Matt Brocklebank reflects on the weekend’s action with a view to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland.
After Royal Ascot, Goodwood, York and the behemoth that is now Irish Champions Weekend, attentions inevitably switch to the next major targets as the back-end of summer turns to autumn.
Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend is the next port of call for many ahead of QIPCO Champions Day at Ascot at the end of October but, even in this oddest of years, the racing world remains a small one and prize money on offer at the Breeders’ Cup and in the Far East will still be hard to resist for the best around.
Quite whether we’ll see the same strength in depth to the raiding party at the Breeders’ Cup this time remains to be seen, but a star-studded weekend across the Curragh and Leopardstown saw five horses effectively book their automatic berths for Keeneland (November 6-7) via the Challenge Series, and a couple of others also entered the reckoning, both in Ireland and France.
Here are the quintet of qualifiers, with a few more likely types to keep in mind for the jamboree in Lexington, New York.
Breeders’ Cup Turf
Challenge Series winner: Magical (Aidan O’Brien) – 13/2 with Sky Bet
Magical reversed Juddmonte International form with Ghaiyaath to claim back-to-back wins in the Irish Champion Stakes and book her spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, should the Coolmore team look to America.
She was a late scratch at Santa Anita last year, having pushed Enable pretty close in the Turf at Churchill Downs in 2018, and the meeting will no doubt at the very least be considered closely once again.
It was interesting hear Aidan O’Brien float the idea of the Prix de l’Opera, rather than the big one at ParisLongchamp, and there’s Ascot in the mix as well, so another run over 10 furlongs before stepping back up in trip at the Breeders’ Cup could appeal rather than taking in another Arc.
There’s also the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf – this year run over 9 ½ furlongs – to weigh up too (she was due to run in that race at Sanita Anita) should the colts be favoured in the Turf. And on that note...
One to watch: Armory (Aidan O’Brien) – 20/1 with Sky Bet
Mogul and Anthony Van Dyck highlighted just how hot the O’Brien A-team is right now with victories in the Grand Prix de Paris and Prix Foy respectively, and both could quite conceivably be on the plane for Lexington come early-November.
Anthony Van Dyck ran well when third in the Turf last year, while Mogul is getting quicker, according to his trainer, and also has the Cox Plate and various other fancy targets across the globe.
Ghaiyyath has been among the favourites for the Turf for a while and could help form a really select Keeneland hand for Charlie Appleby, with Pinatubo and Space Blues among others, but the dark horse in this division is O’Brien’s Armory.
He’s taken a long time to find his stride at three but was 4/1 for the Irish Guineas at the start of the year and is obviously on a fair upward curve following his eyecatching third from off the pace in the Irish Champion.
You’ve be amazed if the son of Galileo didn’t improve again for 12 furlongs and he’s worth monitoring closely with all the big upcoming meetings in mind.
Breeders’ Cup Mile
Challenge Series winner: NA
All the British, Irish and French win-and-you’re-in races were already done and dusted before this weekend (the Prix de la Foret seems to be a glaring omission), with Circus Maximus, Mohaather and Palace Pier those to have starred so far in the Challenge Series.
But that’s not to say there weren’t a few ripples in the antepost market...
One to watch: Safe Voyage (John Quinn) – 16/1 with Sky Bet
John Quinn has gone on record nominating the race as Safe Voyage’s number one target for the rest of the year after he toughed it out to win the Boomerang Stakes on Saturday.
There must be a fair chance he shows up in the Foret first, especially considering his love of soft ground, but Keeneland in the fall can be quite testing underfoot too and it looks a deliberate ploy to head there and hope for some rain.
Last year’s Boomerang winner Space Traveller cut no ice out in California but this weekend’s Leopardstown race had more depth to it and Safe Voyage is a proper streetfighter with a turn of foot. He could be perfectly suited to the demands of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf
Challenge Series winner: Champers Elysees (Johnny Murtagh)
"I want it all," claimed Johnny Murtagh after bagging his first Group One winner as a trainer courtesy of Champers Elysees in Saturday’s Matron Stakes.
He’s going to go a long way in his training career, geographically as well as figuratively, with that sort of attitude and he’s already looking forward to a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup, having ridden three winners at the meeting between 1995 and 2009.
Champers Elysees benefited from a belting Colin Keane ride this weekend but is on a steep upward trajectory and, having finished so strongly off a really good gallop, promises to be suited by another move up in trip later in the year.
One to watch: Fancy Blue (Donnacha O’Brien) – 8/1 with Sky Bet
Impressive Blanford Stakes winner Cayenne Pepper (Jessica Harrington) seems destined for America and could reportedly warm up for the race with a Keeneland sighter in the QEII Challenge Cup on October 10.
She’s a classy operator but for real substance I’ll be sticking to the Matron form, with runner-up Peaceful a massive player wherever she goes this autumn and Fancy Blue still very much a world-beater in waiting.
It was hard not to be taken with Donnacha O’Brien’s post-race comments in which he said he half-wished he hadn’t run her, having expected a bit of rain to help her out dropping back in trip.
In the circumstances and with that in mind, she’s run a massive race and no doubt connections will now be keen aim towards the Prix de l’Opera (10 furlongs) - the final Filly & Mare Turf Challenge Series race in Europe.
Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint
Challenge Series winner: Glass Slippers (Kevin Ryan) – 12/1 with Sky Bet
Glass Slippers has been brought along beautifully this season by Kevin Ryan and put in a really gutsy performance to win the Flying Five Stakes and punch her Turf Sprint ticket.
Ryan will probably be hoping Charlie Hills doesn’t get his way and Battaash stays at home again but the filly beat him comfortably in last year’s Prix de l’Abbaye and all roads lead to a return to ParisLongchamp for Glass Slippers.
She's a big price at 12s considering she's evidently been primed for a back-end campaign from some way out and she's no less likely to rock up at Keeneland than the current 5/2 favourite.
The Abbaye will reveal more, of course.
One to watch: Liberty Beach (John Quinn) – 25/1 with Sky Bet
John Quinn was responsible for runner-up Keep Busy and seventh Liberty Beach, with the latter well worth another chance.
She looked to be in the perfect position just behind the leaders but the door closed on her as Que Amoro weakened approaching the final furlong and, unsurprisingly, she couldn't really recover.
Both fillies are in line for a rematch in the Abbaye and the current Breeders' Cup price about Liberty Beach looks quite tempting based on her King’s Stand third (Glass Slippers fifth) and the fact we know Quinn is already looking at targeting the meeting with Safe Voyage.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf
Challenge Series winner: Cadillac (Jessica Harrington) – 5/1 generally
Cadillac appears to have it all with this race in mind and it’s no surprise to see him top the long-range market.
He’s nippy, compact and not far off the finished article already, but he’s also got a massive engine, proven over the mile thanks to his weekend win, and the prospect of a little ease underfoot on the east coast of America in November clearly shouldn't hold any fears for a son of Lope De Vega.
It’s true he got a bit stuck in the mud when narrowly denied in the Futurity Stakes second time out, but you can forgive him that and it’s next stop Keeneland by all accounts. The current 5/1 seems perfectly fair without looking overly generous.
One to watch: Wembley (Aidan O’Brien) – 6/1 with Sky Bet
Aidan O'Brien is generally strongly represented in this race and has occasionally used it in the past to help bring colts on mentally.
Wembley has been a bit of a slow learner at Ballydoyle but he’s started to go through the grades quite nicely all of a sudden, which shouldn’t come as a great shock when it comes to any son of Galileo.
They just keep on improving with time and distance and whereas Thunder Moon’s headline-grabbing National Stakes performance was all about the electric turn of foot he showed late on, you couldn’t help but notice how Wembley powered home after coming under pressure relatively early.
He got a cleaner trip than some of the market principals, granted, but this colt is bubbling towards something big and I’m looking forward to him tackling a mile for the first time at some point this year. Hopefully there might be some slightly more generous antepost prices on offer at some point.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf
Challenge Series winner: Shale (Donnacha O’Brien) – 6/1 with Sky Bet
Shale has taken most people by surprise this year but she’s another Galileo who looks to hide her light under a bushel at home.
She’s got all the attributes to go right to the top and, without wanting to overegg the pudding, doesn’t look too dissimilar to how Love was shaping up at this stage of her career.
Shale and Pretty Gorgeous – trained by Donnacha and Joseph O’Brien - have a good little battle going and I wouldn’t be totally dogmatic in thinking little brother now has the better filly.
There will be other days for Pretty Gorgeous, especially on an easy surface, but it seems the Breeders’ Cup isn’t on the agenda this year.
One to watch: Thunder Beauty (Ken Condon)
The eyecatcher of the Moyglare was fifth home Thunder Beauty, who came home quite well towards the middle of the track after being held up at the back of the field.
This was only her second career start after winning a Curragh maiden over six furlongs and while it’s too early to be thinking about the Breeders’ Cup, it will be interesting to see if she takes up her Rockfel Stakes (September 25) engagement, which also carries win-and-you’re in status.