01/06/2016 12:35PM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Golden Horn

Barbara D. Livingston
Surely now the trend would end. Golden Horn would come to Keeneland, blow his mighty trumpet, and snuff out the small-sample-size nonsense saying Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners could not come right back and win the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.

That myth had been born in 1986 when Dancing Brave, not just an Arc winner, but an English Derby winner that same year, shipped to Santa Anita and clunked home fourth in the BC Turf. Through the years five more Arc winners crossed the Atlantic to try the Turf weeks later, and all lost, but here was another horse who had won the Derby the spring before his Arc, a horse who had won the Arc over fast ground while racing just off the lead, a horse with the speed and style perhaps even better suited to American racing than European.

And then it rained the Monday before Breeders’ Cup, rained Tuesday and Wednesday, too, and by the time trainer John Gosden arrived in Kentucky to meet his horse, the Keeneland grass course, wet and loose all October, had turned too sodden to dry by race-day. Fast ground: That’s what Gosden and owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer had come hoping to find. Mother Nature had other plans.

Gosden urged caution all week. Jockey Frankie Dettori tried to put on a brave face. Trainer Wesley Ward, a Keeneland insider, told him the course would dry to “good” before the Turf. But even at less than firm, would it matter? Wasn’t Golden Horn so much better than anyone else that his margin for error could accommodate less-than-ideal conditions? Golden Horn, by Cape Cross and out of the Dubai Destination mare Fleche d’Or, won the listed Feilden and the Group 2 Dante before roaring home by more than three lengths in the Derby. He whipped older rivals in the Group 1 Eclipse, took a shock loss to an inferior foe in Arabian Queen in the Group 1 Juddmonte International, rebounded to beat Found and Free Eagle in the Irish Champion (where he had to survive a stewards’ inquiry), and then unleashed his brilliance on the Arc, which he won by two lengths, leaving a strong group including two-time winner Treve swimming in his wake. Breeders’ Cup Saturday was dry but cloudy. The inside of the course had dried somewhat the last two days, which was a good thing, since Dettori would break from the rail. A rabbit in the Turf went wild on the lead, sprinting away to lead by a mile, making for an unbalanced running, but Dettori bided his time, closed in turning for home, and took the lead before the stretch call. Golden Horn could not open daylight. He ran on one-paced, his brilliance blunted by the ground beneath him, if not by a long campaign begun many months before. The 3-year-old filly Found was coming late, coming hard. Golden Horn twice had beaten her, and as she surged, he tried to surge with her, but there was no more to give. Dettori jumped off his horse, shook his head. “I was struggling from the top of the straight. I was struggling, and he usually flies,” he said.

Golden Horn had lost by a half-length, and while it is a wonderful horse that can struggle the length of the stretch and lose a $3 million race by less than a length, Golden Horn’s Eclipse candidacy rests on a defeat in his only North American start. He would be an unusual champion in that regard, though the Arc winner losing the Turf, strangely, was just business as usual.