Flightline Take All the Headlines at Breeders Cup But Should He? Europe’s Successes

The weekend’s renewal of the Breeders Cup in Keenland was with no doubt a vintage renewal. Flightline won the main event by a massive margin and all but one of the six of the seven turf races were claimed by European trained horses. All the dirt races went to the home team. Charlie Appleby from Newmarket sent over a strong team and he took three of the turf contests. Many of the races had very close exciting finishes; with the world’s best on show – it was certainly a vintage Breeders Cup Series.

Keenland Racecourse where a vintage renewal of the Breeders Cup was held

In the past the racing season always seemed to rather dwindle away, but in 1983, the racing authorities in the United States came up with a new concept of ‘Breeders Cup Day’ and this year was its 39th running of the event. For many years, the meeting was just for one day whereas now it is held over two. The Breeders Cup does not have a single home but is staged at various top American race courses every year. This year, the event was held in Keenland, the home of United States racing. The meeting has always had the attraction of big prize money and this year was no exception. The total prize fund for the fourteen Group or Grade 1 races was a massive 31 million dollars. The friendly rivalry between the United States and European trainers is always a feature of this meeting which adds a certain excitement to the proceedings.

The Keenland course is round, like pretty well all American courses, but depending on the distance of each race at Keenland, there is a possibility of three finish lines. This does matter as the straight is short wherever the finish line is, but for some races, the straight is only just over a furlong from the final turn which can make it difficult for horses who like to be held off the pace and come with a late run.

The first day was ‘juvenile’ day where all the races were for two year olds only, some on the dirt and others on the turf. For the turf races, there was a good representation of horses from Europe whereas the dirt races were pretty well exclusively for the United States trained horses. The first race was the Juvenile Turf Sprint over 5 ½ furlongs in which there were 12 runners. Five of the runners hailed from Europe, in fact all from the UK. Platinum Queen, already winner of two Group 1 races in Europe was one of the favourites from Europe trained by Richard Fahey along with Persian Force trained by Richard Hannon. The favourite was USA trained Love Reigns from Wesley Ward’s stable. The winner was another trained in the UK; the Charlie Appleby trained Mischief Magic ridden by William Buick. William was stuck rather on the rail, but just as he needed, spaces, although small, did open up and he was able to take the race by a length. Second was Dramatised, again trained in the UK by Karl Burke who was there abouts for the whole race ridden by Ryan Moore. The third home was US trained Private Creed for Steve Asmussen, just a neck behind the second.

The second race was the Netjet Juvenile Fillies Stakes over 1 mile ½ a furlong on the dirt track. There were 13 runners and none from Europe. Brad Cox had the favourite with Chop Chop, but the filly failed to keep expectations and came last. The winner was Winder Wheel from Mark Casse and ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, winning by 3 lengths having waited near the rear of the field for a late run. The second was Leave No Trace from Phillip Serpe and ridden by Jose Lezcarno with the third from Chad Brown’s stable – Raging Sea ridden by Flavien Pratt.

Ryan Moore pilots three to victory at the meeting

The next was The Fillies Mile on the turf, where again there were runners from Europe, including the much touted Mediate from Aidan O’Brien. She was sent off favourite with Ryan Moore on board. We of little faith, did not think that the filly would overcome the opposition. How wrong we were, the filly, always nearer the back of the field than front, came through on the inside rail with astonishing speed to rout the others by winning by 2 ½ lengths. Coming into the short straight in 9th place, the filly just took off to win. With an electrifying finish like that, the filly will be a classic winner next year with no problems! Second was from the US – Pleasant Passage trained by Claude McGaughey III and ridden by Irad Ortiz. Third was Cairo Consort trained in Canada by Nathan Squires.

The next race was for colts and geldings only over 1 mile ½ furlong on the dirt – The Fanfuel Juvenile.  There were ten runners, all of whom are trained in the US. The Bob Baffert trained Cave Rock was sent off favourite ridden by Juan Hernandez who was always near the front and when asked, didn’t have the legs to win and was overhauled by Forte in the final 100 yards. Forte won ridden by Irad Ortez and trained by Todd Pletcher and won by a margin of 1 ½ lengths. The third home was another trained by Bob Baffert – National Treasure ridden by John Velazquez; 2 ¼ lengths behind the second.

Aiden O’Brien trains three Winners

The final race for the first day was The Juvenile Breeders Cup Turf over 1 mile. There were 14 runners of which just two hailed from Europe. Charlie Appleby sent out Silver Knott – winner of the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket on his last outing and Aidan O’Brien sent out Victoria Road – winner of a Group 3 race in France on his last outing. Silver Knott was sent of warm favourite. William Buick held Silver Knott in the rear for most of the race and when he came to win, Buick did not have the same luck in his previous race, and he got rather boxed in. Ryan Moore however did stay out of trouble and in mid field. Once asked, Victoria Road went on to take the lead, but Silver Knott finally extricated himself from the pack and came up fast through a very narrow gap and just finished a ‘flared nostril’ behind the O’Brien trained colt. Clearly, Victoria Road is a tough horse, and even if the race was a tad longer, we don’t think that Buick would have won. He seemed to have the race in his grasp just 20 yards from the finish, but the winner came back, just to take the win. The third home was Nagirroc trained by Graham Motion and ridden by Manuel Franko.

The second day of the meeting was for older horses. The weather had turned very windy overnight and there were always the chance of heavy downpours of rain on a very autumnal day. The first was the Breeders Cup Sprint for mares and fillies only over 7 furlongs on the dirt. There were no European raiders. The favourite, Goodnight won by 2 ½ lengths trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Irad Ortez. The second home was Echo Zulu trained by Steve Asmussen and third was Wicked Halo, also trained by Asmussen.

The Second Day

The second was a 5 ½ furlong sprint on the turf, The Breeders Cup Sprint where there were plenty of European trained horses among the 14 runners. Charlie Appleby had two, Creative Force and Naval Crown – both having been successful in European sprint races this season. Wesley Ward ran Golden Pal who was unbeaten in his last two races. Another European contender was Highfield Princess, winner of her last three runs, all Group 1 races in Ireland, England and France. She is trained by John Quinn and ridden by Jason Hart, the filly’s usual rider. There were another three UK raiders. At the off, Golden Pal, who had been talked up heavily by Wesley Ward, missed the break completely, rather in the same as he did at Royal Ascot earlier this year, and his chance was gone. In a blistering paced race with two tight bends, the European horses found the going tough with Highland Princess unable to keep her speed up the whole time and to get a position in the race she wanted. The Brad Cox trained Caravel ridden by Tyler Gaffalione took the early lead and sent onto win. Emaraaty Ana trained by Kevin Ryan and rather discounted before the off came off the second bend and ran brilliantly up the inside with Ryan Moore on board, just missed out and came second.  Creative Force was third.

Eleven horses lined up for the next – The Big Ass Breeders Cup Mile on the dirt. There were none from Europe in this. Cody’s Wish was considered the best having won his last three runs, all pattern wins including a Grade 1 last time out. He is trained by Bill Mott and was ridden by Junior Alvarado. Steven Asmussen had Gunit running who was also thought to be pretty decent having won his last two races, one of which was over 7 furlongs at this track last time out. Again, this was a fast run race from pillar to post in which Cody’s Wish took the honours coming round the outside from the rear of the field to win by a short head. The story behind this horse is one of a Hollywood tear jerker. The horse was rather difficult as a youngster but found an astonishing kindred spirit in a small boy Cody, after whom the horse was named., Cody, who is severely disabled and wheel chair bound; and as a young horse, Cody’s Wish and the child met and an instant bond was struck between the two. Cody’s Wish never won a race until the small boy went to watch him run. Since then, the horse has never lost a race, including this. Cyberknife was second trained by Brad Cox and Slow Down Andy was third.

Tuesday wins again for O’Brien

The Makers Mark Breeders Cup fillies and mares Turf had 12 runners and again plenty of European interest. Aidan O’Brien had two in the line up including Tuesday and Toy with John and Thady Gosden lining up Nashwa – all top class proven fillies this term. InItalian trained by Chad Brown was likely to provide the Europeans with a fight as she had won both of her last races over a mile at Grade 1 level and the last time out won on this track. Five of the runners were from Europe while Chad Brown also had three in the race. Nashwa was sent off favourite with Hollie Doyle riding. This was a very open race and at the off, InItalian set off at a rude pace with the horse leading the field and into the final straight when horses behind were bunched with little room. Nashwa really lost the race in the early stages. Ryan Moore on Tuesday and InItalian were in the front with Tuesday gobbling up the ground with every stride. As the line came, Tuesday just got the better of the long time leader and won by half a length. This was the first time that Aidan O’Brien won this particular race. The Chad Brown filly ridden by Joel Rosario was second and third was a Canadian outsider – Lady Spreightspeare trained by Roger Attfield and ridden by Luis Saez. Tuesday won the race in the fastest time ever for the Breeders Cup for Fillies and Mares.

The next on the card was the Qatar Sprint on the dirt over 6 furlongs. Like all the other dirt races, the Europeans shyed away from the contest. There were 11 runners. Before the off, the race looked like it would be contested by either Jackie’s Warrior from Steve Asmussen or Elite Power from William Mott. Both horses have won multiple times this season. In another fast run race, Elite Power under Irad Ortez was more than half way down in the field with Jackie’s Warrior contesting the front with CZ Rocket. As the front two fought it out, Elite Power gradually picked up down the centre of the track and came through to win. CZ Rocket just got the better of Jackie’s Warrior to come second and the Asmussen trained horse was third – not to the trainer’s delight looking at hs face after the race! CZ Rocket is trained by Peter Miller ridden by Flavien Prat.

Charlie Appleby wins three with nine wins at Breeders Cup meetings all told

Six of the 14 runners in the Breeders Cup Mile on the turf were from Europe, including the only French trained horse – Malavath from Francis Gaffard. Charlie Appleby had this year’s classic winning Modern Games with William Buick on board who was thought to be the one they all had to beat. Aidan O’Brien ran Order of Australia and Ralph Beckett ran Kinross – winner of his last three runs all of which were Group 1 or Group 2. He was ridden by Frankie Dettori, probably the best chance for the jockey to have a win. Of the US trained runners, Todd Pletcher sent out Annapolis – winner of his last two runs. Another, who has never been out of the first two this year, was Regal Glory, trained by Chad Brown. This was another open race but Appleby has been seriously bullish about Modern Games for some time. The horse left the stalls having not jumped at all well and jockey Buick needed to catch up which he did with ease. William Buick never worried about where he was and let the horse find a decent rhythm. In the straight, Buick sent Modern Games on his way and as he ate up the ground, it was clear he would win. The second home was a surprise as Shirl’s Speighttook the honours trained in Canada by Roger Attfield and ridden by Luis Saez. Kinross, ran a great race on ground he possibly didn’t particularly relish. His last two runs were on soft or heavy ground – so to come third on firm ground was a real accolade for the horse ridden buy Frankie Dettori.

Eight lined up for the Breeders Cup Distaff on dirt, where again there were no runners from Europe to tackle the 1 mile 1 furlong track. Todd Pletcher had two including Nest – winner of her last three runs and Steve Asmussen had two including Malathaat – never out of the first two all season in five runs. At the off, Society took the lead along with Nest and Search Results until the straight when Blue Stripe, who was also near the front took off along with Malathaat who came with a run on the outside. As the line came closer, Society fell away with Nest holding his own and Clairiere who dwelt at the start but came up the inner rail. At the line Malathaat took the win running on strongly with Blue Stripe in second and Clairiere in third with Nest coming fourth. The winner is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Valazquez and won by a nose. The second is trained by Marcelo Polanco and ridden by Hector Berrios and third trained by Steve Asmussen.

James Doyle wins his first Breeders Cup race

The final two races were both sponsored by Longines and were the most valuable races of the whole meeting. The first was the Breeders Cup Classic on the turf where again the Europeans queued up to take the glory.  There were 13 runners of which Aidan O’Brien provided two – Broome and Stone Age – both decent contenders. Charlie Appleby also had two – Nations Pride – winner of his last two runs, both in the USA; and Rebel’s Romance – winner of his last four runs of which the last two were Group 1 races in Germany. The Gosden team also sent over Mishriff who has won Group 1 races throughout the world in his illustrious career. Of the USA runners, William Mott ran War Like Goddess – a Grade 1 winning mare her last time out. Graham Motion lined up Bye ByeMelvin, also a decent winner this term. However, before the off, it was thought that one of the European runners would take this and probably the places as well. As the gates opened, several horses were slowly away which allowed Bye Bye Melvin and Stone Age to run in the lead for most of the race. Nations Pride pulled very hard throughout and blew what chance he may have had away. Masterpiece, also prominent throughout with the other American trained horses were determined to make it a test of stamina. As the line came closer, Rebel’s Romance ridden by James Doyle came from behind with a strong run on the outside of the final bend – and went onto win. Stone Age, who was always there abouts was second with Ryan Moore on board and the best of the US trained horses, War Like Goddess was third trained by Bill Mott.

Is Flightline the best in the world after such an emphatic win?

The final race on the card The Breeders Cup Classic was the most valuable at 2.5 million dollars to the winner. Run on the dirt, the 1 mile 2 furlong race attracted just 8 runners with none from Europe. Flightline, trained by John Sadler was thought to be unbeatable. The 4 year old colt was unbeaten – winning five races, the last three all at Grade 1 level. He is considered to be the top rated horse in the world this year. Both Epicenter who has not been out of the first two in his career, trained by Steve Asmussen; and Life Is Good – winner of his last four races and trained by Todd Pletcher, were certainly not out of it. In fact, this really was a very open race, despite there being only a few runners. In the race, Flightline and Life Is Good were always in the lead with Life Is Good about 2 lengths ahead of Fightline. When they had completed the turn into the straight, Flightline, with Flavien Prat on board, as expected took off and left the rest in his dust winning by 9 lengths. In all his races thus far, Flightline has won each by a huge margin making him, some would say, the best they have seen since Secretariat. Life Is Good fell away and came in down the field while Olympiad took second place with Junior Alvarado in the saddle. The third home was the Bob Baffert trained Taiba.

Many think that Flightline is the best they have ever seen. However he has only won six races and is unbeaten, four of which at Grade level. True, the horse has won all his starts by a massive margin, his 9 length win here being the smallest win margin he has experienced. Does this make him the best – we do not necessarily think so; Baaeed has won ten races in his career, several of which were Group 1 contests for example. There is no doubt that Flightline is a brilliant racehorse, and is a big horse to boot, but to claim him as being the best ever, he needs to stay on training for another season to prove his credentials for such an accolade?

Images courtesy Margaux Farms, USA Media. Twitter, Keenland raccourse

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