Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 22 April 2018

O'Brien's audacity unlikely to prevent all-American shoot-out

Aidan O’Brien
Aidan O’Brien

Ian McClean

They say if you want to make an impression in Lexington you must remember your three Bs - Basketball, Bourbon and Betting. Next weekend the latter of the trio becomes the focal point as 200 pre-entries have been declared for the latest edition of the Breeders' Cup, first run at Hollywood Park way back in 1984.

Then the event was a seven-race experience, run in a day. Next weekend, however, Breeders' Cup moves its circus for the very first time to the cradle of the breeding industry at Keeneland for a two-day extravaganza featuring 13 races with a prize fund of $26m. Oh, and as ever, the Europeans are coming.

Numerically the Euro numbers are down on last year's 38 at Santa Anita, but the 28 that remain next weekend include three individual UK Classic champions and a host of other Group One winners. Spearheading the invasion will be horse of the year, Golden Horn, whose near blemish-free career will sign itself off in the $4m Turf for which the Derby and Arc winner is already long odds-on. However, while a long way clear on ratings, it must be remembered that America in the Fall is a very different place from Suffolk in the spring.

Next Saturday's Turf will be Golden Horn's eighth race in as many months since his debut on April 15 and it is worth acknowledging that even the mighty Dancing Brave failed to convert in the Turf after a scintillating Arc win in 1986. Nevertheless, should Golden Horn return triumphant for the seventh time in this golden season in Kentucky next weekend, it would bring trainer John Gosden's overseas earnings to over £4m for 2015. In addition to becoming the first handler to crash through the £5m barrier domestically in a season.

Aidan O'Brien (with seven likely runners) wasn't quite so rampant this season. His talisman three-year-old Gleneagles' campaign featured more non-appearances than Jeffrey Bernard, yet still captured two classics and a further Group One at Royal Ascot. Gleneagles' swansong comprises an audacious bid to win the richest and most prestigious prize of all next weekend the $5m Classic for which his odds of 14/1 fairly accurately sum up his chance, considering the quality of his opposition on an alien dirt surface.

This year's Classic entry of 10 is especially deep, and by deep I mean the CV of the US entries includes the following races: Kentucky Derby, Preakness, two Belmonts, Metropolitan Mile, Haskell, Travers, Whitney, two Jockey VClub Gold Cups, two Breeders' Cup and three Eclipses. The Classic is the race that typically decides the US Horse of the Year and this time, in spite of the glitterball sparkle of field, the contest is being billed locally in the US as a straight face-off between American Pharoah and Beholder. Colt versus Mare. US Triple Crown winner against dual Breeders' Cup winner.

The three-year-old colt is the undoubted favourite given he is the first since Affirmed in 1978 to win all three legs of the Triple Crown. However, the Pioneerof The Nile colt demonstrated he isn't entirely invincible by succumbing to a late rush from Keen Ice (which renews rivalry next Saturday) in the Travers at the end of August. The Travers was his seventh race since early March and likely he was feeling the effects. However, rested since, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert reports his flag-bearer back in the pink.

However, Beholder provides stern opposition. Already a dual Breeders' Cup winner at two and at three, the mare marches into Lexington off the back of six straight wins by a combined winning margin of 23ƒ lengths. More ominously, the Richard Mandella mare defeated her male rivals in the TVG Pacific Classic by eight lengths in August on her first try at the Classic distance of a mile-and-a-quarter.

She attempts to become the only mare outside of Zenyatta (2009) to win the Classic and the first horse in history to win three different races in different years.

The greatest hope for the opposition is that twice she has raced outside her native California in a 20-race career and she has suffered defeat.

We know she hasn't shipped well to Kentucky but her early temperature on Wednesday after her flight has corrected itself and Dick Mandella will be working all his charms meantime to have her all right on the night.

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