BC Internationals: Defending Turf champion Found
Of all of the Breeders’ Cup international profiles, I saved Found for last, principally because her first preference at pre-entry time was the Classic (G1). But with Monday’s news that she’d instead try to defend her title in the Turf (G1), the analysis has changed. No longer a doubtful glance on dirt, it’s a referendum on whether she can repeat at the tail end of a grueling campaign.
The Aidan O’Brien filly brought strong credentials into the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf, as outlined in her mini-profile leading up to it. A year on, her resume now rates as positively historic.
For starters, by outdueling Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) hero Golden Horn at Keeneland, Found made history as the first three-year-old filly to capture the Turf.
Found reappeared on heavy ground at the Curragh on April 3, and slogged home a one-paced third in the Alleged to Zhukova, a well-regarded Dermot Weld runner. As the starting point of a campaign with far bigger objectives in mind, it was no more than a workout.
Fitter next time in the Mooresbridge (G3), and encountering somewhat better ground, Found made the projected improvement. She also showed the boys who’s boss by bulling between foes to win handsomely from Success Days and a ring-rusty Fascinating Rock.
But in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) on softer going, it was Fascinating Rock’s turn to move forward in his second start. The high-class Weld charge, who’d defeated Found in last fall’s Champion S. (G1) at Ascot, pulled clear from her in the Curragh’s spring highlight for the older brigade.
Found returned to 1 1/2 miles for the first time since the Breeders’ Cup in the Coronation Cup (G1) on Derby Day at Epsom. The pace scenario was all against her trying to rally from farther back, while the red-hot Postponed got the perfect tow into the race from his pacemaker. Found therefore had to settle for second.
Displaying the hardiness we’d seen from her last fall, Found wheeled back only 11 days later to round off the first half of her season at Royal Ascot. She reverted to 1 1/4 miles in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) and ran a winning race, only to get nipped by the unlikely My Dream Boat, a 16-1 shot whom she never saw coming.
Found got a two-month freshening before commencing her second half in the August 18 Yorkshire Oaks (G1), her only race of 2016 versus fellow distaffers. She wasn’t originally intended to get back to work in the 1 1/2-mile affair, but her target was switched (from a title defense in the Royal Whip [G3]) in an effort to help younger stablemate US Army Ranger. Unfortunately, US Army Ranger didn’t take advantage when managing only fourth in the Royal Whip. At York, Found traveled well and rallied, but her race-fit stablemate Seventh Heaven was stronger late.
Based upon her typical pattern, Found promised to do considerably better in her follow-up, and she was as reliable as ever. She swept powerfully from off the pace in the Irish Champion (G1), but star French colt Almanzor, a 1 1/4-mile specialist, had a slightly more potent kick at the trip.
Found was now spot-on for her pre-eminent goal of the entire year, another crack at the Arc. A troubled ninth when stuck in traffic behind Golden Horn in the 2015 running – the only unplaced effort of her career – she deserved a charmed run through the pack this time. Even more important, she had the gears to take advantage of it. Blowing by Postponed to repay him for the Coronation Cup, Found led home stablemates Highland Reel and Order of St George in an all-Galileo/O’Brien trifecta.
Surely that was mission accomplished, right? But the Coolmore lads weren’t ready to see her go into retirement just yet. Just as she’d taken the busy road last fall, so would she try to touch all the bases this autumn. And she was right back in the thick of the action 13 days after the Arc.
Cutting back from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/4 miles in the Champion back at Ascot, Found again found Almanzor a touch too quick at the trip.
Given that her 2016 campaign had been more taxing, how diffident O’Brien sounded about a Breeders’ Cup title defense, and how important a Turf trophy would be to Highland Reel, I argued that Found probably wouldn’t go to Santa Anita. Yet here we are, after all, with Highland Reel having to face Found again.
On pure merit, Found can make history twice over. She stands to become the first reigning Arc winner to add a Breeders' Cup race, thus ending the shut-out of Arc winners in the BC. She'd also become the first female to repeat in the Turf. Only two males have managed that feat, the O’Brien-trained High Chaparral (2002 and via dead-heat in 2003) and Sir Michael Stoute’s Conduit (2008-09).
The key question is whether this is a bridge too far. I didn’t think so at all last year, since her spring had been fairly light, and her fall hadn’t been nearly as draining as it might have looked superficially.
But it’s a concern worth pondering in these circumstances, all the more so when O’Brien said this immediately after the Champion:
“She looks great and is very well in herself. I'm not sure about going to the Breeders' Cup with her. The lads will have to decide on that as Highland Reel will possibly go for the Turf…so I don't know about that.
“The climate will be different there this time around and it will be very fast ground so I'm not sure whether she will go to America."
Full disclosure: I take trainer’s comments too much to heart. Even though I make mental notes not to get swayed by quotes, I’m incorrigible and never learn. When O’Brien expresses hesitation, it’s hard to ignore.
The rest of O’Brien’s quotes were interpreted by the Champions Day press release as possibly a farewell tribute, although you don’t have to confine them to that:
"Found is an amazing filly. She has a great constitution and I really appreciate all the work the team have done with her. She is incredible.
"She is competing at the top level over a mile, a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. She has run brilliantly finishing second in a host of top class races like the Coronation Cup as well as winning the Arc."
In other words, if anyone can pull off this caper, it’s Found.
I’d like nothing better than for Found to cap her career on the highest possible note, in a blaze of Breeders’ Cup glory. And she’s got a serious chance of accomplishing it in the Turf rather than tilting at windmills on dirt in the Classic. Yet all the same, I’ve got to admit reservations about whether this time, it’s finally one too many.
She’ll run well because she literally doesn’t know how to run a bad race. But will she win?
Photo by Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com