Once Upon A Time, I was hugely privileged to accompany a Breeders Cup Classic contender up the track at Churchill Downs, in front of a record, never-since repeated, race day crowd of 80,452.
The horse was Running Stag, trained by Philip Mitchell and owned by Richard Cohen and together with my wife The Hon. Mrs Kneesup and my brilliant God-daughter and The Owner and Trainer, we walked up the only horse in the field of ten who was not a G1 winner but who was in with a shout at decent place prizemoney. The Stag was the last chance that day for any kind of a British victory, and before turning left off the dirt track and under the tunnel into the saddling-boxes and parade ring, we passed in front of the press corps of some sixty members and I remember the British voices shouting out best wishes and encouragement.
There was a palpable air about the race – much like Frankel’s victory in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2012. I saw that one too, as Frankel beat Excelebration and Strong Suit, respectively ranked the equal second and the equal fifth-best three-year-old colts in the world by the IFHA in 2011. He ran the 9th of ten furlongs in under 11 seconds, a top speed of over 42 mph. The Guardian’s correspondent described the performance as possibly the greatest in the history of Thoroughbred racing. The American purists might argue, however, that the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs was one of the greatest fields ever assembled in the history of racing.
I’m no expert, but I have yet to hear an argument against that – and it will still hold true on Saturday. There were ten runners and between them, they had won 69 C1 races – 31 at G1 level. Together they had earned some$29½m, and only Running Stag had never won a G1. Eight of the horses went off at odds of less than 9/1 and only Staggy – who would retire to global stud duties having earned over $1½m – went off at 100/1+. The winner was Awesome Again, with Silver Charm second, Nashwan’s kid Swain was third, and Victory Gallop was 4th. There was just a length between them.
Stag finished 7th and went on to The Hong Kong Cup, where again Richard kindly asked Madame and me to join him and Philip. Simon Cooper was running The HKJC Overseas team then, and he and Madame had grown up together, so we had the jolliest of times – only slightly spoiled by Francois Doumen’s victory with Jim and Tonic in the race, ridden by Gerald Mosse. Sadly Running Stag passed away on June 3, 2013, at Taepyung Farm, South Korea, where he had been standing at Stud since 2009. He produced reliable juveniles, a couple of whom went on to earn good money in their Stakes races.
Talking of reliable Juveniles, Friday is Future Champions Day, a day for The Babies, as American racing matrons are fond of drawling, and here are my thoughts.
PS: If you would like to download an Official BC programme, then click on the following link: https://tinyurl.com/y2ypcxt3 which will open in a new window. Simply follow the appropriate day links and when they take you to the programme page, click the download down arrow for a PDF version you can read at your leisure. They are a truly extraordinary production and a mine of information.
7:30 BC Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) (2yo) (Turf) 5½f
I’m a huge fan of Wes Ward 2yo sprinters, and this race has 4 of them from 14 runners – with three in reserve. If one of Wes’s came out and it was replaced by a reserve I’d keep an eye out for it. GOLDEN PAL offers no value as the favourite and I’d be backing him now and trying to get as close to 2/1 as I could. He will win. He has come close to beating Saratoga’s track record and he was second in the Norfolk Stakes to LIR JET who runs in the next – possibly diminished by the absence of a turn. BODENHEIMER at 8s looks e/w value has a decent draw 10 and has very respectable form. Had he not become unbalanced at Keeneland Downs behind Outadore, another Wes Ward kid, he would have arrived here unbeaten. Please God, he and my suggestion don’t burn each other off. If a European horse is going to take this it might be UBETTABELIEVEIT. Readers will remember we tipped him for the Flying Childers at 40/1, and he ran on from the back of the field at Doncaster, in eye-catching style. If there is a fly in the place stakes, it is his jockey Rowan Scott’s lack of experience. I think he has ridden one Arab race in the USA and ridden work there as an apprentice. He has only ridden one Group race – which he won. However he looks like he prefers firm ground and should get that at Keeneland, and I expect him to be a solid value in the range of 20-1 on the tote board.
GOLDEN PAL Win – BODENHEIMER e/w – UBETTABELIEVEIT e/w – Two SFC Win to beat e/w
8:10 BC Juvenile Turf presented by Coolmore America (G1) (2yo Colts & Geldings) (Turf) 1m
You have to fancy OUTADORE in this mile contest, again for Wes Ward, and in many ways, he is probably similarly weighted, given his previous performances. He won his Maiden over 5½f at Saratoga in July but went on to win over 6½f at Kentucky Downs. He looked then as though the mile would not be an issue and from Stall 8 has a decent chance at 14/1 with Bet365 and 10/1 generally. Historically the European horses have tended to have a top 2 finish LTO and ideally over 8f+. I quite like SEALIWAY who won the Lagardere by 8l on Heavy and has a favoured low draw, and next door to him is NEW MANDATE ridden by Frankie Dettori and trained by Ralph Beckett., who looks way too big at 17/2. MUTASAABEQ caught the eye when winning the Bourbon Stakes over C&D LTO, and trained by Todd Pletcher from stall 6, looked like one who might deliver his challenge late. I would have been interested in BATTLEGROUND for Aidan, but he has not been since July and has missed a couple of races due to ground concerns. He remains joint-favourite for the 2000 Guineas, and this might be the perfect way to finish off his year. However, I don’t like his draw
NEW MANDATE Win – OUTADORE e/w – SEALIWAY e/w
8:50 BC Juvenile Fillies (G1) (2yo) (Main Track) (Dirt) 1m½f
PRINCESS NOOR arrives here unbeaten and as her price suggests, is probably twice as good as any of the others, She produces just enough energy to beat whatever she needs and sometimes looks to surprise herself when she gives it too much gas – as happened when she won the Del Mar Debutante by 6½l. She pressed the button and her perfectly good rivals disappeared backwards. She’s potentially very decent.
PRINCESS NOOR Win
9:30 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) (2yo Fillies) (Turf) 1m
CAMPANELLE has been specifically pointed at this race on the advice of her jockey today, Frankie Dettori. She won the 5f Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and then took the Prix Morny over 6f at Deauville in August, beating Nando Parrado, who had won the Coventry Stakes, by 2l. Wesley’s plan was then to go for The Dewhurst, but Frankie advised him against, saying that she would progress to a mile and improve for it. Thus plans were changed, aeroplane tickets booked – et voila. Frankie on board a horse with a plan and with a not bad price of around 5/1 in places. I am slightly puzzled by MOTHER EARTH being here, having had seven races so far this season of which she has won one G3 and despite having tried four times, failed to progress to either G2 or G1. If I was going to have an Irish horse for my Exotics, it would be Jessie Harrington’s OODNADATTA, who looks as though she might finally get her proper trip. She has been beaten by very decent horses, her winning debut has produced seven winners and she might well spring a surprise. 14s is too big.
CAMPANELLE Win – OODNADATTA e/w
10:15 TVG BC Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1) (2yo C & G) 1m½f
The Juvenile has the full field of 14, and features probably the trackside’s biggest favourite of the day, JACKIES WARRIOR, trained by Steve Asmussen. Undefeated in four races, he has stepped up on each run from 5f to 8f LTO when he easily took Belmont’s G1 Champagne by 5l earning a very high-speed rating. After the favourite – you pays your money and takes your choice – which means that this race – above all others will be the one for exotics. These will, or should, include REINVESTMENT RISK, ESSENTIAL QUALITY, ROMBAUER and CALIBRATE. This latter, also trained by Asmussen, can be had for 33/1 in a few places. Checking back over previous betting patterns, this is a horse who was heavily backed for the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland last month, a race won by ESSENTIAL QUALITY at 19/10 with CALIBRATE going off at 11/5 2ndFav. He ran like a dog and I have no idea what the issue was, but he was certainly not considered as being there for the lunch. He’s out in the boondocks from 14 but 33s makes me greedy for a WPS staggered bet. (ie I might go 1 Win 2 Place 3 Show). ROMBAUER will need to improve here, but arrives off a decent 2nd, only beaten ¾l in the G1 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita in September. He’ll run in mid-div and arrive later, (what the Americans call a Closer), who has Turf form and could improve in his second start on dirt for Mike McCarthy, who won the Dirt Mile in 2018 with City of Light.
JACKIE’S WARRIOR Win – ROMBAUER e/w – CALIBRATE e/w – The favourite to beat REINVESTMENT RISK, ESSENTIAL QUALITY, ROMBAUER and CALIBRATE