Breeders’ Cup: who are Europe’s strongest challengers?

Leading Euro: the Godolphin-owned Ribchester exercising at Del Mar this week. The colt goes for the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Saturday. Photo: Jesse Caris/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders’ Cup

One of the biggest drawbacks for many of the European challengers at the Breeders’ Cup is that the great meeting is very often not the main focus for connections. Unlike the Americans, for whom the ‘world championships’ are something of a holy grail, the Europeans tend to tack the Breeders’ Cup onto the end of the season for any horses that are still standing after their exertions at home.

That is more so now than in earlier days of the Breeders’ Cup - before Arc weekend took on its current shape, before the advent of Irish Champions Weekend, and, more particularly, before British Champions Day.

Last year, the magnificent Ballydoyle filly Found ran in all of those events. She ran second to Almanzor in the Irish Champion in what looked very much like a final prep for the Arc, she won the Arc three weeks later and then went to Ascot two weeks after that for the Champion Stakes there (she was second to Almanzor again). Incredibly, three weeks after that, she was back in action at Santa Anita in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, but she had probably given enough by then, although she did well enough, running on into third behind stablemate Highland Reel.

The gap between British Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup this year is just two weeks, but still six horses who ran at Ascot (none of them winners) have headed to Del Mar: Churchill, Cliffs Of Moher, Highland Reel, Lancaster Bomber, Washington DC and the Godolphin-owned Ribchester, the only non-Coolmore horse among them.

For all of them except one, the impression is that the attitude to the Breeders’ Cup is, ‘Oh well, the horse looks as though he may have a bit more to give. We may as well give it a go.’

The exception is Highland Reel. Last year’s Longines Turf hero was superb earlier in the season when the ground was firmer but had close on four months off as soft going dogged many of the big European race meets. It was particularly slow on Champions Day, but Highland Reel was in the field for the Champion Stakes anyway, presumably as part of his Breeders’ Cup preparation. He ran a surprisingly creditable third behind Cracksman on ground he’s never been much good on.

Thirteen of the 35 European raiders at Del Mar are trained by Aidan O’Brien. Sir Michael Stoute, Roger Varian, Richard Fahey and Charlie Appleby are the only others with more than one (they have two each).

Here is a look at all 35 with the world rankings of their connections listed, along with the latest odds from both sides of the Atlantic.

Juvenile Turf

* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

The best strictly on form

Mendelssohn may have been a 50/1 shot when he ran second to stablemate U.S. Navy Flag in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket three weeks ago, but those odds probably indicated a lack of understanding of the way things work at Ballydoyle. He had a big reputation in the summer before disappointing just once (on soft ground), and he went there with a live chance. He was never a pacemaker.

This is one of O’Brien’s favoured races at this meeting. He has won it three times and would surely have the clear favourite this time if he’d opted to let U.S. Navy Flag, the top-rated 2-year-old in Europe, take his chance.

U.S. Navy Flag is better than any of O’Brien’s previous winners of the Juvenile Turf, but he goes instead for the Juvenile on dirt. Presumably the trainer feels Mendelssohn is a more-than-able deputy.

Anomalies in the betting

There’s just one at this stage - Mendelssohn himself. He’s just about favourite with the fixed-odds bookmakers in Britain, yet he’s quoted at 8/1 in the U.S., despite his favourable draw, according to the Breeders’ Cup website.

Best of the Americans

Untamed Domain, a son of Animal Kingdom trained by Graham Motion, is the highest RPR - 103, but that’s way short of all six Euros. That doesn’t mean the ratings are right, of course, but this does look like a race that’s ripe for the plundering.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

The best strictly on form

Ignore the RPR in the table above. Happily’s form is better than September’s. She’s beaten her twice, for a start, and she’s won two Group 1s, including a victory over the colts in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly last month.

Happily’s best performance have been on soft ground, yet she is a full sister to dual Guineas winner Gleneagles, a fast-going specialist, so the ground may be less of a handicap than the busy autumn she has had.

September is rated one pound higher on the strength of her runner-up finish in the G1 Fillies’ Mile at Ascot three weeks ago (traditionally, the ratings people tend to prefer that race as a measure of performance to the ones Happily has been winning). Indeed September was unlucky not to win the Fillies’ Mile as she suffered much trouble in running.

Happily is favoured over her stablemate largely because she is the choice of Ryan Moore, and she is better drawn.

This is a race Aidan O’Brien has never won, and in Happily and September he fields perhaps his strongest challenge for it to date.

Note for the history books

September is the first offspring of the mighty Japanese stallion Deep Impact to run at the Breeders’ Cup.

Best of the Americans

It appears to be all about one horse - the dashingly impressive, twice-raced Rushing Fall, running for the deadly Chad Brown-Javier Castellano combination and a filly whose owner was featured here yesterday.

She is current Morning Line favourite in the U.S. and disputing favouritism with Happily in Britain.

This looks stronger than the colts’ race both in terms of the European challenge and the American defence.

Turf Sprint

* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

The best strictly on form

Marsha by some way. She lost out at Chantilly on soft ground last time, but at her best on good going she’s some performer.

Note for the history books

Marsha will be Sir Mark Prescott’s first runner at the Breeders’ Cup.

Best of the Americans

The trouble for Marsha is that Lady Aurelia is in the race. The Wesley Ward-trained filly lost out to the Prescott runner by a nose at York in August, but conditions should be in her favour on Saturday.

The 5-year-old Disco Partner, currently 9/2 in the U.S. and drawn in gate 1, could be a tough nut to crack too.

Filly & Mare Turf

* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

The best strictly on form

If two of the finest fillies of recent seasons had not both come along at the same time, we would now be hailing Rhododendron as the best 3-year-old female in Europe of 2017. She was odds-on favourite to win the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in May but came up against her electric stablemate Winter. She was odds-on to win the Oaks at Epsom in June, but nobody saw Enable coming.

After bursting a blood vessel in the Prix de Diane later that month, Rhododendron was restored to health so successfully that she won a G1 on Arc Day at Chantilly last month. She was spared an outing on Champions Day with Del Mar in mind, and the best may be yet to come.

She may be the leading Euro on ratings, but those numbers probably undervalue Queen’s Trust’s performance to win this race last year. Like so many others, she has been labouring around on soft ground in Europe, but she was a different animal on the fast surface at Santa Anita when she came with a storming (and unpopular) run to beat the American darling Lady Eli. Remember also that Rhododendron is drawn on the wide outside.

Anomalies in the betting

Maybe it’s because of goodwill towards Lady Eli, but the Americans seem to underestimate all the Europeans.

Best of the Americans

Two words: Lady Eli. But may have to produce her best effort yet if she is to resist a top-form Rhododendron.


* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

For all the worth of the rest of the challenge, there is no rival to Ribchester on pure merit. This is an outstanding racehorse, and it will take an even more outstanding one to beat him now he is back on fast ground. Of course, he had a hard race at Ascot just two Saturdays ago, and that after a season that began at Meydan in March.

Another Euro worth watching is Lancaster Bomber, who has undeniable place claims based on his performances whenever he’s had fast ground (which hasn’t been very often). At his best, he’s not at all far behind the top 3-year-old milers in Europe.

Anomalies in the betting

Suedois shouldn’t have much chance against the likes of regular G1 winners Ribchester and Roly Poly based on European form, but the David O’Meara-trained 6-year-old certainly impressed the Americans a lot more than the British bookies when he won the Shadwell Turf Mile in October.

Best of the Americans

World Approval looked a natural for this when he won the Woodbine Mile in September. It took the British bookies a while to cotton on, but he’s now as short as 2/1 and is favoured over Ribchester by pretty well all of them.


* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

Has he got a chance?

You wouldn’t expect so. U.S. Navy Flag may be the highest-rated juvenile in Europe (in the world, in fact, on current numbers) but that’s on a different surface. In his favour: he’s by War Front, so there may be some dirt adaptability in there somewhere, and he’s trained by Aidan O’Brien, who’s won this before.

This is a shot to nothing for Coolmore. U.S. Navy Flag has been thriving all autumn and it wouldn’t be so surprising if steps forward again, or if he acts on the surface. But, if he doesn’t, there are still plenty of options for him in Europe next term.

He’s also drawn on the inside.

Best of the Americans

The favourite with everyone is the Medaglia D’Oro colt Bolt D’Oro, who could be exceptional. Even if U.S. Navy Flag does adapt to dirt, he may not be good enough to hold him.

Longines Turf

* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

The best strictly on form

As discussed above, this race appears to have been the target for Highland Reel all along. That was the case with Ulysses all summer too, yet he was running so well that a soft-ground Arc was included on the way (he ran third to Enable). Ulysses has clearly improved since he ran fourth to Highland Reel in this at Santa Anita last year, but the score between the two on good ground or better remains 2-0 to the Ballydoyle runner.

Anomalies in the betting

Strangely, the Americans, who are well aware of Highland Reel’s capabilities, have him as third favourite behind Ulysses and the Chad Brown colt Beach Patrol (4/1 current Morning Line odds). But Highland Reel is favoured in Britain, where Ulysses has featured more prominently over the second half of the season.

Best of the Americans

Beach Patrol is rated marginally higher than Oscar Performance because of his wins in the Arlington Million and Joe Hirsch Classic (with 'Oscar' behind) in his last two starts, but the suspicion is that Oscar Performance, who won the Juvenile Turf last season, may be more effective this time.

Whether Beach Patrol (best RPR: 117) is entitled to be disputing favouritism with Ulysses and Highland Reel, who are both rated considerably higher, is open to doubt. He has, however, had a perfect build-up for this, which may not be the case with the Euros.

Breeding note

Five of the runners are by the world's highest-ranked sireGalileo.


* Best Racing Post Rating achieved in career; **Morning line odds quoted on; ***Odds generally available with most British bookmakers

Does either have a chance?

Probably not. Coolmore have often had a shot at this with major European turf stars - Gleneagles, George Washington, Oratorio, Hawk Wing, Galileo himself - on the off-chance that they’ll defy their pedigrees and adapt to dirt. Churchill falls squarely into that bracket.

They have fared best with horses bred on more conventional lines for this surface - Giant’s Causeway and Declaration Of War both went very, very close, as did Henrythenavigator, although his runner-up finish at Santa Anita came on Pro-Ride rather than dirt.

That logic brings War Decree into the equation. He is bred to excel on dirt, and his odds belie the fact that this appears to have been on the agenda all summer, whereas for Churchill it looks very much an afterthought.

Of course Ryan Moore has stayed loyal to Churchill, but it would be no surprise if he finished behind War Decree. It would certainly be a huge surprise, however, if either were able to mix it with the likes of Arrogate or Gun Runner.

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.

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