Sunday 18 November 2018

Military precision can pay $6m Breeders' dividend for O'Brien

Trainer Aidan O’Brien. Photo: INPHO
Trainer Aidan O’Brien. Photo: INPHO

Wayne Bailey

The Breeders' Cup, the nearest thing to a world championship for racehorses, takes place at Churchill Downs today and, as dusk falls on Kentucky, racing's spiritual home in America, it will conclude with the $6 million (€5.25m) Classic - a race which has established itself as the most important all-age dirt race on the planet.

The $30m (€26m) meeting has attracted 39 runners from Europe, a record contingent of raiders, and 13 of them are trained by Aidan O'Brien.

Seeing his string, all Group One horses, in Indian file, a length between them like a military parade on the track on Thursday was up there with watching 40 horses heading to the first fence in the Grand National or the Derby field sweeping round Tattenham Corner; one of the great sights in racing.

On what is essentially a chaotic highway in the mornings, where it is pretty much every man for himself, O'Brien's string represented order and uniformity and it was a stark reminder to everyone, European and American, human and horse, of the stable's power.

The challenge facing the Europeans is not the travelling as it was when the Breeders' Cup was first established 35 years ago.

That has long been sorted and as O'Brien, who has three runners in the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, said: "The world has gone a small place now."

While Europeans are traditionally strong on turf, the problem on dirt is the American style of racing where pace and early aggression are king.

Races are run hard from the start and they go faster in the first quarter than they do the last quarter. In Europe, races generally finish faster than they start.

An even greater problem on the dirt is the kickback, which if sitting behind the leaders, is like being sandblasted.

That will come as a shock for Roaring Lion, the four-time Group One winner which runs in the Classic as something as an afterthought, but not for Mendelssohn, which has been aimed at this race since winning the Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last year.

If not quite an obsession for O'Brien, the race has become something of a holy grail and having had a few near misses, he has taken all he has learned and tweaked it, sending Mendelssohn to America monthly for prep-races.

There is always a lot of reading between the lines with O'Brien, but I believe he is convinced the dirt-bred colt is now primed after his third behind Discreet Lover in the Jockey Club Stakes at Belmont.

Pleased "It was what we wanted. A good strong fast pace and what really pleased us was that he didn't wilt at the line. He knows what's expected and we felt we had to do something different [giving him dirt practice] to win the race," he said.

If ever there was a year for the Europeans to give the Classic a go, this is it. The race has an open look although I anticipate Catholic Boy, which beat Mendelssohn at Saratoga, to be a major threat.

The dual Arc winner Enable will be a warm order to become the first horse to win an Arc and Breeders' Cup in the same year rather than the ninth to have failed.

On soft ground though, stall two on chewed up ground loses some of its attraction and at the prices O'Brien's Magical may be a better bet.

They say that you can tell a horse's well-being by the shine on its coat, if that is the case then Wild Illusion will win. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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