Can Golden Horn end the shut-out of Arc winners in the Breeders' Cup?
On paper, Golden Horn is strictly the one to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). The John Gosden trainee flaunts the highest standard of form, having accounted for the Epsom Derby (G1), Eclipse (G1), Irish Champion (G1), and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), and his tactical speed only adds to his appeal.
But for anyone probing for a chink in the champion’s armor, it’s the glaring stat about Arc winners in the Breeders’ Cup: every single one has lost. As in 0-for-11.
Should this be taken as a virtual death knell for the favorite? Not exactly.
For starters, that Arc stat is inflated if you include the five former winners who turned up in the Breeders’ Cup the year after their heroics at Longchamp. This is slightly misleading, for they’re no longer entering in peak form. On the contrary, they’re on the downside of the parabola, and taking a crack from a “Why not?” mindset.
The very first case in point is All Along, the 1983 Arc heroine and U.S. Horse of the Year, who came into the inaugural Breeders’ Cup in 1984 below her best form of old. Third and fourth in her respective title defenses in the Arc and Rothmans International (G1), she still came up only a neck short of Lashkari in the Turf.
Others in this category include 1994 Arc victor Carnegie, sixth in the 1995 Arc before a third in the Turf; 1999 Arc star Montjeu, fourth in the 2000 Arc en route to his seventh in the Turf; 2004 Arc winner Bago, third in the 2005 Arc and fourth in the Turf; and his successor Hurricane Run, a close third as the defending champ in the 2006 Arc who concluded his career with a sixth in the Turf.
The truly meaningful statistic involves horses coming off Arc victories, and here we have two near-misses from six attempts.
The first to try the quick double was Dancing Brave (1986). The Juddmonte beast looked invincible after a string of Group 1 successes culminating in an all-star Arc. But his spectacular flop in the Turf – a dull fourth at Santa Anita – underscored how difficult it can be to maintain that form at season’s end, especially on the other side of the globe.
One year later, Trempolino showed that it was quite possible to achieve the Arc/Breeders’ Cup double. In many runnings of the Turf, his bold rally would have been sufficient. At Hollywood Park in 1987, however, he ran into a veteran in his prime, Theatrical, ridden by a cagey Pat Day, who had held a little something in reserve. Trempolino’s near-miss hardly counts as a strike against the Arc.
The next two reigning Arc winners to try the Turf, Saumarez (1990) and Subotica (1992), each wound up fifth. Neither was a memorable addition to the Arc annals, and as a result, you could argue that neither was terribly likely to duplicate the feat in different circumstances.
Fast forward to 2001, when Arc romper Sakhee audaciously decided to try his luck on Belmont’s dirt in the Classic. How many of us thought he had it in his grasp, only to see the implacable face of Tiznow come again? Like Trempolino, Sakhee reminded us that an Arc winner can go very close in the Breeders’ Cup.
Since then, just one current Arc winner has contested the Breeders’ Cup, Dylan Thomas in 2007. The record indicates that he was just fifth in the Turf. But given his tale of woe in the Monmouth bog, with mud-spattered jockey Johnny Murtagh plaintively saying it wasn’t turf racing, it’s difficult to take the result at face value. Perhaps Dylan Thomas wouldn’t have beaten horse-for-the-course English Channel in any event, but the nearly nine-length margin of defeat was surely ground-enhanced.
We nearly had another Arc winner compete in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup, one who might already have defied this stat. Unfortunately, Workforce was scratched from the Turf, and in his absence, the spoils went to the forgettable Dangerous Midge.
Like Workforce, Golden Horn had also captured the Derby. If you’re looking for a positive stat, there it is: reigning Epsom Derby heroes are perfect in the Turf – well, just the one who tried it.
The only Epsom Derby winner to tackle the Turf in the same season was High Chaparral, who easily won in 2002. And he repeated in 2003, albeit by way of dead-heat with Johar. (Quest for Fame, the 1990 Derby winner, was twice third in the Turf as an older horse.)
By peering more closely into the horses behind those Arc stats, we can see how they may apply to Golden Horn. He’s far better than Saumarez and Subotica, and he won’t condescend to face atrocious conditions like Dylan Thomas. On the other hand, he’s been at his peak for much longer than the improving Trempolino was at this time in 1987, and he’s not as fresh as Sakhee, whose 2001 season only started in July.
The nearest parallel may be with Dancing Brave, who also kept delivering stellar efforts over a long campaign, and tacked on the Breeders’ Cup as an optional extra. But before thinking that the same fate is in store for Golden Horn, remember that Gosden won’t hesitate to scrap the whole thing if there’s any doubt – unlike Dancing Brave’s trainer, Guy Harwood. The failure of one doesn’t necessarily imply the failure of the other.
To sum up: don’t get put off by stats without considering what they actually reflect, and how well that fits, or doesn’t fit, the case at hand.
Golden Horn photo courtesy of Darley Stallions via Twitter.