbed to the almost inevitable in scratching. Her absence made Pharoah's task easier than merely having one less horse to beat.

No, Beholder was a key facet of the tactical shape of the race, having been expected to ride on the shoulder of AP from half a mile and more out. In her, and also the bulky hard-to-keep-sound Smooth Roller's absence, there looked to be no pace contention for Bob Baffert's world beater, whose metier is to turn the screw from the front. To use the cycling analogy once more, AP is happiest when in solo time trial mode.

Here, off a steady first quarter mile, he led all the way, gradually increasing his cadence as his rivals wilted in behind, eventually running away from them by six and a half lengths in a time of 2:00:07. Two minutes and seven hundredths of a second. But for some supreme saddle posturing by jockey Victor Espinoza in the shadow of the post, American Pharoah would surely have ducked under the two minute barrier.

Still, as you can see, it was a GREAT photo opportunity, very well taken, and an image which looks sure to endure for generations to come.

Victor with a grin for the ages...

Victor with a grin for the ages... (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The race itself was without other incident, and it was without the need for other incident too, this being a glorious equine monologue, the final procession of a Pharoah: the American Pharoah.


The crowd had come to watch him strut his stuff and, in the face of no adversity, he did just that. His welcome was rapturous and, over the course of the season, wholly deserved.

Once the dust had settled, I snuck away from the madding throng to wave cheerio to, as NBC's fantastic race caller put it, "the horse of a lifetime", as he was led away from a race track for the final time.

**

Keeneland 2015 was one of the great Breeders' Cups. Perhaps the greatest of all Breeders' Cups. Certainly the best of the thirteen Breeders' Cups since 2001 that I've been lucky enough to attend.

Fears about the ability of Keeneland, and Lexington in general, to cope with the legion of racegoers were unfounded. The track and the town handled the influx comfortably. The weather was cool - sure, it's November, right? - and, for the most part over Cup weekend, dry. On another weekend it could have rained, and on another one still it might have snowed. But racing isn't always in sunshine, and not all horses train under nature's lights, so I say fair enough.

More importantly, for the Breeders' Cup itself, it basked in its own sunshine by bringing the American Pharoah out for one last glorious hoorah. From a selfish perspective, I hope this signals the start of a new confidence in pushing the boundaries of Breeders' Cup locations.

Keeneland, in Lexington, in Kentucky, is more than just a spiritual home for US racing. It is the epicentre of the breeding business, itself the lifeblood of the sport. After a Breeders' Cup where eleven of thirteen winners - 85% - were bred in the state of Kentucky, this truly was a homecoming for the ages.

Matt

p.s. the Breeders' Cup Compendium, which can be downloaded here, made a clear profit of over 21 points on stakes of just 16 points. It flagged winners at 25/1, 14/1 and 12/1 as well as a number of others at shorter prices; and it made for a very fun evening for subscribers 🙂

American Pharoah primed for one last Hurrah

An American Hero

An American Hero

The Breeders’ Cup guest of honour continued to shine during his final work at Santa Anita.

American Pharoah was the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. Yesterday he ‘breezed’ four furlongs before a gallop over five under the watchful eye of trainer Bob Baffert. Saturday’s $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic will be his final race before he starts his career as a stallion based at the Coolmore America Ashford Stud in Kentucky.

An emotional Baffert spoke of his equine hero with that final race drawing near: “He fulfilled a goal for me that I wanted but thought was probably unreachable, and that was to win the Triple Crown. It was emotional for me because unfortunately my parents weren't around to see it and they were always my biggest fans.“

Of that historical final leg of the Triple Crown he added: "The Belmont is the first time I've run a horse and never rooted for it. I just watched in amazement, and that's really rare. I always root and scream my lungs out, but watching him, I just knew he was going to do it. There was something about him that's so special. We finally did it and we did it with a horse that was just so incredible.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

The exceptional colt has won eight of his 10 career starts, accumulating earnings of almost $6 million.
The trainer appeared more than pleased with his stars recent work, saying: “It went really well. I was debating whether to work him in company—like, maybe put a target in front—but we just wanted to cruise around there, and it was nice that we had the track to ourselves. He looked like Pharoah.” Ridden by his regular work rider Martin Garcia, the gallop proved a little faster than anticipated.

“He did it the right way,” Baffert said. “I just told Martin to keep him in hand and let him cruise around there. That's what he did. He could have slowed him down a little bit, but he was doing it the right way. I was pretty impressed. Going into this race, he's ready to roll.”

It was also American Pharoah's last run at the Santa Anita track, a place that has become home for most of his career. “Walking up here, I was getting a little bit emotional,” Baffert said. “I was excited to watch him work, and got a little bit nervous. It was great the way he was doing it, but a little piece of me said, 'it's a little bit sad.' We now have to ship and the ship has to go well. It doesn't matter where he goes. He's handled it very well so far. He's used to everything—the crowd, the paddock—he's just that kind of horse. It makes my life so much easier, but that's because he's so great. He can handle it mentally.”

Three-year-olds have a decent record in the Classic but by no means outstanding. Horses that have found success in the Triple Crown events rarely shine at the Breeders’ Cup. Curlin back in 2007 was the last horse to win both the Preakness Stakes and the Classic in the same season, whilst Drosselmeyer won the Belmont in 2010 and a year later won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The effort of a Triple Crown campaign is notoriously testing for a young horse, and Pharoah’s last run, when beaten in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, is cause for concern. Despite all this, the bookies have him as a short-priced favourite. He slipped up at Saratoga, but given a break since and seemingly on the back of a smooth prep there’s every chance America’s latest racing sensation can finish on a high.

“It’s going to be a sad, but a happy day when he leaves because he put us way up there,” Baffert said. “He gave us the biggest thrill you could get in racing.”

It would be a fitting final act, if he could give his trainer and connections one last thrill on Saturday night.

American Pharoah set for Travers outing

Sensational American Pharoah

Sensational American Pharoah

It’s been announced that US Triple-Crown winner American Pharoah will next head for the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. The race takes place on August 29 and will be his last prior to the Breeders’ Cup at the end of October.

After another stunning piece of work at Del Mar, his owner Ahmed Zayat confirmed the colt will head to New York. He is set to fly to Saratoga on August 26. Trainer Bob Baffert confirmed his star’s wellbeing on Sunday, saying: “He always works well, but we wanted to see if he still has that energy level. It was a pretty incredible work, and he's a pretty incredible horse.”

With seven Grade 1 victories to his name, American Pharoah is fast becoming one of ‘American Dirts’ all-time greats. A hard fought victory in the Kentucky Derby was followed by a romp in the Preakness Stakes. This was arguably surpassed when he took the Triple-Crown in stunning fashion, destroying the field in the Belmont Stakes. Some may question the opposition but his strong performances have been backed by the clock.

His latest Grade 1 victory at Monmouth Park in the Haskell Invitational proved to be no more than a training session. In front of a record crowd he led from the off cruising clear before being heavily eased nearing the post.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Bob Baffert trained the sire, Pioneerof the Nile, a Kentucky Derby runner-up in 2009. It comes as no surprise to see that Northern Dancer appears on both sides of the pedigree, though admittedly going back a fair few generations. Both owner and trainer have hinted at their star’s standout quality. “We felt that he had brilliance in him,” said Zayat, “his demeanour, his aura, his conformation, and the way he moved.” Baffert added: “I've never had a horse that moves or travels over the ground like he does.”

His greatest test is likely to come at Keeneland, Kentucky, in the Breeders’ Cup at the end of a long arduous campaign. However, his trainer is sure to be a little nervous taking in the Travers Stakes. The only previous Triple Crown winner to find success in the race was Whirlaway in 1941.

Affirmed did cross the line ahead in the Travers of 1978 having already secured the Triple Crown, but was disqualified and placed second after interference with the runner-up Alydar. Baffert himself has a poor record in the race with just one win in five attempts. “I was looking for a reason not to run in the Travers but he didn’t give me one,” the trainer said. “I feel confident that he’ll run his race. If I saw he was a little flat he wouldn’t be on that plane.”

It’s hard to envisage anything other than another impressive victory for the great horse, assuming he arrives in New York fit and well. It will then be full steam ahead Kentucky for a thrilling season finale, before retiring to his duties as a stallion. He will stand at Ashford Stud, a division of Coolmore, after breeding rights were sold by Zayat.

It is estimated that his stud fee could reach $200,000. He looks set to be a star long after his sensational track exploits are over.

US ponders Lasix ban

The debate over the use of the diuretic drug Lasix in American racing is hotting up. At the Breeders’ Cup later this year the drug will be banned for the juvenile races and for all the championship races from 2013. Read more