Stoute, O’Brien and Brown set for Breeders’ Turf Showdown

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.

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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.

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.”

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.”

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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.

Heaven Knows it’s time for a break

For those that need a short sabbatical from National Hunt Festivals, the annual Dubai World Cup meeting from Meydan is just the ticket. Taking place tomorrow, the event is one of the World’s most valuable, with US$30m up for grabs.

It’s no surprise that some of the best Flat performers from around the globe have arrived, with connections hoping to land a vast fortune in prize money. The star of the show is the latest American sensation Arrogate. The Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, and recently successful in the World’s richest race; the Pegasus World Cup, he’ll be looking to add the Dubai World Cup and take his winning streak to a magnificent seven.

Trained by Bob Baffert, the four-year-old is a short-priced favourite to land the $10m showpiece for Prince Khalid Abdullah. “It’s pretty amazing the Prince has had a superhorse like Frankel and now he’s got a superhorse like this horse,” said the American handler. “Turf versus dirt, it’s so different. Frankel was an incredible horse, I remember every time he ran I made sure I got up real early to watch his races in England and he was spectacular.

“I think this horse is like the dirt version, in the States, of Frankel, so it’s pretty amazing he would own two of the best horses that we’ve seen. I trained American Pharoah, and I thought when he retired it was going to be really tough to fill those shoes, and then here comes Arrogate. He got into those shoes and just kept on.”

There’s plenty of British and Irish interest during the meeting, especially in the Dubai Sheema Classic, where Roger Varian, Aidan O’Brien, John Gosden and Saeed bin Suroor all clash. Postponed was an impressive winner of this race 12 months ago, and is the favourite to repeat that success. He warmed up with a narrow defeat to bin Suroor’s Prize Money, over course and distance. The Godolphin horse had a fitness advantage, and the places are expected to be reversed this time.

Highland Reel and Seventh Heaven represent Ballydoyle, with the former looking to add to his impressive International CV. A winner of the Hong Kong Vase in 2015, the five-year-old won the Breeders’ Cup Turf last November, before a narrow defeat back in Hong Kong in December. Ryan Moore will look to dictate from the front, and he’ll take some passing if getting the fractions right.

Seventh Heaven could prove the value bet in the race. Much will depend on how she’s progressed over the winter, but at times during her three-year-old campaign, she looked top-class. She has the physique to blossom as she gets older, and it would come as no surprise if she were to improve past these. Conditions should prove ideal, and she’s the one I’ll be backing.

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Jack Hobbs will look to build on his encouraging run in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot back in October. Gosden will be praying for an uninterrupted spell with the five-year-old in the hope of him meeting his full potential. Undoubtedly classy when right, he’s a tough one to trust after such a troublesome 2016 campaign.

There’s also plenty of European interest in the nine-furlong Dubai Turf, with the Richard Fahey trained Ribchester taking on Alain de Royer Dupre’s Zarak. The latter was impressive at the track in February, when winning the Group 3 Dubai Millennium Stakes. Twice a close second to Almanzor in France last term, he is a high-class colt, who could well make giant strides this season.

Ribchester did nothing but improve throughout his three-year-old campaign, becoming one of the leading milers. Just beaten by Minding in the QEII at Ascot, Fahey is adamant that his stable star will see-out this extended trip. He certainly looked as though a step-up in trip would suit, and this should prove an intriguing clash.

Finally, the Sprint over six furlongs sees Limato return to action, after his failed attempt at a mile in the Breeders’ Cup back in November. He was one of the stars of last Summer, and Henry Candy will be hoping that a return to sprinting will see him at his dazzling best.

Ertijaal looks to be one of his main dangers. The Meydan regular is owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, and was runner-up in this last year. The son of Oasis Dream hammered Jungle Cat last time, and will be a tough nut to crack. Aidan O’Brien’s Washington DC may prove each-way value at 14s. He had some tasty form last year, especially on quick ground, and there’s every chance of marked improvement from three to four.

This looks an exciting taster, as the Flat season draws ever near.

Almanzor – A Class Act

Almanzor powered to a stunning success in the Irish Champion Stakes, getting the better of Aidan O’Brien’s wonderful filly Found in a pulsating finish.

This was one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the season. A clash of both ages and of nations, saw high-class colts and fillies from France, the UK and Ireland battle for the prestigious prize.

Ebediyin and Success Days set a ferocious pace, such that dual Derby winner Harzand had to be scrubbed along early to maintain a prominent position. Turning for home the front pair paid for their exertions and were swallowed up by a bunch of classy pursuers.

Highland Reel and then New Bay looked to hold every chance inside the two-furlong mark, but it was Found and Almanzor, challenging widest of all, that swept past the pack to fight out the finish. And it was Jean Claude Rouget’s French Derby winner that had the most potent finishing kick. Found gave her all, but for the fifth time in a row, had to settle for the runners-up spot in a Group 1. Almanzor had just under a length to spare at the line.

Ballydoyle’s Classic winning filly Minding, kept on well on the inner for third, without ever looking likely to trouble the front two. Andre Fabre’s New Bay finished back in fourth.

Rouget is having a season to remember, and said of his impressive winner: “He doesn't look very tired. Christophe told me it was quite an easy race for him.We'll see now if he goes to Ascot or to Chantilly for the Arc. We'll decide after a good night!”

Having given the winner a perfect ride, Christophe Soumillon, the man for the big occasion, said: “He's a great horse. I've won on him a few times and I knew today he was going to run a great race. The pace was strong and he was very relaxed at the back. When I asked him to go he had a strong turn of foot.”

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Rouget went on to add: “He's a fantastic horse. I was very relaxed like him in the first part of the race. When I saw him coming on the outside I thought he could challenge for the victory and he did. For me at the beginning we chose this race because I thought he was more a mile-and-a-quarter horse, but with the champions you can do anything.”

Reflecting on the victory yesterday, the French trainer appeared to be favouring Ascot with his classy colt, when saying: “He is getting better and better. Since the Prix du Jockey Club he has climbed the steps. Ten furlongs for me is a good trip. For me the option is the English race, because of the distance and we have two weeks more. If he was mine he would run at Ascot. He could run in the Arc next year."

It helps of course that Rouget has a perfect replacement for the Arc, in his talented filly La Cressonniere. Speaking of his French Oaks winner, he said: “She is fine in Deauville with my other horses and is preparing for the Arc. She is very fresh and in very good shape. She is a great champion. All she does comes easy to her."

Harzand’s Arc challenge looks less certain after Saturday. Not only was he somewhat disappointing in the Irish Champion, but the dual Derby winner also picked up a slight injury during the race. Dermot Weld confirmed that plans are now on hold, when speaking to At The Races yesterday: “I've not had time to review the race yet, but he was badly chopped early on. He's very sore this morning and lame. His right hind leg is badly bruised, and it was a brave performance considering what happened. We will have to see how he is before making any decision on the Arc.”

Found now appears Ballydoyle’s main Arc contender, and her consistency at the highest level would certainly give the team hope of another huge run. One O’Brien filly that could still play a major role in the French showpiece is Yorkshire Oaks winner Seventh Heaven. The yard’s Arc challenge looks somewhat threadbare, with the colts in particular appearing sub-standard this year. O’Brien’s fillies have been more impressive, and she looked mightily progressive at York, beating Found comfortably in the process.

The weekends action may well have focused the minds of many, though plenty of tough decisions are still to be made with regards to season end targets.

Arc next for Juddmonte hero Postponed

Postponed was the star on the opening day of the York Ebor Festival.

He confirmed his status as being supreme over mid-distances, when winning the Juddmonte International. He travelled beautifully through the race, and took up the running inside the three-furlong marker. Victory at that stage looked a formality, but he came under severe pressure from both Mutakayyef and Highland Reel.

Postponed found plenty for pressure, but drifted across the track in doing so, and certainly took Mutakayyef’s ground. Highland Reel stayed on well having been outpaced, though never looked like getting to the winner.

Roger Varian’s star is now as short as 3/1 for the Arc, which remains his main target. The elated trainer spoke to Channel 4 Racing after the momentous success, and said: “He's an incredible horse. The team at home have done a fantastic job. A week ago I wouldn't have known if I was running him here. We're not having loads of winner at the moment, so you're never quite sure. I trusted in the horse's condition and he delivered.”

Of future plans, Varian added: “I'll talk through plans with his owner, but I would think it unlikely he'll run again before the Arc - it will give us plenty of time to tune him up for that race. I'm not sure this is as spectacular as some of his wins, but I thought he stamped himself as by far the best horse in the race.”

William Haggas appeared far less convinced of that analysis, when he spoke of Mutakayyef, saying: “I thought he was going to win, but Paul (Hanagan) said he just ran out of room. The winner started his run down the middle but ended up near us on the near side. I would have just liked them all to run in a straight line so we could have known.”

The frustrated trainer added: “He got the trip but we knew he would as he has won over it before. He's come of age this season. I'm chuffed to bits with him. The only race we have in mind for him is the Dubai Turf at Meydan (next March) - that's what the owner wants to go for and it will suit him down to the ground. Obviously, he'll run before but where I don't know.”

Aidan O’Brien was more than satisfied with the runner-up and spoke of likely International targets later in the season. Races in Australia and America will come under consideration, as the Ballydoyle team attempt to shuffle their extensive and talented pack.

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One of O’Brien’s battalion that looks to have a clear target in the coming months is the three-year-old Idaho. Yet another from the Galileo production line, he was impressive in winning the Great Voltigeur Stakes, ensuring he was installed as a short-priced favourite for the St Leger. The trainer confirmed that both the winner and the runner-up Housesofparliament, will both head to Doncaster for the final Classic.

Today, all eyes will be on the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks. O’Brien is set to run four in the race, and is likely to have the front two in the betting. Found will take her chance, and will look to get back to winning ways after a trio of second place finishes. She’s the class act, though has to give plenty of weight to several talented three-year-olds.

Seventh Heaven is one of those, and will be looking to add to her Irish Oaks success. She was impressive at the Curragh, and is sure to give her stable companion a severe test.

Queen’s Trust is another who looks capable of going close. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, she chased home Minding last time at Goodwood in the Nassau Stakes. She’s bred to appreciate fast ground, and her trainer is the joint most successful in the race. She will be ridden by Andrea Atzeni, who ought to be full of confidence after his double on day one.

Racegoers will also be looking forward to seeing the promising juvenile filly Fair Eva. Carrying those famous Khalid Abdullah silks, she is one of the successful first crop by the mighty Frankel. She is challenged by another of his progeny, in the Richard Fahey trained Queen Kindly. It’s an intriguing clash, with Aidan O’Brien sending over his Duchess Of Cambridge heroine Roly Poly, to add further spice.

The opening day was certainly a memorable one, and day two should prove just as exciting. Expect another huge crowd on the Knavesmire, revelling in high quality racing.