Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake's Big Race Verdict: Auguste Rodin will be tough to beat in Breeders' Cup Turf

Betfair Ambassador Kevin Blake
Kevin Blakes brings us his 1-2-3 verdict on the Breeders' Cup Turf

We're off to Santa Anita for Kevin Balke's Big Race Verdict this week, as our man takes a detailed look at the Breeders' Cup Turf in which European raiders have a fantastic record...

  • Breeders' Cup Turf gets Kev's Big Race Verdict treatment

  • Japanese raider can hit the frame from plum draw

  • Auguste Rodin fancied to coninute excellent European record


The Breeders' Cup is here! Always one of the highlights of the international racing calendar, it can be relied on to attract an array of European-trained contenders which always heightens domestic interest in the meeting.

There are sure to be many highlights over the two days, but the race I've chosen to focus on is the race that has seen more European success than any other, the Breeders' Cup Turf (21:50).

The Europeans have won 14.5 of the last 20 renewals of it (the half coming courtesy of a dead-heat in 2003) and looking at Saturday's field it will be a surprise if they don't win it again. But with which one?

Wide draw not a huge disadvantage

Before we go any further, it makes sense to have a look at the broader aspects of the race so that we all know what is being faced before hammering down the runners.

The mile-and-a-half start is an unusual one at Santa Anita with it starting on a separate section of the track from the main circuit as can be seen in the below image.

SantaAnitaMap.JPG

This somewhat lessens the negativity of a wide draw as the first turn the field meets isn't as tight as the main turf track turn and it gives those drawn wide a little bit more time to find a slot.

Mind, the differing contours of this track to the norm plays second fiddle to the main impact of the different track which is the topography of it. One will often hear this track extension being referred to as the hillside course and the reason for this is that the extension represents a downhill run for the runners, which is as unusual test in America racing.

If Google Earth is to be believed the track drops approximately eight meters from the mile-and-a-half start to the junction with the main track.

If you're struggling to picture it, have a look back at the last Breeders' Cup Turf to be held at Santa Anita in 2019.


Ballet could show his nifty feet from the get-go

With the stage now set, we can move onto how the race might pan out in those crucial downhill opening furlongs.

The likely setup of the race has been changed with the scratching of Get Smokin who appealed as being the bunny, a pace pusher that seemed likely to checkout of the race when things got serious. Without him, Balladeer (12) looks the likeliest of the domestic runners to want to push the pace.

Though, he has pulled a wide draw in 12 and it is interesting to note that he shied away from the dirt track crossing in the early stages of his latest start at this track and ran very wide on the turn as a result. If he is to have a chance at getting to the lead here, he won't want to repeat those antics.

If Balladeer isn't able to get to the front, the Ballydoyle team are likely to want to try and exert some control over the run of the race to maximise the chances of their main hope Auguste Rodin (5).

Bolshoi Ballet (4) has performed pace making duties before and could well push forward from stall four. He could well be an ideal candidate for the job, as he is no joke in form terms and looked better than ever in winning the Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga last time, so the field is unlikely to disrespect him by letting him go.

Indeed, one only has to look back to the 2016 renewal of this race at this track for a reminder of how dangerous it is to ignore a talented Ballydoyle second string as that year saw Seamie Heffernan capitalise on being allowed to set soft fractions in front to run out the authoritative winner on Highland Reel.

The Ballydoyle outsider Broome (7) is another possible pace pusher in first-time blinkers, but whether the strong stayer has enough pace to do that job in a race like this is open to question.

Mostahdaf (9) made all to win the Juddmonte International at York last time, but that was a four-runner tactical affair in which he had the element of surprise in his bag. His connections don't seem likely to want to try and hustle him to the lead from stall nine when he has shown himself to be just as proficient under less positive tactics in the past.

So, with that shape of the race implanted into our minds eye, the questions now turn to what horses are likely to be best suited by such a race pattern.

King may not be able to reign with hold-up tactics

One of the fancied Europeans that I don't like this setup for is Onesto (2). The vast majority of his best form has come under patient rides and stall two with this pace scenario adds up to a potential recipe for disaster for him. Lady Luck is going to have to shine very kindly on him on the home turn and into the straight for him to get a clean run at the leaders.

At the other end of the draw scale is King Of Steel (11). The three-year-old has shown a few different looks this season, impressing all with his searing turn of pace down the hill in the Derby at Epsom before being nipped by Auguste Rodin late in the day.

However, he looked a completely different horse on much softer ground back over a mile-and-a-quarter in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last time where he didn't travel all that well and only seized the verdict very late.

A famously big horse that stands 17hh and weighs 580kg, there has to be a question over whether this style of racing will play to his strengths. As well as that, he is likely to be dropped in from his wide draw and his prospects of getting involved late will be held hostage to how fast the race is run in front of him.

Japanese raider can stalk leaders from inside gate

One that I am somewhat neutral on is the John & Thady Gosden-trained Mostahdaf (9). Literal readings of his last two win give him an excellent chance and his connections may well have found the key to him is keeping him fresh.

He also has tactical versatility in his bag having won the Prince Of Wales's Stakes under a quiet ride and made all to win the Juddmonte International. Given his draw in stall nine, his connections might well aim for a Goldilocks ride in mid-division, but I find myself in the middle ground on whether his current price is right or not.

Paddock watchers take note, he has got very colty pre-race on occasions and it hasn't stopped him winning, so don't overreact if he grows a fifth leg in the prelims.

The one at bigger prices that I feel is overpriced is the Japanese contender Shahryar (1). The five-year-old couldn't be accused of being consistent, but his best performances put him high amongst this field, most notably his win in the Sheema Classic at Meydan and his close second in the Japan Cup last year.

His two runs this year have not been at a comparable level, but he comes to this race fresh and is likely to get a favourable stalking position behind the leaders from his good draw. It wouldn't at all surprise if he hit the frame.

Rodin primed to strike from favourable draw

So, my final answer. It is Auguste Rodin (5).

He has proven to be a mystery wrapped in a riddle at times this season, but three of his five runs have seen him produce top-class efforts and the best of them came in his most recent outing in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

He gave the impression that he was quite idle in front that day and was value for more than the bare winning margin. Crucially, he appeals as being likely to take up a favourable position in the context of the run of the race.

The one little niggle I have is that he can be a length or so slow to start and that will be punished more heavily in America than it is on home soil.

As long as Ryan Moore gets him out good and sharp and can establish a position just in behind the leaders, I suspect he will be tough to beat.

1: Auguste Rodin
2: Shahryar
3: Bolshoi Ballet

Best of luck!

Back Auguste Rodin to win Breeders' Cup Turf (21:50) @ 5/23.50

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Read Ryan Moore's views on his Breeders' Cup Saturday rides here.


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