By Geoffrey Riddle at Newmarket
European horsemen are primed to make their largest ever assault on the Breeders’ Cup after 36 European horses were pre-entered on Wednesday for the two-day Del Mar extravaganza on November 3-4.
Not since 30 European horses were pre-entered in 2009 has there been such a swell of support for the American event that was inaugurated in 1984, and Aidan O’Brien could well travel to California with numerically his strongest squad, too.
The Ballydoyle handler has entered 14 runners, and following on from what is almost certainly going to be a world record season with 25 Group One victories so far his Californian adventure could well be his boldest yet.
Dual Guineas winner Churchill appears likely to switch surfaces after his third to Persuasive in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday.
In tandem with War Decree, the lightly-raced son of US sire War Front, Churchill could be dispatched to avenge the narrow defeats of former stable companions Giant’s Causeway and Declaration Of War in the Classic on dirt.
The $US6million showpiece is both horses’ first preference ahead of the Mile and Dirt Mile respectively, and should they experience dirt for the first time they will clash with Arrogate, the world’s highest-rated horse, and Gun Runner, the 7-4 favourite.
“There’s a big chance he [Churchill] will go for the Classic, he seems to have come out of Ascot very well,” O’Brien told a Breeders’ Cup news conference on Wednesday.
“He jumped smartly at Ascot and got into a lovely rhythm, he just got a bit tightened inside the two and then again got another squeeze just after, it just stopped him a bit.
“He seems to have come out of the race very well and we are looking forward to see what is going to happen.”
Qipco 2000 Guineas favourite U S Navy Flag, already a rare commodity as a winner of the Middle Park and Dewhurst Stakes, could also switch surfaces as a son of War Front and participate in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, while the more inexperienced Mendelssohn is more likely to be restricted to the Juvenile Turf. Currently, however, Mendelssohn’s first preference is the Juvenile, with US Navy’s Flag’s being the Juvenile Turf.
“I’m not sure which one goes in which yet but Mendelssohn and U S Navy Flag are in both the Turf and the Dirt,” O’Brien confirmed.
“Obviously U S Navy Flag could have the option of either, he could go on the dirt and the lads [Coolmore syndicate] will probably decide a bit later about that.
“Mendelssohn wouldn’t have as much experience and for that reason will probably stick to the grass, they will probably go separate ways but I’m not sure which way yet.”
On Wednesday afternoon U S Navy Flag was not in the Juvenile betting, but was the 3-1 favourite for the Juvenile Turf. Mendelssohn was 12-1 with Paddy Power for the Juvenile Turf.
Grand servant Highland Reel is in line to follow in the hoofprints of Conduit in an attempt to become a dual winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf after his fine third in the Champion Stakes on Saturday on unsuitably soft ground. It was his first run since the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July and he is a general 2-1 to get the better of fellow raider Ulysses, who he beat in to fourth last year.
Stakhanovite filly Roly Poly will be given another opportunity of running and most likely in the Breeders’ Cup Mile with stablemate Rhododendron engaged in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare, run this year over nine furlongs.
Happily and September are in line for a tilt at the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf and O'Brien confirmed that his horses are likely to run on Lasix, the diuretic that has performance-enhancing qualities and is allowed on raceday in America.
“Highland Reel seems to be well and we are looking forward to him, he should get some nice ground,” O’Brien added.
“To be fair to him, he had to run and Ryan [Moore] tried to mind him as much as he could, I don’t think he asked him too much I don’t think Ryan even gave him a tap, but it was lovely to get the run into him really.”
Flying filly Marsha is another of the European contingent set to race on Lasix.
Trainer Sir Mark Prescott applied the finishing touches to Marsh’a preparation ahead of her rematch with Lady Aurelia with a spin over five and a half furlongs with a lead horse at Chelmsford on Wednesday morning under Manuel Fernandez, although not everything went according to the Heath House trainer’s best-laid plans. Marsha has won on left-handed courses previously, but she did not take too well to Chelmsford’s configuration.
Marsha is a best-priced 5-1 for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, over six and a half furlongs, while impressive King’s Stand Stakes winner Lady Aurelia is no better than 6-4 to get the better of her Nunthorpe Stakes conqueror. It is not a price the trainer would get very excited about.
“She went five and half furlongs around Chelmsford with a lead horse, who came off the rail,” Prescott said.
“The idea was for her to zip around the rail and, although she zipped, there was room for a few others up the inside.
“It is fair to say she did not go around there like a greyhound, I’d have liked her to go around there much tighter.
“She has won around Catterick and Dundalk before, but that was when she wasn’t going as fast. I’m not sure it will suit her.
“I’d imagine Lady Aurelia will whizz around those turns in her own backyard and I’m not sure there will be time to catch her up.”
Other significant European challengers include Roger Charlton's Decorated Knight, the Irish Champion Stakes winner who is entered both in the Turf and Mile, Queen's Trust, who is going for a repeat bdi in the Filly & Mare Turf, David O'Meara's Suedois, who won the Turf Mile at Keeneland three weeks ago.
There is strong representation in the Juvenile Turf with James Garfield set to become a first runner at the Breeders' Cup for George Scott, as will Rajasinghe, Richard Spencer's Royal Ascot hero.
Breeders' Cup specials:
William Hill: Number of European trained winners: 100-1 None, 12-1 One, 9-2 Two, 15-8 Three, 2-1 Four, 4-1 Five or more; Number of Aidan O’Brien trained winners: 5-1 None, 2/1 One, 13/8 Two, 10/3 Three or more; Horses to repeat their 2016 victories: 28-1 Drefong (Sprint), Highland Reel (Turf) and Arrogate (Classic).
Paddy Power - Number of Aidan O'Brien Winners: 11-8 exactly one, 5-2 exactly two, 100-30 none, 11-2 three or more. Aidan O'Brien to train a juvenile winner: 4-5 yes, 10-11 no. 33-1 Bob Baffert to train the one-two-three in the Breeders' Cup Classic.