The annual Ballydoyle exodus to the Breeders' Cup takes place this weekend and Tony Keenan has had a look at main European players for the big meeting at Del Mar...
"Highland Reel has been one of the victims of a wet summer but as a consequence he comes her fresh and there was plenty to like about his third place behind Cracksman in the Champion Stakes where charting a wide course."
I have mixed feelings on the Breeders' Cup; the turf races are fascinating, it is on a great time for TV viewing but the dirt events are of little interest as like most Irish and UK-based punters my knowledge of the form is limited at best. Unless there is a genuine superstar of the sand like Zenyatta running I'm as likely to be channel-surfing as following the action!
Two angles into the meeting are to look at the French-trained runners along with those trained by Aidan O'Brien.
The problem with the former in 2017 is that French racing in general is having a down year. On Arc day, there wasn't a single home-trained Group 1 winner while only two of the Timeform's top 20 older horses are trained in France with double that number among the top 20 three-year-olds. Incidentally, none of those six horses are engaged this weekend.
O'Brien will have a typically strong team going to Del Mar but it is worth pointing out that his record at the Breeders' Cup is not as good as it is at home. From 111 runners at this meeting, he has 11 winners for a strikerate of 11.1% with his place return being 29.7%. In domestic Group 1s (those in Ireland and the UK) his record is 135 winners from 812 runners in the last decade for a strikerate of 16.6% and a place return of 36.2%.
The Breeders' Cup matters to Coolmore, far more than to most European breeding operations, and O'Brien seems to have carte blanche to run as many as he can at the meeting in the hope of getting a winner even when a horse may be less than ideally suited by the race. There isn't the same selectivity he might have at home and there is an end-of-season feel to the whole endeavour; horses are having their last run of the year and perhaps their career so there is no reason not to take their chance. Many will have had a long campaign and it becomes difficult to predict which might be over the top so it makes sense to thread carefully.
One final thing to keep in mind for the meeting is that punters have the option of using the US Tote along with the Exchange and that can create some betting angles with some - but not all - of the European runners. As to the individual races, the two events that stand out at this point are the Filly & Mare Turf and the Turf itself.
Looking at the main three UK and Irish-trained fillies in this nine-furlong Group 1, official ratings and time-figures suggest there is little between Rhododendron, Queen's Trust and Nezwaah at their respective bests. Rhododendron might want a stiffer test while Queen's Trust is hard to win with so perhaps Nezwaah is the value.
She was particularly good in the Pretty Polly at the Curragh and while the form is nothing to get excited about, Rain Goddess is a reasonable yardstick and she beat her well while both overall time and sectionals were decent. Things haven't gone right since, not getting her favoured fast ground in two runs, the trip also too far in the Yorkshire Oaks while the breaks between her race haven't been ideal. She does come here fresh now however and is worth chancing for a bounce-back effort at around [21.0].
The Turf looks between the big two of Ulysses and Highland Reel and preference is for the latter. Ulysses is a top-class horse, likely behind only Enable and Cracksman among this season's middle-distance horses, but this trip is slightly further than he ideally wants. Highland Reel is the opposite; while effective over 10 furlongs, he is at his best over a mile and a half.
He has been one of the victims of a wet summer, missing possible targets like the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes, but as a consequence he comes her fresh and there was plenty to like about his third place behind Cracksman in the Champion Stakes where charting a wide course. His record with firm in the going is well documented by now and he looks a massive player.