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Breeders' Cup: Euros set for strong second day
Thursday morning’s dispute over training on wet grass – the BC Turf Tiff – set up a clash of continents.
The Euros thought they should be allowed to train on the Churchill grass course. The American track administrators said otherwise after rain fell about 9:30 Thursday morning. The first skirmish in this epic clash came on the Churchill backstretch, where some European trainers tried to force their way onto the course and were blocked by a security official, a member of the track crew, and Churchill outriders. The Battle of the Potomac had nothing on this drama.
OK, OK. The Turf Tiff might not rise to the level of a diplomatic crisis. And besides, the Euros are liable to take it out on our hides Saturday. They’re in six of the nine BC events, with chances ranging from decent to excellent. Here’s a look, race by race, at overseas horses to be considered – or disregarded – on the Saturday BC program.
A 1 3/4-mile race is exotic in American racing but common overseas, with 14 furlongs actually being on the short side for a true European stayer. Two such horses, Meeznah and Brigrantin, are entered in the Marathon, the first two editions of which were captured by European invaders. But those wins came on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita, and the main question Saturday is dirt. Brigantin, by Cozzene out of a Polyglote mare, has no dirt in his pedigree, but the filly Meeznah is by Dynaformer, the sire of many successful dirt runners. Meeznah might have been a touch better at age 3, when she came within a neck of Snow Fairy in the Epsom Oaks, than this year at 4, but she has a pair of Group stakes wins in 2011. She has trained since Monday morning and looked solid in her sessions. Meeznah merits respect.
A third Euro, Harrison’s Cave, has gone 2 for 12 while amassing about $30,000 in career earnings. On paper, he’s a 90-1 shot.
First Lasix for Euro shippers Wrote and Faraaj, but not Caspar Netchser. This is a brain-cracker of a race in general, and these three aren’t clarifying matters.
Wrote might not be good enough. His Aidan O’Brien-trained stablemate, Daddy Long Legs – who goes in the Juvenile − beat him by almost four lengths when they met in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Sept. 24 at Newmarket. The horses just in front of and behind Wrote in recent starts are decidedly mediocre.
Farraaj was second last out in the Group 3 Tattersalls at Newmarket to Crius, who is decent and has been first or second in his five starts. Tell Dad, whom Farraaj beat by five lengths in September, is a subsequent Group 3 winner. Farraaj has won racing left-handed, the direction of travel in the U.S. Farraaj was the most unsettled of all the Euros during morning training early this week, but diligent work to acclimate Farraaj has helped, and he looked infinitely better Thursday than Tuesday.
Caspar Netchser already has raced nine times this year, meaning his form is exposed. It’s mildly competitive, but he’s yet to go beyond six furlongs and gives the physical appearance of a sprinter.
The O’Brien males aren’t training until Friday, so I haven’t yet seen St Nicholas Abbey or Await the Dawn, but the other four Euros have been out, and if I could repick the race, I’d switch from Sea Moon to Sarafina. Sarafina is making her first trip outside France, and it’s been clear she’s not enjoyed the heavy horse traffic and general chaos of American morning training. Her exercise rider, the rather famous Eric Alloix (he has ridden such luminaries as Zarkava), said Wednesday that Sarafina seemed “worried” on the track, but she has not washed out in the morning and seems to concentrate her anxiety into a focused intensity once given her head to gallop. The filly made her first start of 2011 in April and raced recently in the Arc, but she has a real spark to her demeanor this week and seems primed for a strong performance. Thursday’s rain should not hurt her.
Sea Moon had a five-furlong workout called off because of the Thursday Turf Tiff, and a sudden change in preparations isn’t a good thing, but all the major work for the Turf surely had been done at home, and I can’t see abandoning Sea Moon just because of Thursday’s craziness. He’s a fairly large, good-looking 3-year-old who has galloped decently while training only on grass this week, but he’s nowhere near as physically imposing as Workforce last year. The rain will have pleased Sea Moon’s connections, and he is proven going left-handed.
I can’t get past the fact Midday ran below form in her lone Churchill start, when she was beaten at odds-on in the 2010 Filly and Mare Turf. She is a professional who quickly settled into training this week and had some trouble when a solid fourth behind Cirrus des Aigles and So You Think in the Champion Stakes. Her trainer, Henry Cecil, is not coming for the race.
I would not be surprised to see Await the Dawn go for the lead since the Turf is paceless and he has shown tracking speed going 1 1/4 miles. He originally targeted the Classic, but serious illness late summer altered his schedule. If Await the Dawn couldn’t be properly prepared for the Classic, can he win a good edition of the Turf? Don’t think so.
St Nicholas Abbey is somewhat appealing. He beat inferior foes by nine lengths earlier this year at Chester, a tight-turning English track that’s a good barometer for how a horse will handle a course like Churchill’s, and he took care of Midday by one length in the June 1 Group 1 Coronation Cup. He didn’t see out the Arc after taking the lead in the stretch, fading to fifth, but would not be a surprise Saturday. Use him.
O’Brien-trained Crusade is being compared to his BC Juvenile winner Johannesburg, the similarity being the question of whether their proven high-class 2-year-old sprint form would translate to two-turn success. Crusade, in fact, is out of a Johannesburg mare, and by Mr. Greeley. He comes off a victory over 15 foes in the Group 1 Middle Park, but Crusade is 2 for 2 at six furlongs and 0 for 2 at seven.
I’d prefer O’Brien’s other entrant, Daddy Long Legs, who is bred strongly for dirt (Scat Daddy-Meadowlake mare) and turned in a career-best performance when stretched to one mile last out winning the Group 2 Royal Lodge by more than three lengths. Even so, he is unlikely to beat the likes of Union Rags.
Goldikova – what more is there to say? Yes, she might have lost a touch of late acceleration this year, but she also has yet to do what she does best – go left-handed around two turns in America. I can see playing against her at a short price – something I could not see the last two years – but will not be doing so myself.
Byword is a legitimate Group 1 horse, but 1 1/4 miles, not one mile, is his trip. He can’t go a mile-and-a-half, his trainer, Andre Fabre, was sending BC runners, and his owner Juddmonte Farms, likes BC racing, so here he is in the Mile. Not without a chance, but he could simply be outquicked.
Strong Suit is plenty quick, with two wins at six furlongs and three at seven. He should stay the mile trip in the U.S. but we have no idea if he’s good enough for the likes of Goldikova. His lone Group 1 start in 2011 came July 3 in the Prix Jean Prat, in which he finished third, a nose behind Zoffany. Strong Suit has since improved, he looks well this week, and he will be eight times Goldikova’s price, but I’m still not sold.
Aforementioned Zoffany comes off an eighth-place finish in the Shadwell Turf Mile. He’s capable of a better performance and did come within three-quarters of a length of Frankel earlier this year. He won a Group 1 over soft going last year, so the rain shouldn’t hurt this major longshot.
Blinkers, Lasix for international star So You Think. He has faced the best middle-distance types in Europe this year after reigning as Australia’s top horse – at least at 1 1/4 miles – for two seasons. So You Think is a powerhouse of a gorgeous animal, and it will be interesting to see him up close Friday morning. But the question, of course, is dirt. There is none in his pedigree, but trainer O’Brien said he trained on dirt in Australia. An Australian handicapper I greatly respect, Peter Ellis, said he saw So You Think win on all sorts of going before he was exported, and he believes dirt will not stop So You Think. If that’s the case, O’Brien has a good chance to land his first Classic.