Found tops Breeders’ Cup candidates engaged on Champions Day
The Aidan O’Brien filly trod the same path last fall, finishing a luckless ninth in Paris and second in the Champion before her historic victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). With her tough constitution, Found could participate in all three showpieces again this autumn.
The hot favorite in the Champion is the French colt Almanzor, who just denied Found in the September 10 Irish Champion (G1). That would have made him a top contender in the Arc, but trainer Jean-Claude Rouget regards him as a 1 1/4-mile aficionado, and stamina doubts prevented him from trying 1 1/2 miles at Chantilly. While Found’s success in the Arc boosted the form, the strongly run race (and final time of 2:23.61) suggest that Rouget was right to pass.
Defending champion Fascinating Rock and last year’s third as the favorite, Jack Hobbs, make it a class reunion from the 2015 Champion. Fascinating Rock, who defeated Found in the May 22 Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1), was under Arc consideration himself. Trainer Dermot Weld believed he needed a little more time to peak, however, so he awaited this title defense. The John Gosden-trained Jack Hobbs has been seen only once in the past year, when he was pulled up in the April 30 Jockey Club (G2) with a pelvic stress fracture.
As of Monday’s entry stage, a grand total of 19 remains engaged in the Champion. One Foot in Heaven, a son of 2006 Champion heroine Pride, has the look of a dark horse after his sneaky sixth in the Arc. Sir Michael Stoute’s highly regarded Midterm, an early Epsom Derby (G1) fancy who was shelved by injury, is intriguing off a solid second in his Prix Niel (G2) comeback. He would have been even more intriguing had Niel winner, Makahiki, not run so abysmally in the Arc. My Dream Boat, who mugged Found in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at the Royal meeting, and Eclipse (G1) winner Hawkbill have yet to back up those performances.
O’Brien is responsible for four in addition to Found, but final plans for his quintet are pending. Arc runner-up Highland Reel isn’t expected to turn up at Ascot, with O’Brien reportedly preferring to wait for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Epsom Derby runner-up US Army Ranger and Secretariat (G1) runner-up Long Island Sound (who since scraped home in the Diamond [G3]) are his three-year-old colts in the mix.
O’Brien’s six-time Group 1 star Minding, third in the Irish Champion to Almanzor and Found, might get a rematch in Ascot’s Champion. But the sophomore filly has two Champions Day alternatives in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at a mile and the British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) at 1 1/2 miles. Found has an entry in the latter race as well, but the betting market reinforces the idea that the Champion is her target.
As an indication of the Ballydoyle riches, O’Brien already has the antepost favorite for the Fillies & Mares, Seventh Heaven, who’s been mentioned as a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). The winner of the Irish Oaks (G1) two starts ago, Seventh Heaven added the “Win and You’re In” Yorkshire Oaks (G1), beating Found, in her latest. Rounding out the O’Brien possibles are Park Hill (G2) near-misser Pretty Perfect and Even Song, who earned her signature win in the Ribblesdale (G2) over this same trip during Royal Ascot.
Their prominent rivals include Weld’s Zhukova, who beat US Army Ranger in the Enterprise (G3) on Irish Champions Day; last year’s runner-up Journey; Queen’s Trust, who’s been chasing Minding and Seventh Heaven; Endless Time, exiting a second to Arc runner Left Hand in the Prix Vermeille (G1); and Bocca Baciata, seeking to rebound from a clunker behind Speedy Boarding in the Prix Jean Romanet (G1). Speedy Boarding, who posted a career-high in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day, will probably call it a career instead of running back on short rest. Yet connections kept her in on Monday.
Reigning Fillies & Mares champion Simple Verse, who returned to top form in the Park Hill, may be more inclined to try males in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2). The two-mile trip may suit her better these days, and she’ll get a three-pound weight break. The downside is that she’ll likely run smack into Ascot Gold Cup (G1) hero Order of St George, a commendable third going shorter in the Arc to round out O’Brien’s historic trifecta. Sheikhzayedroad, who just got up in the Doncaster Cup (G2); Quest for More, who recovered from his Doncaster Cup heartbreak to win the Prix du Cadran (G1); Prix Kergorlay (G2) scorer Nearly Caught; Forgotten Rules, the 2014 Long Distance Cup winner; 2015 Ascot Gold Cup victor Trip to Paris, yet to return to that level since his injury; the idiosyncratic Pallasator; and the talented but fragile Litigant add to the depth of a fascinating renewal.
Breeders’ Cup candidate Limato, still contemplating the merits of the Turf Sprint (G1) versus the Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, was surprisingly left in the British Champions Sprint (G1).
Considering his history of running well fresh, few would have thought he’d come right back 13 days after his smashing win in the Prix de la Foret (G1) on Arc Day. Trainer Henry Candy told Britain’s Press Association Monday that Limato is more robust than he used to be. And as always, the ground is the overriding concern. Anything softer than good, and Limato stays home.
Still, the very fact that Limato could pop up on Champions Day makes me fear that connections are wavering about the Breeders’ Cup. If the Ascot ground is fine, and he runs, what are the chances he’d make it three races in a month’s time at Santa Anita? The forecast calls for rain, so we’ll have to rely on the British weather to come through.
Even without Limato, the six-furlong dash is coming up strong. Stablemate Twilight Son (who prefers softer conditions), last year’s runner-up in this race, landed the course-and-distance Diamond Jubilee (G1) during the Royal meeting. Three-year-old filly Quiet Reflection can boast the same proficiency thanks to the Commonwealth Cup (G1), and she defeated The Tin Man in the Haydock Sprint Cup (G1) last out. Another top threat proven with track-and-trip form is once-beaten Shalaa, who missed most of the year with an injury, but resumed victorious in the Bengough (G3) here.
Five-furlong supremo Mecca’s Angel, a close third in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1), could try to carry her speed over six in her swan song. O’Brien’s Abbaye runner-up, Washington DC, is under consideration for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Brando, previously beaten by Mecca’s Angel over five, recently defied top weight of 136 pounds in the Ayr Gold Cup and may enjoy the extra furlong.
The Queen Elizabeth II down the straight mile is a veritable summit among the leading three-year-old milers still in training: Godolphin’s progressive Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) winner Ribchester; 2000 Guineas (G1) and St James’s Palace (G1) victor Galileo Gold, aiming to prove his flop in the Marois was a blip on the radar; and Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) star Awtaad, who has scores to settle with both before retiring to stud. Seeking to crash the establishment is upwardly mobile Hathal.
Minding would add another dimension if she opts for this spot, and the filly who upset her in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1), Jet Setting, was supplemented to furnish a further storyline.
The QEII’s Breeders’ Cup relevance is to be determined. O’Brien has three others involved besides Minding – three-time Group 1 vixen Alice Springs, who’s definitely bound for the Mile at Santa Anita but uncertain to run Saturday; last year’s Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Hit It a Bomb; and veteran Cougar Mountain. The David Simcock-trained Lightning Spear is arguably best of the older brigade. Third to Tepin (and the newly retired Belardo) in the Queen Anne (G1) at this track and trip, Lightning Spear comes off a breakthrough in Goodwood’s Celebration Mile (G2).
Final declarations come on Thursday.
Found photo by Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com
Seventh Heaven photo courtesy of Coolmore via Twitter
Limato photo courtesy of Racing UK via Twitter