Breeders' Cup: Aidan O'Brien's intriguing challenger in the Juvenile

Aidan O'Brien-trained The Great War is a top contender in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Photo:

In its 30 years, the Breeders’ Cup has served up many an iconic performance, but one is more vivid than most even though it happened when the event was still in its relative infancy.

“Doing an Arazi” entered the horseracing lexicon – in Europe, at least – soon after the 2-year-old of that name won the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by a long-looking five lengths, having passed the majority of his rivals on the home turn as if they were standing still.

That sort of breathtaking, and downright improbable, move in the latter stages of a race is a rarity, let alone on a stage as big as this. What made it all the more remarkable was that the French-trained Arazi was having his first start on dirt and in a foreign country. The horse Arazi “ran right on by” (in the incredulous words of race caller Tom Durkin) was a future Breeders’ Cup Classic second in Bertrando, by the way.

In the decades since, European-trained youngsters have won several Breeders’ Cup races – including another Juvenile itself with Johannesburg in 2001 – but nothing has approached the calibre, let alone the visual impression, of Arazi.

There is no Arazi in the European raiding party for the 2014 Breeders’ Cup, but there are a handful of juveniles who should be competitive and one or two who may improve enough to go close.

The biggest contingent shows up in Friday’s Juvenile Turf, with War Envoy and Commemorative the classiest to date but Aktabantay and Wet Sail not far behind. War Envoy had Aktabantay one place behind him when fifth in the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp last time, and both colts could improve for the step up to a mile. Both have also shown quirks and been equipped in blinkers (fairly rare with youngsters in Europe), and improvement from them seems more possible than probable.

Commemorative is a more promising individual, having won two of his three starts, including the G3 Autumn Stakes at Newmarket last time. He had plenty of use made of him that day on what is a galloping track, and it remains to be seen whether he will be so effective in these circumstances.

On the face of it, Wet Sail has the most to find, but he has had just four runs – finishing third to the very classy Limato on the most recent of them – and could well improve the most for this additional stamina test. One or two of the quartet could easily make the first three in what does not look an especially good renewal.

A similarly prominent showing is definitely not beyond Osaila in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf later on Friday. The British-trained filly has won three of her six runs, including a G3 at Ascot, and the fact that she was put in her place in fifth in the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh on her penultimate one should be viewed in the context of the British and Irish juvenile fillies looking a particularly strong crop this year.

Irish-trained Qualify was one place behind Osaila in that Curragh race and looks to have her work cut out to reverse the placings, for all that she, like Osaila, seems likely to cope well with the increased distance. Prize Exhibit is battle-hardened after eight runs but has little else to recommend her.

In summary, Osaila looks just about the best prospect of the entire European juvenile contingent.

One last candidate for that description goes in the Juvenile itself on Saturday. Under normal circumstances, The Great War would not be put forward as a particularly serious contender, having won at no better than listed company in seven starts. But dig a bit deeper and he starts to look more interesting.   

The Great War cost $1 million as a yearling, and that’s in no small part down to the fact that he is a son of War Front and from a highly successful dirt family. His dam won on the dirt – as have a number of his siblings – and is from the family of the likes of Trip, Zensational, and Departing, the last-named (also by War Front) winner of the G2 West Virginia Derby and the G2 Super Derby.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt also gets to run on Lasix (permitted in this race again) for the first time, while the aforementioned Listed win (at the Curragh) was gained in some style last time out. Throw in the fact that pre-race favourite American Pharoah has had to be scratched and it’s not so difficult to see The Great War getting a slice of the action after all.

One hundred years ago, the bloody First Battle of Ypres was raging, and it would be a fitting and timely reminder of those dark events if a horse called The Great War were to run a big race on Saturday. Sense, and not just sentiment, suggests that is at least a possibility.


Simon Rowlands is head of international research and development at Timeform

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