Breeders’ Cup implications aplenty from York’s Ebor Festival

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August 23rd, 2016

Potential contenders for several Breeders’ Cup races advanced their claims during last week’s Ebor Festival at York. Trying to pinpoint who’ll end up going where is a moving target, as it were, but these are the most salient points to emerge from the Knavesmire.

Postponed, winner of five straight in major 1 1/2-mile events, extended his streak to six despite cutting back in trip for the about 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International (G1), a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Far from appearing to need more ground, the much-improved son of Dubawi had the gears to take over from his pacemaker (and outkick Highland Reel) in upper stretch. Postponed then wandered to his right, interfering with Mutakayyef in the midst of his rally. That allowed the staying-on Highland Reel to get closer in second, but Postponed still had 1 1/4 lengths to spare at the line.


Trainer Roger Varian commented afterward on the challenge he faced to get Postponed here in form, after a respiratory infection knocked him out of a title defense in the July 23 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). The five-year-old was only just beginning to sparkle again as the Juddmonte neared. His wayward stretch run may be attributed to being slightly underdone, for Varian had to be very careful not to overtrain him in his recovery phase.

Postponed ranks as the favorite for the October 2 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), held this year at Chantilly while Longchamp is undergoing reconstruction. Any thoughts of Santa Anita depend upon his coming through the Arc, of course, but the good news is that Varian has mentioned the Breeders’ Cup on his provisional itinerary. Fingers crossed we have a Postponed vs. Flintshire clash.

Highland Reel is expected to make a return trip to Australia, judging by trainer Aidan O’Brien’s postrace comments. But O’Brien did refer to Saturday’s Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga as a possible spot in the interim. Interestingly, Highland Reel was the second half of a brother act at York Wednesday. His sophomore sibling, Idaho, strengthened his grip on favoritism for the St Leger (G1) with a strong closing kick in the Great Voltigeur (G2).

Mutakayyef, the unlucky third in the Juddmonte, will likely revert to a mile for the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on British Champions Day at Ascot. Trainer William Haggas has identified the Dubai Turf (G1) on 2017 World Cup night as his long-range goal.


O’Brien celebrated a one-two finish in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), where Seventh Heaven booked her spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) by upending stablemate and reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf heroine Found.

Seventh Heaven, who was following up on her Irish Oaks (G1) success, has now won four of her last five. Her lone reverse in this span was a toss-out sixth in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom. That course never appeared to suit her, and the softish ground made it an even more hopeless task. O’Brien confirmed that the Filly & Mare Turf is on her radar. Seventh Heaven will love the firm turf, but it’s not as certain if the 1 1/2-mile standout will be as effective around 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita. The further she went down the long York straight, the stronger she looked – just as she’d done at the Curragh.

Found was an honorable second, especially considering her disadvantages in this spot. As a four-year-old, she was conceding 10 pounds to a classic-winning stablemate. And just as significant, Found was also conceding a recency edge to Seventh Heaven. Just coming off her two-month summer holiday, Found wasn’t originally supposed to return to action here. The plan was for her to defend her title in the Royal Whip (G3) at the Curragh. But a shuffling of the Coolmore chessboard, in which US Army Ranger was rerouted from the Juddmonte International to the Royal Whip, had the domino effect of moving Found to the Yorkshire Oaks.

Traveling well at every stage (arguably better than Seventh Heaven), Found was overpowered by her late. Still, Found edged away from third-placer Queen’s Trust, who’d just been a surprisingly good second to Minding in the Nassau (G1). And Found was giving her 10 pounds too. O’Brien was rightly happy with Found. Irish Champions weekend, and another crack at the Arc, are on tap. Surely a Breeders’ Cup appearance beckons too for the Turf queen.


Five-furlong specialist Mecca’s Angel was at her brilliant best when repeating in the Nunthorpe (G1), but she won’t take up the “Win and You’re In” offer for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Requiring at least a bit of give in the ground, she’s headed to the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day, with a possible swan song over six furlongs in the British Champions Sprint (G1).

Nevertheless, the Nunthorpe produced a serious Breeders’ Cup operator in runner-up Limato, who has the option of the Turf Sprint or the Mile (G1). Best known as a six- and seven-furlong performer in Europe, Limato has been dazzling at times, and his blitz of the July Cup (G1) at Newmarket emboldened connections to supplement him to the Nunthorpe. He’d never raced as short as five furlongs. Considering the fact that he was an OK fourth as the favorite in the one-mile Lockinge (G1) in his May 14 reappearance, this was a bold gamble to try the minimum trip, in a Group 1, against the best in the discipline. Limato beat the rest handily, and there’s no disgrace to defer only to Mecca’s Angel at the top of her game. In defeat, Limato underscored what a magnificent individual he is.

Trainer Henry Candy has consistently said that the Breeders’ Cup is Limato’s major international ambition this fall. Although he’d warrant respect in either race, I might prefer him to try the Mile. Partly that’s because the downhill course at Santa Anita injects another variable into the Turf Sprint, and the slightest miscue would be costly. The Mile gives him more time to adapt if, say, he’s off a beat slow. And the two-turn Mile also poses much less of a stamina question than it does over the stiffer courses in Europe – just ask Last Tycoon. (Chris McGrath’s August 22 column in the TDN draws the parallel between Limato and the sprinter-turned-1986 Breeders’ Cup Mile hero.)


Nemoralia got a confidence-boosting victory over Group 3-level older males in the City of York (G3), skipping clear as much the best. She deserved that after a troubled second to Qemah in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot, and a questionable trip to France instead of going for the more logical Falmouth (G1).

Trainer Jeremy Noseda is thinking of another Breeders’ Cup bid for last year’s fast-finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). While the firm turf brings out the best in her, Noseda is also entertaining Santa Anita’s dirt. After all, the Kentucky-bred daughter of More Than Ready was third in last fall’s Frizette (G1) in the slop. Nemoralia will probably make her final prep in the U.S. once again, with the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland in view. 


On the two-year-old front, trainer Kevin Ryan is considering a Juvenile Turf (G1) foray for Acomb (G3) upsetter Syphax. Despite being green as grass in both of his starts, he’s still a perfect two-for-two. That bodes well for the future once Syphax figures out the game. Ryan admitted that the Breeders’ Cup might not be a feasible option unless and until that happens for the May 6 foal. But he’s bred to thrive in American conditions, as a Kentucky-bred son of Arch and multiple stakes winner/Grade 2-placed Much Obliged.

The meet’s marquee juvenile winners, Blue Point in the Gimcrack (G2) and Queen Kindly (by Frankel) in the Lowther (G2), are both headed to Newmarket September 24. Blue Point will line up against Caravaggio in the Middle Park (G1), and Queen Kindly will take on unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf contender Lady Aurelia in the Cheveley Park (G1).

Needless to say, plans for the juveniles, as for their elders, will crystallize as the autumn unfolds.

Postponed photo at top courtesy of York Racecourse; Limato photo at right courtesy of Champions Series, both via Twitter.