Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 18 October 2018

Frustration for O'Brien in Breeders' Cup finale

Colin Keane celebrates after being presented withe the Champion Jockey trophy at Naas. Photo: Healy Racing
Colin Keane celebrates after being presented withe the Champion Jockey trophy at Naas. Photo: Healy Racing

Mark Carter

For Aidan O'Brien, Saturday's Breeders' Cup meeting was a case of hitting the crossbar all night.

Two seconds and a third in huge races were as much as the Irish maestro could manage at the $25million dollar event in Del Mar, outside San Diego.

Lancaster Bomber ran a great race to finish second in the Mile behind World Approval, the American favourite which was the first 'jolly' to oblige on a night of upsets. It was the first Breeders' Cup at the tight track and it did not catch out only the European challengers; many fancied home hopes also hit the dirt.

Jockey Seamie Heffernan gave Lancaster Bomber every chance, but World Approval was just too good for him, winning by two lengths.

O'Brien's other challenger in the mile, Roly Poly, never got into the contest as her outside draw proved to be a handicap she could not overcome.

The Irish trainer went close to adding another victory to Mendelssohn's Friday night success when Rhododendron came another fighting second in the nine-furlong Filly and Mare Turf. Drawn badly on the outside, jockey Ryan Moore had no option but to settle Rhododendron in at the back and wait for an opening.

When it came, the three-year-old surged through the field with a great sprint, but one bird had flown.

That was the English horse Wuheida, trained by Charlie Appleby, which provided William Buick with his first Breeders' Cup win.

Buick, who was left in tears when The Fugue was caught close home by Moore and Magician in the 2013 running of the Turf and missed a large part of this summer when injured in the fatal fall of Permian in America in August, said: "I can't explain it, it means everything."

O'Brien had a winner when Declarationofpeace won the Juvenile Sprint under a daring ride from Moore. But, as this was a Group Two race, it didn't add to his world record tally of Group One wins across the world in 2017.

Later on, Highland Reel (11/10f) failed to follow up last year's victory in the Turf when third behind Andre Fabre's Talismanic.

The 34th edition of the meeting concluded with the $6 million Classic with O'Brien represented by War Decree and dual Guineas winner Churchill.

The latter could only finish seventh behind American-trained Gun Runner which, as they are prone to say round here, "ran his eyeballs out".

The American media have described the latest running of this event as a "bit weird" and "not formful". Their argument is that the 13 Group One races produced only one winning favourite in World Approval and races went to 40/1 and 66/1 shots.

Del Mar's dirt was deep, tiring and not playing to the Americans' beloved speed and it is against that backdrop that Gun Runner's race should be regarded as up there with some of the best Classic performances of the past.

Unbeaten since the Dubai World Cup, he has kept improving, while his old adversary which beat him in the desert, Arrogate, has declined, though the punters desperately tried to cling to their faith in the grey by sending him off favourite.

Gobble

Arrogate's heart was not in it and his feet did not gobble up the ground like they normally would at the end of such a stamina-sapping race and he finished fifth.

Gun Runner, which is reckoned to be best at nine furlongs, set off in front, posting very quick fractions, and was hassled all the way for the lead before being joined by Collected down the back stretch. After duelling round the bend, with not an inch in it, Gun Runner finally began to assert inside the last furlong before going on to win by two-and-a-half lengths.

On a track which favoured those coming from behind, it was a massive run to make all. He will be America's horse of the year and one problem for January's Pegasus Cup, worth $16 million, is filling the other 11 slots.

There is no question Arrogate was brilliant and what he overcame to beat Gun Runner in Dubai was Herculean. But perhaps we were blinded by the dollar signs and accorded him a higher rating than the bare form said he deserved.

What is more, if Gun Runner goes to the Pegasus and then Dubai, it is likely Arrogate's brief reign as the winning-most horse of all time will be over.

Otherwise, this year's Breeders' Cup was very democratic. The spoils were shared equally by east and west coast-trained horses, by horses drawn on the inside, middle and outside and by a happy mixed bag of big trainers and those on the breadline with no one man or jockey dominant. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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