There’s every chance that Friday night could bring about one of the major stories from this year’s Breeders’ Cup, particularly for race fans on this side of the Atlantic.
O’Brien versus O’Brien may well become a more common feature in the coming years, but for now is something of a novelty, especially on such a huge international stage. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf, sees a clash between father and sons. Aidan saddles Hydrangea and Roly Poly, whilst son Joseph sends Intricately into battle, ridden by his brother Donnacha.
The three fillies fill three of the top four places in the betting, and there’s very little to choose between them on what we’ve witnessed on the track. Intricately was a mere short-head in front of Hydrangea when they met in the Moyglare Stud Stakes in September. It was very much a head-bobber that could have gone either way. Since that run, Hydrangea has again come-off second best, when beaten by stable companion Rhododendron in the Dubai Fillies’ Mile. That was her sixth outing, and her fourth second place finish.
Joseph’s filly has two victories and a pair of third place finishes from her four career starts. Slightly less experience certainly, but she’ll be arriving here relatively fresh and still on the upgrade. A victory would place Joseph alongside Freddy Head, as a Breeders’ Cup winning jockey and trainer. Donnacha will be looking to emulate his brother in winning a race at the prestigious event as an 18-year-old. Joseph was famously successful for his father on St Nicholas Abbey back in 2011.
O’Brien senior’s other filly has seven runs under her belt, though all have been over shorter trips. Roly Poly has been campaigned at six furlongs for much of the summer, but has looked more than capable of going further. She was runner-up in the Cheveley Park last time at Newmarket, when chinned late-on by yet another Ballydoyle inmate, Brave Anna. That came on quick ground, and her liking of a sounder surface, allied with tactical speed could prove key. Battle-hardened would be a fair description of Roly Poly, and she’ll have Ryan Moore on her side on Friday night.
The ex-French filly Spain Burg is keeping the O’Brien’s from top spot in the betting. Recently sold to American owner Dean Reeves, and now trained across the pond, she was mightily impressive when winning the Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket in September. Though visually eye-catching, I’d argue that the form of that race falls short of that shown by Roly Poly, Hydrangea and Intricately. Frankie gets the ‘leg-up’ again, and he’ll be targeting a 12th Breeders’ Cup victory. It will be interesting to see if she’s settled to her new surroundings, and if the move has a bearing on her performance.
The main North American challenge appears to come from La Coronel, trained in Canada by Mark Casse. Stepped up in trip for her most recent starts, she has put in a couple of commanding performances. Powerful at the finish, she pulled well clear late-on at both Keeneland and Saratoga. This is a much tougher assignment, against opposition with plenty of ‘zip’. There’s a feeling that the track at Santa Anita, coupled with the quick ground, will suit the ‘Zippier’ types.
Casse is famed for being the handler of the mighty mare Tepin. It’s clear that he’s more than capable of producing a top-class filly, and did so last year when winning this race with his talented juvenile Catch A Glimpse. Along with La Coronel, he runs the suitably named, Victory To Victory. She looked to be going the right way when winning a Grade 1 at Woodbine last time, and has to be a strong contender.
Casse denied O’Brien in last year’s Juvenile Fillies, but this year has a pair of them to withstand. I’m favouring O’Brien senior to land the prize, with Roly Poly having the ‘Fizz’ to do the ‘Bizz’.