Europe’s two big ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifiers for the Breeders’ Cup Mile have come and gone, and neither have shed much light on the likely make-up of the international challenge for what is traditionally one of the highlights of the World Championship meeting at Del Mar on November 3 and 4.
When it comes to evaluating past performances ahead of a fast-ground charge round a tight American oval, seven-year-old gelding Here Comes When’s brave, hard-fought victory on speed-sapping soft ground in the Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on August 2 hardly looks the kind of form that will hold much relevance.
Runner-up Ribchester is a class act, of course, and you can probably strike a line through his defeat at Goodwood when weighing up his chances in future contests, but the Godolphin colt is likely to head for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on British Champions Day at Ascot in October, for which he is currently favourite, so Del Mar two weeks later may not be on the agenda.
The ground was pretty soft at Deauville on Sunday, when Al Shaqab’s Al Wukair got up on the line to win the Prix Jacques Le Marois (see YouTube video above), the second of the European races that guarantees the winner a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The son of Dream Ahead touched off two Godolphin representatives, Inns Of Court and Thunder Snow, but jockey Frankie Dettori said afterwards that the QEII was his likely target too. The going is invariably on the soft side for Champions Day.
Indeed, the proximity of the Ascot extravaganza to the Breeders’ Cup may possibly compromise the strength of the European challenge at Del Mar. Prize money for the Qipco-sponsored day has already made it an attractive alternative to the U.S. meet, and this year the two events are just two weeks apart. Last year, when Arc winner Found, for example, contested both the Champion Stakes at Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup Turf, there was a three-week gap.
Al Wukair is clearly a high-class 3-year-old. A close third to Churchill in the Newmarket 2000 Guineas in May, he then suffered a minor setback before returning in a Group 3 at Maisons-Laffitte last month. He was beaten by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Taareef that day but turned the tables on Sunday, when the Kitten’s Joy colt finished fifth.
Al Wukair’s run was rated the performance of last week on Racing Post Ratings with a mark of 120. However, that may be a little unfair on Oscar Performance, impressive winner of Saturday’s G1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington. His effort was given just 117, second best of the week but possibly undervaluing the run of well-beaten runner-up Taj Mahal, an Aidan O’Brien-trained full brother to 2000 Guineas winner Gleneagles who was a close fourth in the Prix du Jockey Club in June.
Oscar Performance, a Breeders’ Cup winner at two, would seem a live contender for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. He is trained by Brian A Lynch, who has climbed five places to #56 in the world trainers’ standings as a result. Jockey Jose L Ortiz is up one place to #11 in the global jockeys’ rankings and sire Kitten’s Joy continues his rise up the sires’ list, climbing three places to #21.
The Arlington card was a triumph, of course, for Chad Brown, responsible for both Arlington Million winner Beach Patrol and Beverley D. Stakes heroine Dacita. It adds up to just a one-point gain week on week but moves him to within seven of Bob Baffert in their battle for second place in the world standings.
York takes centre stage
No places in the Breeders’ Cup Mile are up for grabs at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival next week, but automatic berths in three other World Championship events at Del Mar are, and York’s spectacular four-day highlight has the potential to set the agenda for the rest of the European season.
Wednesday’s Juddmonte International, a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the Longines Turf, is being billed as a three-way clash between Churchill and Godolphin’s Barney Roy, who are one apiece in their own private series so far, and the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Eclipse winner Ulysses, who was fourth in the Longines Turf at Santa Anita last year behind Highland Reel, Flintshire and Found and seems to have progressed in the meantime.
The Epsom Oaks and King George winner Enable is 1-3 for the Darley Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday. Such is the reputation of the John Gosden-trained Juddmonte filly that many see the race as merely a prep for the Arc (for which she is around 5-4 favourite), even though the Yorkshire Oaks is the second highest-ranked fillies and mares race anywhere in the world over the last three years. The winner will be guaranteed a place in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar.
A slot for the winner in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is one of the attractions of Friday’s York feature, the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes, the world’s highest-rated five-furlong sprint over the last three years. The American filly Lady Aurelia is narrow favourite from British 3-year-old colt Battaash in what is seen as a head-to-head between the two.
Arlington: no reason to get carried away
Things are certainly looking up for Americans on turf, although it’s a trifle premature to use what happened at Arlington at the weekend as some have done as evidence of the gap being closed with any significance on the top Europeans.
Taj Mahal may have put up some solid performances in Europe this season, but he is little more than a reliable pacemaker for the better Ballydoyle 3-year-olds. Rain Goddess may have run second to Enable in the Darley Irish Oaks, but she is some way off the best fillies in her stable (Aidan O’Brien’s, of course) and no-one can seriously claim she ran even close to her best when she finished down the field in the Beverley D. (over a trip two and a half furlongs shorter than at the Curragh).
The third place of O’Brien’s Deauville in the Arlington Million is a little harder to dismiss, but it’s unlikely he performed anywhere near the level he did when a close third to Ribchester in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. That was over a mile, and the suspicion is he may be more effective over that trip than over the ten furlongs of the Million. Deauville thrives on fast ground, so maybe he will be the one Coolmore aim at the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Click here for a list of last week’s biggest TRC Global Rankings points gainers.
Click here for a list of the week’s Group and Graded winners.