Churchill Downs will unofficially bring the flat season to a close on Saturday and it will be done in a magnificent fashion as Europe and America’s best go head to head, with the likes of Enable and Roaring Lion bidding to crown what has already been a good season.
We may have to stay up late to enjoy one of the best racing spectacles all year but it’ll undoubtedly be worth it and I for one will be glued to every minute of it. Now, all we need is to pick a few winners and I have taken a look at the key races.
Bob Baffert is responsible for the favourite on the opening race on day two of the Breeders’ Cup festival in the shape of Marleys Freedom. She has won all three starts since joining Baffert including a Grade 1 when last seen.
Selcourt is 3-3 this year and had Marleys Freedom four lengths in arrears when last in action. That run was back in March and it has to be a worry that we haven’t seen John Sadler’s horse in so long. If she is back on song then she’ll take all the beating.
Brad Cox saddles one of the longer priced runners in the field with Golden Mischief. She was a Grade 2 winner of the Grade 2 TCA Stakes at Keeneland, which should serve as a perfect prep run for this assignment.
Finley’sluckycharm has an incredible record at Churchill Downs with 6 wins out of 7 runs. This record alone brings her into the reckoning and is a player for the placings at the very least.
Selection: Marleys Freedom
Bucchero was fourth in this last years behind Stormy Liberal and has enjoyed a profitable campaign with a trip over the Atlantic to finish fourth in the King’s Stand Stakes a highlight and he proved his well-being with a win the Grade 2 Woodford Stakes at Keeneland when last seen.
As mentioned above, Stormy Liberal won this contest last year and showed his quality when finishing second in behind Jungle Cat at Meydan in March. He has won his last three starts and looks primed to defend his title.
Havana Grey is one of the European representatives and although he won a Group 1 at the Curragh this season, this was probably one of the weakest Group 1’s run all season and he was found wanting in the Prix de l’Abbaye when last seen. If he runs to form, he could nick a place but would be a surprise winner.
Others with chances include Conquest Tsunami, World Of Trouble and Will Call.
Catalina Cruiser looks set to start this as the favourite which is understandable given that he has won on all four career starts. The only slight concern is that trainer John Sadler hasn’t won a breeders cup race in 41 attempts and he will be hoping to remedy this.
City of Light is a dual Grade 1 winner and ran well following a break to finish second in the Forego in late August. This run will have obviously brought him on following a small foot problem and he could give the favourite the most to worry about.
Jason Servis who is enjoying a great season sends out Firenze Fire in this and he is a proven Garde 1 performer including when winning the Grade 1 Champagne last year. This experience will stand to him and he’s my idea of the winner.
Selection: Firenze Fire
Wild Illusion has run well all season and has gotten her just rewards with victories in the Group 1 Nassau Stakes and the Prix de l’Opera. She is on a real upward curve and will take all the beating for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin.
Magic Wand represents Aidan O’Brien here and although she proved no match for Wild Illusion when the pair met in the Prix de l’Opera, under different conditions she may put it up to Wild Illusion this time.
Dermot Weld doesn’t send horses abroad unless he thinks they can win and his patience with Eziyra may reap dividends here. She has run well in three starts this season with her only defeat of the season coming in the Yorkshire Cup behind Sea Of Class. This form looks rock solid and she will give the favourite the most to think about.
Others with chances include Fourstar Crook, Sistercharlie and Princess Yaiza.
Imperial Hint looks to be the fastest horse in the country and has only been beaten once over six furlongs which came in this contest twelve months ago behind Roy H, who re-opposes. Roy H got the perfect trip that day and even though he’s run well this season, he looks vulnerable in a bid for back to back victories.
Promises Fulfilled has a good year against three-year-olds, winning his last three starts and although he’s a maiden course and distance winner, think he’ll struggle against some speedier rivals.
Selection: Imperial Hint
*Update – Polydream now a non-runner.
*Polydream heads the market for the mile and although the bare result in the Prix De La Foret on Arc day looks disappointing, she was crowded out of it late on. Prior to this, she had won the Group 1 Maurice de Gheest at Deauville and a reproduction of that run would give her leading claims.
Oscar Performance looks the best of the home brigade and although this four-time Grade 1 winner can put in the odd stinker, he was an impressive winner of the Woodbine Mile when last seen and he has not been defeated at three starts over the mile trip.
Expert Eye was beginning to look very disappointing when finishing tenth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket but he’s rediscovered his smart juvenile form when winning at Royal Ascot and ran very well to finish third behind Recoletos in the Prix Du Moulin when last seen. He will be hoping that the rain stays away as he loves to hear his hooves rattle.
Others to consider include Gustav Klimt and Mustashry.
Selection: Oscar Performance
Monomoy Girl will start favourite and is, without doubt, the horse to beat as she has won five Grade One’, is two from three at the track and has won both starts over the trip. She main concern with her is she’s never taken on the older horses.
Abel Tasman will prove the biggest threat to the youngster as she was runner-up in this twelve months ago, won the Kentucky Oaks on the track and is three form four over this trip. She will have to put a very poor prep run behind her but if back at her best she’ll take all the beating.
Of the bigger priced winners Blue Prize is interesting given that she has won four of her last five starts, including the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland. She looks a decent each-way bet in an open contest.
Selection: Abel Tasman
This is the race everyone is looking forward as dual Arc winner Enable struts her stuff Stateside for the first time. Last season’s standout performer has had a light campaign, not hitting the track until September following a setback but her performance in the Arc underlined how good she really is. If on song then there is no beating her and we should just enjoy watching her perform.
Talismanic won this last year but hasn’t looked the same horse since then and ran disappointingly behind Enable in the Arc most recently. If he recaptures last years form then he could sneak into the places but looks vulnerable for win purposes.
Waldgeist finished fourth in the Arc and Andre Fabre charge may give Enable the biggest challenge should she not be 100%. He had won four on the trot prior to his defeat in the Arc which included a Group 2 win over Talismanic in the Prix Foy.
Most European punters will be rowing in behind Roaring Lion who has won four on the bounce, all in Group 1 company. John Gosden trains this son Kitten’s Joy and if he can adapt to the surface then he will go very close.
Another of the European raiders is Mendelssohn who won the Juvenile Turf at the Breeders’ Cup last season and was an eighteen length winner of the UAE Derby at Meydan in March, which bodes well for his chances in this. Aidan O’Brien has campaigned him exclusively in America since that victory without success but on his UAE Deby form alone, Mendelssohn has a chance.
Accelerate heads the market for this $6 million contest and the five-year-old son Lookin At Lucky, has won four Grade One’s form his last five starts. He has really appreciated the step up in distance and should give his supporters a good run for their money.
The quirky Mckinzie, Catholic Boy and West Coast all hold chances.
Selection: Roaring Lion