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Homeracing

Arc Day postscripts: the O’Brien trifecta & the Breeders’ Cup

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

October 3rd, 2016

With Found’s dashing victory over stablemates Highland Reel and Order of St George, trainer Aidan O’Brien earned an enduring place in Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) history.

That feat became an instant classic, probably not to be equaled in our lifetimes – if ever. It’s remarkable enough for a trainer to dominate the finish of Europe’s fall championship, but to do so with a trio of older horses, all by the same sire (Galileo), and all facing questions of one sort or another, was beyond imagination.

Found had no questions regarding her form or class, but there was the hesitation about her seconditis at the highest level. Could she win a European major, or would she keep finding one too good on the day? Highland Reel is the kind of world-traveling money spinner that most owners can only dream of, yet he sometimes comes across as a cog in the Ballydoyle machine rather than a star in his own right. Order of St George is a star stayer, but he was venturing into a different galaxy among the 1 1/2-mile set.

Yet O’Brien managed to coax amazing efforts from all three of them on the day. Moreover, he hit the same target with different types of individuals coming up to the race in varied form.

Sure, some of their key rivals had a bad day at the office – e.g., Postponed was well below his best, Harzand had a tall task with his preparation, and Makahiki threw in the towel so badly that I was afraid he got hurt.

But none of that can obscure O’Brien’s masterful horsemanship. His runners all stepped up to the plate and delivered their best possible performances in the conditions.

Indeed, Found burst through the pack and clocked a superb time of 2:23.61. Highland Reel, whom I feared might be relegated to the status of pacemaker, tracked Harzand’s rabbit and stayed on in his typically stoic fashion. Order of St George was also prominent early, and called upon his bountiful stamina to save third after being outkicked by his stablemates.

***

Aside from Arc history, however, Found has also forced an adjustment to one of the longstanding factoids about the Breeders’ Cup.

Every year, we turf scribes trot out the stat that “no Arc winner has ever won a Breeders’ Cup race.” Last year’s Arc hero, Golden Horn, came close in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), but he was denied – by Found.

Thus Found stands alone in the record book with her Arc and Breeders’ Cup trophies. Of course, they’ve come a year apart, so the caveat about an Arc winner turning up at that fall’s Breeders’ Cup applies.

But thanks to Found, we need to spell that out: “no horse has ever won the Arc and a Breeders’ Cup race in the same season.” We can call it the Found corollary.

In the build-up to Golden Horn’s Turf bid, I explored the history of Arc winners in the Breeders’ Cup, and “found” that the stat needed to be refined, and to focus only upon reigning Arc winners. From this smaller population, the results were much better than when you included prior years’ winners on the decline.

There’s still the possibility of a regression off the peak effort it takes to win the Arc, but Trempolino (1987), Sakhee (2001), and Golden Horn (on ground he was just tolerating) all went awfully close in their BC races. Given Found’s exceptionally hardy constitution, there’s no reason why she wouldn’t run right up to her best if advancing to Santa Anita.

On the other hand, there’s the question of what is to be gained by a title defense. Found has achieved the ultimate goal set for her. How much is it worth to Coolmore to have a two-time Turf-winning female?

A Turf laurel would mean a lot more to Highland Reel’s stallion career. And the trend in favor of Arc losers in the Breeders’ Cup is pronounced. Horses beaten in the Arc have come back to win the Turf no fewer than 10 times, with Found being the most recent poster girl. From this perspective, why not send Highland Reel to Santa Anita, and keep Found out of his way?

That same stat would argue strongly in favor of Postponed’s going on a retrieval mission at Santa Anita. Although his wide trip around Chantilly was a factor in his one-paced fifth, the 2-1 favorite complicated his task by staying on his wrong lead for too long.

Perhaps left-handed tracks do bring out the best in him, in which case the Turf would be a logical spot. The five-year-old son of Dubawi is expected to stay in training for a title defense in next March’s Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), so he won’t be totally wound down over the winter anyway.

Postponed’s opinionated owner, Sheikh Mohammed Obaid al Maktoum (“the sheikh who must be obeyed,” as some British pundits call him), will dictate his program. Hopefully he’ll see the advantages of the Breeders’ Cup. Postponed already paid his way by capturing the “Win and You’re In” Juddmonte International (G1) over Highland Reel.

***

As reported by Ron Flatter on Twitter and in his Arc recap, the three Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races on Arc Day failed to lure the winners to Santa Anita. In each case, I think it’s the right decision.

English-based Speedy Boarding has run better in France than anywhere else this year, so after her photo-finish success in the Prix de l’Opera (G1), it was very much “mission accomplished.”

The Opera placegetters, however, are a different story, and both Pleascach and So Mi Dar are appropriately bound for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Pleascach nearly pulled off a wire job in her first start back from a year-long layoff, and hitherto unbeaten So Mi Dar did well to finish a close third from an unfavorable position.

The respective winners of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge races for turf juveniles, the colt National Defense in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) and the filly Wuheida in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1), are both first-rate contenders for the 2017 classics. No use taking eyes off the long-term objective to chase Santa Anita.

The fifth-placer from the Boussac, Martin Schwartz’s Cavale Doree, would be a natural to come stateside for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). None of O’Brien’s Arc Day juveniles are under Breeders’ Cup consideration, though, as Flatter reported.

***

The exciting Limato lived up to expectations by crushing the Prix de la Foret (G1), but connections remain in two minds about his Breeders’ Cup objective. Trainer Henry Candy has said he’d lean toward the Mile (G1) – a preference I share – while owner Paul Jacobs is more inclined to the Turf Sprint (G1) (explicitly citing the chance to swerve Tepin). Jockey Harry Bentley has echoed the Turf Sprint line without prejudicing the Mile.

On paper, 6 1/2 furlongs would be right in Limato’s wheelhouse, but the downhill isn’t to everyone’s taste. Worse, if he reverts to old habits and doesn’t break well, he’ll find the Turf Sprint unfolding too fast in front of him. The Mile is the tougher spot from a competition standpoint, no doubt, but I think he’d have fewer variables in terms of the course and race shape.

And let’s not forget that Limato is high-class – a worthy challenger for Tepin’s crown, and deserving of going for the bigger prize. After all, he would have tried Tepin in the Queen Anne (G1) but for the rain-softened ground. A turning mile would suit him a lot better than Ascot’s straight one anyway, so why not give him the opportunity?

A couple of other Arc Day runners are eyeing the Turf Sprint. Suedois, third to Limato in the Foret, is a stablemate of Mondialiste’s from the David O’Meara yard. The O’Brien-trained sophomore Washington DC was a closing runner-up to Marsha in the about five-furlong Prix de l’Abbaye (G1).

Found photo by Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com

Postponed photo courtesy of York Racecourse via Twitter

Prix de l'Opera photo finish courtesy of Paris-Turf via Twitter

Limato photo courtesy of Racing UK via Twitter

 

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