BC Internationals: Mile contender Lancaster Bomber
A War Front half-brother to star miler Excelebration, who was fourth to Wise Dan and Animal Kingdom in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Lancaster Bomber has the advantage of already being proven at a high level in North American conditions.
The Aidan O’Brien trainee has often been employed as a pacemaker for Churchill at both two and three, but he’s not your garden-variety rabbit. He fought on well to hold second in last year’s Dewhurst (G1), as recounted in his Breeders’ Cup profile for the Juvenile Turf (G1), and he again filled the runner-up spot at Santa Anita. Despite a checkered passage into the clubhouse turn, where he had to steady, Lancaster Bomber rallied smartly behind Oscar Performance.
Lancaster Bomber was among the raft of Ballydoyle nominees to the U.S. Triple Crown, which on pedigree didn’t appear to be a likely proposition. But he proved more versatile than might have been expected in the UAE Derby (G2), closing for fourth to Thunder Snow after a slow start put him too far back early. With an alert break, he would have scored more Kentucky Derby (G1) points, and we may well have seen him at Churchill Downs.
Instead, Lancaster Bomber was called up for pacemaker duty in the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket on the first Saturday in May. Although outkicked late, he was a respectable fourth to Churchill, Barney Roy, and another subsequent Group 1-winning miler in Al Wukair.
O’Brien reportedly wanted to try the Preakness (G1), but he ended up staying home for the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1). Lancaster Bomber’s never been of use on rain-affected tracks, so he was struggling a long way out when fifth to Churchill.
Back on much quicker ground for the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot, Lancaster Bomber ran his typically solid race, while Churchill flopped. He once again couldn’t cope with the acceleration of Barney Roy, but he did hold off Thunder Snow for a hard-trying second.
Although Churchill was withdrawn from the Sussex (G1) as the Goodwood weather was not-so-Glorious, Lancaster Bomber took his chance on the dreadful going and unsurprisingly spun his wheels in sixth. Reading the Sussex is a key exercise for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, since beaten favorite Ribchester and better-than-appears fourth Zelzal are also in the line-up at Del Mar. (Their international profiles are on the way.)
Lancaster Bomber jetted off for the Woodbine Mile (G1), where he was unexpectedly behind stablemate Deauville early. Considering that Deauville had been a staying-on third to Ribchester in a course record-setting Queen Anne (G1), you might have thought that similar tactics could be in play as he reverted to a mile at Woodbine. Not that Lancaster Bomber’s going to set speed records himself, but at a minimum he could have been forecast to force the issue.
On the contrary, Deauville was mixing it up early while Lancaster Bomber was held up a couple of lengths back. Lancaster Bomber was awaiting a seam when World Approval spurted away, and the winner was gone by the time he had room to get up for second. He wouldn’t have given World Approval a serious scare anyway, but the brief hold-up may have influenced the margin. Even unluckier was third-placer Long on Value.
Last time out on Champions Day, Lancaster Bomber tried to do his job for Churchill in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on soft going, prompting Ribchester’s rabbit, who was going fast enough in the conditions. True to his pattern, Lancaster Bomber got exhausted trying to pick his feet up in the bog and wound up a tailed-off 14th, beating only Thunder Snow.
Given his prerequisite of good or firm ground, Lancaster Bomber is as honest as they come. It’s interesting that O’Brien still has the main track in the back of his mind, giving him a second preference pre-entry in the Dirt Mile (G1). But the Mile is the logical place, regardless of the sorting out of plans for Churchill (expected in the Classic [G1]) and fellow stablemate Roly Poly (cross-entered as first preference Filly & Mare Turf [G1]). (Update: Roly Poly went in the Mile after all, and Ryan Moore sided with her.)
And aside from World Approval, Lancaster Bomber is the only other Mile contender with the potent trend of competing in the Woodbine Mile. Over the past decade, four BC Mile winners emerged from the Woodbine feature, and two (Kip Deville in 2007 and Court Vision in 2011) had lost that stepping stone. Moreover, a Woodbine Mile participant has won or placed in nine of the last 10 editions of the BC Mile.
Cast as the reliable understudy his whole life, Lancaster Bomber must answer the lingering question of whether he’s quite up to winning an international race of this caliber. As a four-time Group 1 runner-up, he makes all the sense in the world as the bottom half of the exacta or at least in the lower rungs of the exotics.
Photo courtesy Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club