11/06/2011 12:57PM

Breeders' Cup: Aside from O'Brien, Europeans mostly struggled

Tom Keyser
The standout mare Goldikova had to settle for third in her bid for a fourth straight win in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

There is something to be said for strength in numbers.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien sent 11 horses -- eight more than any other European horseman –  to Churchill Downs for the 2011 Breeders’ Cup and was the only overseas trainer to get his picture taken this weekend.

O’Brien sent out two winners at Breeders’ Cup 2011: St Nicholas Abbey, who was much the best in the $3 million Turf, and Wrote, who comfortably won the $1 million Juvenile Turf O’Brien notched the fifth and sixth BC wins of his career, and might have taken down a seventh if Misty For Me, a close third Friday in the Filly and Mare Turf, hadn’t stumbled at the start and failed to turn well on her race’s final bend. O’Brien’s 18-year-old son, Joseph, booted home St Nicholas Abbey in his first BC ride.

The 4-year-old St Nicholas Abbey seems a likely candidate to go off to stud, but there’s a decent chance So You Think, who checked in sixth in the $5 million Classic, could come back to race again in 2012. Wrote figures to have spring classic races such as the English or Irish 2000 Guineas as a goal. Julien Leparoux rode Crusade to a sixth-place finish in the Juvenile, and said afterword Crusade felt like a sprinter. O’Brien’s other Juvenile runner, Daddy Long Legs, floundered on dirt and finished 12th.  Leparoux also rode Await the Dawn for O’Brien in the Turf, and appeared to be playing the role of a mere pacemaker for St Nicholas Abbey. 

The French and English horses were to leave Louisville either Monday or Wednesday and fly out of either Chicago or Atlanta. Four fewer horses are going back across the Atlantic than came over. Announce, who had to be scratched from the Filly and Mare  Turf after lacerating her hind leg on the track ambulance during the warm-up period, has joined the stable of Bill Mott. Questing, who was fifth in the Juvenile Fillies, will now be trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. Shumoos, second in the Juvenile Sprint, will be based in California with trainer Ben Cecil, and Salto, who ran poorly Thursday in the Commonwealth Stakes for trainer Freddie Head, also remains in the states.

Juddmonte Farms had a somewhat tough meeting. First came the scratch of Announce, who appeared to be a major player in the Fiily and  Mare Turf. Byword never got involved in the Mile, finishing eighth, while in the Turf, runner-up Sea Moon was run down late after looking like a possible winner at the eighth pole, and Midday finished an even sixth in what was almost certainly her career finale. Sea Moon is lightly raced this year and his trainer, Michael Stoute, has run horses before in the Japan Cup, which is on Dec. 4.

First-time BC trainer Roger Varian fared well. Nahrain made the lead at the three-sixteenths pole before Perfect Shirl ran her down in the Filly  and  Mare Turf, and Farraaj, who had initial trouble settling into Churchill, ran creditably to finish third in the Juvenile Turf. Varian said Saturday that plans for Nahrain, right down to the basic question of whether she will race in 2012 or be retired, hadn’t been settled.

Two Euro-favorites failed to perform to expectations: Elusive Kate finished eighth as the Juvenile Fillies Turf chalk, while Sarafina was fourth at odds of 2-1 in the Turf. Trainer John Gosden said Saturday that Elusive Kate, who was purchased last week by Teruya Yoshida, had come into season “a couple days ago” and probably was negatively affected by being in heat. Elusive Kate, Gosden said, will be pointed to one-mile classic races overseas in 2012.

And on Saturday, American racing fans got their final glimpse of Goldikova, who finished third while attempting to win the Mile for the fourth time. Goldikova and jockey Olivier Peslier were at the center of a non-disqualification controversy; at the three-sixteenths pole, Peslier bulled his way off the rail for running room and gave Courageous Cat a hard bump, knocking that horse back to a last-place finish, but jockey Patrick  Valenzuela’s objection was disallowed.

Goldikova’s trainer, Freddie Head, was the only connection of a losing horse brought into the BC post-race interview room during the two days. Goldikova has raced for the last time and will be bred to Galileo over the winter, bringing to a close Head’s enduring association with the great mare. Head said he was happy with Goldikova’s performance, but his smile was wan, and he looked tired and sad.

“For myself, I’m very proud of her,” he said. “Maybe the blues will come a little later.”