Charlie Appleby is far from a stranger to North American racing, and the British trainer credits his rather remarkable success to not only the quality stock provided by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s Godolphin program but also to the experience gained on the ground.
Appleby returns to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland Race Course on the back of three winners at last year’s renewal at Del Mar. But in the interim, he’s kept the American cash register jingling, sending out Nations Pride to impressive victories in top turf events in New York.
With that experience in hand, Nations Pride, a Teofilo 3-year-old, is prominent in the makeup of the field for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf Nov. 5 along with stablemate Rebel’s Romance, whose travels have taken a very different international turn.
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“Experience is so valuable,” Appleby said after watching the seven-horse Godolphin Breeders’ Cup string stretch its legs on the Keeneland turf Nov. 2.
“We’ve assembled a team that we gain that (experience), year on year. And it changes, year on year. Obviously, the horses change, what kind of horse you’ve got. But you’ve got to keep an eye on the caliber of horses you’re competing against.
“The more you come over, the more you learn about each track, and watching the racing. It helps us that we compete in America during the course of the season. So, again, we get hands-on about how competitive we will be with certain horses. So that’s definitely an upside to us coming over to America.”
Appleby acknowledged the purse money on offer in the big American races beggars most of the stakes on offer in the UK and Europe. But, he said, that’s not the whole story for a global operation like Godolphin.
“Don’t get me wrong. The purse money is there, but it’s not so much the purse money as what suits the horse,” Appleby said. “I’ve always been a believer in what suits the horse. We want to win races, no matter if they’re a million-dollar race or a $10 million-dollar race. It’s just, try to win the race first, then we can worry about what the purse is.”
The advantage of gaining experience in America as opposed to elsewhere in the racing world will be put to the test on in the Longines Turf. While Nations Pride excelled when sent to Saratoga Race Course and Belmont at the Big A in the summer and early fall, Rebel’s Romance earned his first American sojourn by posting a pair of late-season Group 1 wins in Germany.
“I just think you see them as two individuals,” Appleby said. “One’s a very slick individual in Nations Pride. He brings the experience of American racing as well. We saw that during the summer. He’s what I’d call a mile-and-a-quarter horse but will get the mile and a half over here. He’s got that turn of foot which you saw in the (Caesars) Jockey Club (Derby) Invitational (Stakes).
“Whereas, Rebel’s Romance is a bigger individual. He’s a solid mile-and-a-half horse but just from the size of the horse, he’ll come around these turns and it’ll be more of an effort, I’d say, where the other fellow will slick round them.”
The advantage of racing experience might be flipped in favor of the trans-Atlantic shippers when it comes to 2-year-olds on the turf, said Appleby, who fields Silver Knott in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on the Breeders’ Cup Future Stars Friday program Nov. 4. The Lope de Vega colt already has group stakes races on his record, two of them wins, while most American turf-running youngsters are still finding their feet.
“When it comes to the juveniles, you’re always slightly more confident with a European juvenile coming over to these turf races, for sure,” Appleby said. “They’re inexperienced while we’re competing at group levels there. Experience is a big thing.”
Dealing with the hubbub of the Breeders’ Cup in the crowded Keeneland paddock, he admitted, is a different matter.
“That’s why I question mark Silver Knott. Would he be man enough to come over here? Because it’s a big ask for them to go out there in that paddock on that day in that crowd. A lot of our horses haven’t seen that.”
Come what may in the Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland is likely to be the year’s finale for the Godolphin string as Appleby reckoned December’s Longines Hong Kong International races are “just a little bit more challenging at the moment. And our horses will need a break after this.”
But, he added, they’ll be back.
Regarding Nations Pride, he said, “I’m hoping he’ll be a horse that we bring back to America next year and look for the mile and a half, the Sword Dancer (Stakes) and those sort of races... along with a smaller team that we can keep here.”