Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 17 December 2017

O'Brien's Churchill goal

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Aidan O'Brien's elusive quest for glory in the Breeders' Cup Classic returns to Churchill Downs tonight, the circuit at which Giant's Causeway so narrowly failed to get him off to the perfect start in the race 11 years ago.

In the interim, Henrythenavigator's second to Raven's Pass in 2008 is as close as the Ballydoyle maestro has come, but he is optimistic that So You Think has what's required to make a big impression in the Grade One.

The Australian import has had a mixed time of things since his arrival in Ireland, though three top-level wins over the Classic's 10-furlong trip would suggest this is his optimum distance.

Significantly, however, the dirt surface, which has been something of a graveyard for European hopes, is the one reservation that the handler mentions when assessing So You Think's chance in the $1.7m contest.

"What makes him unique is his cruising speed," O'Brien said of the blinkered five-year-old. "Horses like that, the better the race, the better they are. We think he has the attributes you need for the Classic -- a good cruising speed, he's tactically quick, he's brave. But we don't know about the dirt because he hasn't run on it before."

Apart from Man Of Iron's Grade Two win in 2009, O'Brien's barren spell at the Breeders' Cup stretches to eight years heading into last night's card. His last real coup there was when High Chaparral, So You Think's sire, recorded a second triumph (dead-heating with Johar) in the Turf at Santa Anita.

However, he has enjoyed renewed success in the States this year with Cape Blanco, Together and Treasure Beach accumulating five Grade Ones, and it may be that the confidence derived from that is influencing his approach to this showpiece.

"We think we are going to be positive," he revealed of the tactics that Ryan Moore is to employ on So You Think. "If he hits the gate, we won't be holding back."

Rated 5/1 third favourite, So You Think is the only prospect of a third European win in the 13-strong field.

The market is headed by the Todd Pletcher-trained Uncle Mo, a scintillating victor in the Juvenile a year ago.

O'Brien has seven other runners on the card, though Zoffany is one that appears up against it in the presence of Goldikova and Strong Suit in the Mile. Goldikova is bidding for an unprecedented fourth successive victory in the Mile and her trainer Freddie Head is full of confidence.

"She is every bit as good as she was last year. There have been valid excuses for her most recent defeats," he explained.

Unlike So You Think, O'Brien's two runners in the Juvenile Dirt, Crusade and Daddy Long Legs, are at least bred to race on the surface, which was last night officially "good".

St Nicholas Abbey and Await The Dawn could also have chances in the Turf. With Ryan Moore on Michael Stoute's Sea Moon in that, Joseph O'Brien takes the reins on St Nicholas Abbey, and local rider Julian Leparoux is booked for Await The Dawn.

The European challenge is especially strong in the mile-and-a-half event, with Alain de Royer-Dupre's Sarafina heading the market. Midday, first and second at the meeting in the past two years, is also in the mix for Henry Cecil and Tom Queally.

Meanwhile, Richard Hannon Jnr -- who on Thursday described racecourse officials at Churchill Downs as treating British trainers like "second-class citizens" -- has backtracked on his comments and has apologised "for any embarrassment" caused.

"Some of our most important owners come from the US and they are friends as well, so it is wrong to give the impression that we are anti-American and I apologise," Hannon Jnr said.

Irish Independent

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