Donn McClean Previews The European Chances At The Breeders Cup

14 min

It’s not easy for the Europeans, this Breeders’ Cup.

You work hard in Europe all year, then you get on a plane and you try to beat the Americans in their own backyard.

It’s not just in their own backyard either. It’s at their own game. Tight track, outriders, stall bells, razzamatazz. And if you are running on dirt, alien surface.

History or Bust for Enable

Best European chance on Saturday? The markets say Enable. The 2018 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, the 2017 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner.

Arc winners have a terrible record in the Breeders’ Cup. The 2016 Arc winner Found could finish only third behind her stable companion Highland Reel in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf. And Found had beaten the 2015 Arc winner Golden Horn in the 2015 Turf.

The 2007 Arc winner Dylan Thomas was well beaten in the Turf on unsuitably soft ground. The 2001 Arc winner Sakhee was just beaten by Tiznow in the Classic. The 1992 Arc winner Subotica could only finish fifth in the Turf. The 1990 Arc winner Saumarez finished fifth in the Turf. The 1987 Arc winner Trempolino finished second to Theatrical in the Turf. Even the 1986 Arc winner Dancing Brave, one of the best Arc winners ever, could finish only fourth in the Turf.

But Enable is an unusual Arc winner.

Not just because she was winning the Arc for the second time when she won it last month, but also because she was racing for just the second time this season that day. That’s massive in the context of a Breeders’ Cup challenge.

Enable is according to the markets the best chance of a European victory in Churchill Downs.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf may not have been John Gosden’s filly’s primary goal at the start of this season, but happenstance has intervened. A setback in the spring meant that she didn’t make her seasonal debut until September. That was a nice step into the season, a pillar-to-post Group 3 win at Kempton. Then another slight setback meant that she was short of her peak at Longchamp. She could improve for that run.

She will be racing for just the third time this season on Saturday night.


Very fast ground would have been a concern, but the rain in Kentucky has alleviated that worry. Tight track maybe. Inside draw? But Talismanic won the Turf from stall one at Del Mar last year, and St Nicholas Abbey won it from stall one in 2011, the last time the race was run at Churchill Downs.

There is also the Arc de Triomphe factor.

It may well be that her Arc win will bring her forward, but there is also a chance that it will set her back. She had a hard race.

Even though she is an unusual Arc winner, a lightly-raced Arc winner. At odds-on, you have to have the poor record of Arc winners at least in the back of your mind.

The opposition?

Magical is interesting. Aidan O’Brien’s filly has over five lengths to find on Enable on their running in the Arc, but Magical was drawn very wide that day, 16 of 19, whereas Enable was drawn in stall six and had the perfect run of the race.

As well as that, that was Magical’s first attempt at a mile and a half.

Magical (pictured left) was very impressive last time out at Ascot.

She stepped forward from that last time on Champions Day at Ascot, when she was impressive in winning the Fillies & Mares Stakes. She picked up nicely at the two-furlong marker that day, and she stayed on strongly to beat Coronet by a length, with Lah Ti Dar another three parts of a length back in third.

Aidan O’Brien’s filly will probably have to step up on that run if she is going to beat Enable and win a Breeders’ Cup Turf, but that was just her second run over a mile and a half. She has plenty of scope for progression over the trip.

She is a high-class filly. She won the Debutante Stakes last year and she was only just beaten by her stable companion Happily in the Moyglare.

She would have been a big player in the Oaks this year had she got there, and she was an impressive winner of a Group 2 race at The Curragh on Irish Oaks weekend on her comeback run. And she ran better than her finishing position in fourth place suggests in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown in September.

A daughter of Galileo out of the Pivotal mare Halfway To Heaven, who won the Irish 1000 Guineas and the Nassau Stakes and the Sun Chariot Stakes, she has class and she has pace and she is progressive and she stays a mile and a half well. She is trained by Aidan O’Brien, who has fielded four of the last seven winners of the Turf. She could be the one who will put it up to Enable.

An Experienced Head dares to Polydream

You would think that the Europeans would do well in the Mile, and they do, on the face of it.

Four of the last 10 renewals have been won by a European-trained horse. However, all four were French-trained and three of them were Goldikova.

You have to go back to the John Oxx-trained Ridgewood Pearl in 1995 to find the last Irish-trained winner of the Mile, and you have to go back to Barathea in 1994 to find the last British-trained one. The only British-trained one. John Gosden was based in California when he won the inaugural renewal in 1984 with Royal Heroine.

Polydream is a worthy favourite for the Mile.

It would be surprising if the Europeans didn’t win it this year though.

Polydream is a worthy favourite. She was an impressive winner of the Prix Maurice de Gheest, she was unlucky in the Prix de la Foret last time, and she represents the three-in-a-row Goldikova team, Freddy Head and the Wertheimer brothers. Freddy Head won it twice as a rider too on Miesque in the 1980s. He knows what is required.

Aidan O’Brien fields a strong team, Gustav Klimt, Happily and I Can Fly, with Ryan Moore on Gustav Klimt, who could have the requisite tactical speed. Expert Eye is a player too.

A Lions Roar or a Mendelssohn Masterpiece?

It’s going to be tough for the Europeans in the Classic. The 1993 hero Arcangues remains the only European-trained horse to win the Classic on dirt in the history of the race.

It’s a big ask for Roaring Lion, who will be racing on dirt for the first time.

John Gosden’s colt has had an unbelievable season, a QEII to go with his Eclipse and Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes. But he has been on the go since the Craven Stakes in April, he has danced every dance. It would be some achievement if he were to go and win a Breeders’ Cup Classic on the back of the season he has had, on his dirt debut.

Can Roaring Lion translate European form across to the Atlantic on Saturday night?

Mendelssohn’s preparation has been geared towards the Classic.

Aidan O’Brien’s horse won the Juvenile Turf at Del Mar last season, and he won the UAE Derby on dirt at Meydan in March. He was well beaten in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in May, but everything went wrong that day. He shipped a bad bump at the start, and he couldn’t recover on the sloppy ground. His last three runs have been on dirt in America, and he has improved with each of them. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Best of the Americans in the race?

Maybe West Coast, who finished third behind Gun Runner in the Classic last year as a three-year-old, and second to him in the Pegasus World Cup in January, and who has run just once since he was beaten by Thunder Snow in the Dubai World Cup in March. Bob Baffert’s horse has 2lb and two and a quarter lengths to find with Accelerate on that run at Santa Anita in September, but there is every chance that he could find that type of improvement.

Donn joined Tom Stanley on The Matchbook Betting Podcast this past Friday morning to chat through the above three races. If you haven’t already subscribed, search for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’ on your preferred podcasting app.