Looking at any race can be a difficult task, but even more so when horses ship in from other countries. This year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships is one such event with European entrants in eight races, including two on dirt to add to the challenge that comes with trying to figure out the Breeders’ Cup.
I’ve gone through all eight races that have European entries and highlighted some of the foreign invaders I think will stand out in this year’s event, so let’s get to know some of the horses flying over here for the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar, including two of last year’s winners.
A fairly surprising pre-entry in this year’s Classic came from the Coolmore partners and Aidan O’Brien when they entered last year’s European champion 2-year-old colt Churchill in the race. O’Brien has had 14 runners in this race since 2001, including Churchill’s sire Galileo, with three on-the-board finishes to show for it. Churchill has run exclusively on turf in his career and mostly at a mile, where he’s a two-time classic winner, but he’s finished second at half a furlong longer than the Classic so he should be able to get the distance. The big question with him is if he’ll handle the switch to dirt, which is always a worry with turf-bred horses.
O’Brien is coming into the race double-fisted with War Decree also holding an entry to the Classic, though both he and Churchill also hold entries in other Breeder’s Cup races as well. War Decree is lightly raced with just six starts, though he’s put in some good performances including beating United Arab Emirates Derby winner Thunder Snow in a Group 2 stakes in July. The War Front colt’s Breeders’ Cup prep was a 10-furlong Group 3 over the synthetic surface at Dundalk in Ireland, where he beat 10 opponents by more than two lengths.
U S Navy Flag has stormed through everything he’s been asked to do in 10 starts this year for trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore partners with four wins and three other on-the-board finishes. The colt has won his last three starts, including two Group 1 races, and has an impeccable pedigree. He is a full brother to Filly and Mare Turf entrant Roly Poly, both out of champion Misty for Me.
If Decorated Knight wins this year’s Longines Turf, it will be sweet redemption for his connections. The last time the 5-year-old traveled to the U.S., he was supposed to run in the 2016 Arlington Million but was forced to scratch the morning of the race after getting loose in the stable the night before. He took a long break after that August incident but has come back a fresh horse, winning his first two races in 2017 including a Group 1 stakes in Dubai. While he has thrown in a few bad performances this year, when Decorated Knight is on his A-game, he is hard to beat, and he has two other Group 1 wins and a second in a Group 1 to show for it.
One of the most popular horses in the world, 2016 Longines Turf winner Highland Reel returns to California to attempt a repeat. In the past year, Highland Reel has won two important European Group 1 races (beating Decorated Knight in one of them), finished second in Hong Kong and finished a good third less than two weeks ago on soft ground he hates. Highland Reel is at his best when the turf is firm, which shouldn’t be an issue in California this week.
Third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last month, Ulysses is looking to sign off his career with a victory in the Longines Turf after finishing fourth here last year. The 4-year-old has shown a lot of talent in 2017, winning three of his six starts and finishing no worse than third in the other three. One of those thirds came at the hooves of the two horses talked about above, so he’s in tough, but you can count on Sir Michael Stoute to have the colt ready to go in the final race of his career.
Second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Lancaster Bomber hopes to better that finish in the Breeders’ Cup Mile after again finishing second on North American soil two months ago in the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile. The 3-year-old Aidan O’Brien trainee has been well traveled this year, racing in four different countries and usually finishing less than five lengths behind the winner. Lancaster Bomber hasn’t won any races this year but has finished second in two Grade/Group 1 races.
Arguably the best miler in Europe this year, Ribchester looks to close out his career with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile for Godolphin. Finishing third in the Group 1 Dubai Turf at nine furlongs to start his season, Ribchester was then cut down to a mile for his next five starts and earned three wins and two seconds. Based on his European form coming into this race, it is likely Ribchester will go off as the favorite in the Mile.
Roly Poly finished ninth in the Juvenile Fillies Turf last year but has come a long way as a 3-year-old, winning three Group 1s and finishing second in two others when campaigned at a mile. She faces males for the first time in her career in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Queen’s Trust looks to become only the second two-time winner of the race, joining Ouija Board (2004, 2006). Queen’s Trust comes into the race off form compared to last year, with her only on-the-board finish being a third place in the Group 1 Darley Yorkshire Oaks. But placings can be deceiving as that was her largest losing margin at 5 ¾ lengths behind the leader, and in all four of her other races this year she finished four lengths or less behind the winner.
Finishing second in two classics this year, Rhododendron looks like she’ll be a tough filly in this race. She’s coming in off a win in the Prix de l‘Opera where she showed a lot of heart to beat stablemate Hydrangea. The filly suffered two surprise defeats in the middle of the season when pulled up in the Longines Prix de Diane and then finishing seventh in the Matron Stakes, but looks to be back on track now.
Seven years after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Blame has his first Breeders’ Cup starter in Senga. Senga won the Prix de Diane – the race Rhododendron did not finish – in addition to one other stakes this year. She also hit the board in two other group stakes. The filly seems to hate soft ground, but that shouldn’t be an issue at Del Mar.
The winner of half his four starts, Godolphin-owned Masar comes into the race after finishing third in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere behind Juvenile Fillies Turf runner Happily. Masar has seemed to be extremely polite when facing fillies, also finishing third to another Juvenile Fillies Turf runner, September, for his only other defeat. Trainer Charlie Appleby’s only Breeders’ Cup victory came in this race four years ago with Outstrip, who was owned by the same connections as Masar.
The highest priced yearling to sell at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale since 2010, $3-million Mendelssohn has proved to be a talented colt and earned his way into the Breeders’ Cup. The colt’s half-sister Beholder should be a familiar name to those reading this piece as she won three Breeders’ Cup races in her career before retiring after a Longines Distaff victory last year. Mendelssohn himself comes into the race off a second in the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes.
Aidan O’Brien has won nearly every turf race to be won on the Breeders’ Cup card with nine victories on the grass, but one race to elude him has been the Juvenile Fillies Turf, with his best finish being a pair of seconds from nine runners. He looks to break that dry streak this year with the superbly-bred Happily coming into the race off a pair of wins in the Group 1 Prix Jean Luc Lagardere against males and Group 1 Moyglare Stakes. The Galileo filly is a full sister to two classic winners, including Gleneagles, who contested the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2015.
Trainer John Gosden has had an excellent year in Europe and looks to bring that luck to the Breeders’ Cup with Juliet Capulet. Owned by Cheveley Park Stud, who won last year’s Filly and Mare Turf with Queen’s Trust, the 2-year-old filly comes into this race off a win in the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes at seven furlongs – comparable to a mile on U.S. tracks. Juliet Capulet has won two of her six starts with a second and third in two others, and all four of her placings have come at seven furlongs.
While Lady Aurelia is technically a U.S.-based horse, last year’s Europe’s champion 2-year-old filly has only raced in the U.S. twice in her seven race career. She’s won five of those seven starts with three of her first- or second-place finishes coming at the five-furlong distance of this race. Trainer Wesley Ward knows how to have horses ready for the Breeders’ Cup with two wins at the event. He pulled off the improbable feat of having all of his entries hit the board when his six entries in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup finished no worse than third, including his two wins.
Marsha spoiled Lady Aurelia’s party in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes when beating her by a nose and the rematch is scheduled to happen in Del Mar. A seven time winner, Marsha has won multiple stakes at the five-furlong distance but the tighter U.S.-style turns may be an issue for the sprinter. This is probably going to be her last race as the filly is entered in the Tattersalls December sale in England, where she’ll almost certainly be one of the top-priced horses. America's Best Racing's Dan Tordjman recently interviewed Elite Racing Club manager Dan Downie in advance of Marsha's trip to the States.