Breeders’ Cup Pre-Entries Announced
By Tony Stafford
Saturday will be lift-off time for the 18 English equine challengers enaged in the 31st running of the Breeders’ Cup, staged this year on Friday October 31st and Saturday November 1st at Santa Anita, California.
Aidan O’Brien, speaking by phone link from Ballydoyle to the ageless and far from clueless, indeed very clued-up, Geoff Lester in the Royal Box at Newmarket racecourse, revealed his handful of challengers would leave two days later with two more from other Irish stables. As for the French quintet – usually over-achievers on their transatlantic jaunts – their travel plans were neither revealed nor sought by the attending press pack.
The International Racing Bureau, as usual, handled the UK end of the two-centred launch. The USA version was timed for a few hours later at Clockers Corner, Santa Anita. Alastair Donald, for the Bureau, revealed that the number of British press going to be in attendance will probably be the smallest yet, reflecting newspapers’ apathetic approach to horse racing nowadays. Needless to say, Matt Bisogno will be there! No back-sliding in this corner of the e-publishing world.
Europe had five of the winners twelve months ago and two of them, O’Brien’s Magician (Turf) and Sir Michael Stoute’s Dank (Filly & Mare Turf) return after sensibly gentle summer programmes. Both will appreciate the likely fast ground after a Californian summer/ autumn which has provided almost drought like conditions – far from the monsoons of the East Coast and Kentucky.
Magician is third favourite generally among UK bookmakers behind fellow Europeans, Telescope and Flintshire. Harry Herbert, speaking on behalf of the Highclere syndicate – among whom Sir Alex Ferguson is expected to attend – reported him in great fettle and was looking forward to the fast ground he definitely needs. Harry boy seemed to be talking up two rather ignominious defeats behind the at-the-time under-rated Noble Mission in the spring, and I doubt he would have been too near that colt if he’d turned out in the Champion Stakes last Saturday.
Herbert was pleased to have been shot down by Sir Michael when he tentatively ventured the thought that maybe the Arc might still be a possibility a few days before the race.
“We stick to the plan”, said the decorated gentleman, who was celebrating his 69th birthday today by not accepting an invitation to the function.
Less reticent were those two young Newmarket tyros, Hugo Palmer, trainer of Aktabantay; and Charlie Fellowes, conditioner of Wet Sail, adversaries in Friday’s Juvenile Turf race. The BHA senior handicapper Phil Smith revealed he had been very positive about Redcar Trophy third Wet Sail, at the pre-meeting handicappers’ conference, saying that performance giving weight to the first two, was creditable indeed. He is rated 104 in the UK, 4lb inferior to Sandown Group winner Aktabantay and not far out of reach of top-rated Hootenany, a Royal Ascot winner in the Coolmore colours for Wesley Ward.
There are also two more conventional Coolmore candidates in this race from Ballydoyle, and O’Brien revealed that War Envoy rather than The Great War (who runs in the dirt Juvenile race the following day) is the runner in this. He also confirmed that Kingsbarns, pre-entered for the Mile is unlikely to travel as the lists revealed yesterday, with him needing at least half a dozen apart from second preferences to come out.
One who will be there is Chiquita, readily described as “an after-thought” following her erratic finishing effort in throwing away a winning chance at Ascot on Saturday. Her wayward tendencies, though, do not disguise her talent, and it would be no surprise were she to give a test to the big three in the Turf race, plus the similarly disgraced Brown Panther who bolted before the Candian International at the weekend.
David Simcock has been collecting big prizes all autumn in Toronto and the returned-from-stud Caspar Netcher was the latest over the weekend. He drops across country for the Turf Sprint in which he is the only British runner. Simcock also has Trade Storm in the Mile, but after listening to Harry Herbert, I began to wonder why anything is bothering to take on Toronado. He certainly has the form to win, but didn’t a few Hannon horses seem to have Newmarket and Ascot prizes at their mercy?
There is no question about the bravest challenger on the weekend. Toast of New York, winner of the UAE Derby by a wide margin, has been kept to his long-held target by Jamie Osborne, taking on both Kentucky Derby/ Preakness winner California Chrome and the new star, Shared Belief. He was denied a run in the Triple Crown races because of injury, but will line up all being well in the Classic, on dirt. Whatever the result, it is a continuing thrill to his owner Michael Buckley who can enjoy the day and then concentrate on following his smart jumpers throughout the winter.
One trainer who will be sure to fancy his chances is the renowned world traveller Dermot Weld who once again showed his talent for finding the right objective for his horses when collectingthe Long Distance race at Ascot the other day.
Dank might be the reigning champ and favourite for the Filly & Mare race, but Tarfasha, one of the best of a good classic crop of middle-distance fillies in Euriope this year, could be a major threat in a race where Secret Gesture and Woodbine winner Just the Judge add further depth.