Matt Brocklebank profiles Aidan O'Brien's past six Breeders' Cup Turf winners and considers whether Anthony Van Dyck fits the bill this time around.
Challengers from over the Atlantic have dominated the Breeders’ Cup Turf since the meeting’s inception in 1984.
Alain de Royer-Dupre won the inaugural running with Lashkari, while fellow French master Andre Fabre has been successful three times in total from In The Wings in 1990, to Shirocco (2005), and Talismanic a couple of years ago in Del Mar.
As for the Brits, Saeed bin Suroor has a couple of Turf wins on the CV courtesy of Daylami (1999) and Fantastic Light (2001) around the turn of the millennium, while Brian Meehan also struck twice with Red Rocks (2006) and Dangerous Midge (2010) doing the business for the much-maligned Manton man.
John Gosden joined the party with Enable providing him with a first success 12 months ago, though he’s still got some way to go to match Newmarket rival Sir Michael Stoute, who has four wins to his name through Pilsudski (1996), Kalanisi (2000) and Conduit’s back-to-back double in 2008 and 2009.
But no Euro challenger, or home trainer for that matter, can match Aidan O’Brien’s six victories in the $4million contest and, with three of those coming here at Santa Anita, it’s worth digging into the profiles of all of his winners before considering his 2019 contender.
2002 - High Chaparral (Arlington Park)
Season form: 11113
High Chaparral set the mould in many ways for Aidan O’Brien, being his first Racing Post Trophy (now Vertem Futurity) winner to go on and win Group Ones at three. The son of Sadler’s Wells was a brilliant three-year-old, claiming the Ballysax, Derrinstown, Derby and Irish Derby. His successful spree came to an end when third as favourite in the Arc de Triomphe, but it was to his credit that he was able to regain the winning thread at Arlington. O’Brien had got a flavour for Breeders’ Cup success with Johannesburg in the Juvenile the year before and High Chaparral proved a cut above in an eight-runner field, the only other Euro and main market rival - the Stoute-trained Golan - failing to run his race following a slow start.
2003 – High Chaparral, dead-heat (Santa Anita)
Season form: 113
A long wait of 13 minutes before the stewards announced a first ever Breeders’ Cup dead-heat and we’ve yet to have another one since. High Chaparral, having just his fourth start of his four-year-old campaign after a bruised shoulder had kept him off the track until early-August, went to America on the back of another Arc de Triomphe third. He was buried mid-pack by Mick Kinane but ran in snatches from halfway and appeared to have a mountain to climb when Luca Cumani’s Falbrav struck for home. Once on an even keel in the straight High Chaparral really found his stride again and showed tremendous guts to overhaul that rival, only to be joined right on the line by the fast-finishing American outsider, Johar.
2011 – St Nicholas Abbey (Churchill Downs)
Season form: 311335
A massive moment for O’Brien the trainer who had gone seven blank years in the race following High Chaparral’s double, but an even bigger moment for his 18-year-old son, Joseph, who became the youngest ever Breeders’ Cup-winning jockey. It was only the third time he’d ridden St Nicholas Abbey in a race and it was to be the first time he’d win on him. The four-year-old had been on the go since early-April but remained fairly lightly raced having missed most of his Classic campaign the year before. He absolutely relished racing on the firm ground and while pace-setting stable companion Await The Dawn hardly set the hottest fractions, the winner enjoyed the sprint-for-home scenario which unfolded, and was far too classy on the day.
2013 – Magician (Santa Anita)
Season form: 119
Magician was a forgotten horse heading to Santa Anita having not been seen since Royal Ascot that summer, where he had trailed home last of nine in Dawn Approach’s St James’s Palace Stakes. But he’d previously shown much-improved form early in his three-year-old campaign (won just once from four starts as a juvenile) when winning the Dee Stakes at Chester and the Irish 2,000 Guineas, by three and a half lengths. The early signs weren’t good as the fractions were not quick and Magician sat second-last, but the pace really warmed up from halfway and Ryan Moore was able to pick them all off in the straight. Even-money favourite The Fugue was the final target and John Gosden’s four-year-old filly just didn’t have the legs to repel the flying colt in the final strides.
2015 – Found (Keeneland)
Season form: 2221292
Loads of similarities between this year’s star Ballydoyle filly Magical and the yard's Breeders' Cup heroine Found, who was also equally effective at 10 and 12 furlongs. Both Galileos, Found took her racing extremely well too and was having her eighth start of the year when defeating Derby winner Golden Horn at Keeneland in 2015. The eventual runner-up was just a fraction keen for Frankie Dettori and possibly paid the price late on as Ryan Moore got Found rolling, but ultimately it was that sheer toughness and will to win which saw her get back in the groove having found Fascinating Rock too strong in the Champion Stakes at Ascot two weeks before.
2016 – Highland Reel (Santa Anita)
Season form: 4821272
O’Brien’s most recent Turf winner was a proven traveller having won in America and Hong Kong the year before, as well as running well in defeat in Australia. Highland Reel had chased home Found in the Arc de Triomphe on his previous start and while his wide draw looked unkind on paper, Seamie Heffernan was able to get him out brightly and into a prominent position early on. The rider probably couldn’t believe he was being afforded such an easy time in front and, after setting really slow fractions through the first half-mile, booted for home some three furlongs from the finish. The proven Group One mile and a half performer was always going to be hard to catch from that point and he comfortably held favourite Flintshire, better-fancied stablemate Found and the keen-going Ulysses at bay in the straight.
This year's contender...
Anthony Van Dyck
Season form: 11203
Anthony Van Dyck shares some similarities with O'Brien's two previous Breeders' Cup Turf-winning three-year-old colts, High Chaparral and Magician, in that like the former he won the Derby and, like the latter, he's a bit of a forgotten horse. It's not that Anthony Van Dyck is unexposed - he ran seven times as a juvenile including at this meeting - and people were happy enough to have a pop at his Epsom form in the aftermath and he proved them right in a sense with a disappointing second in the Irish equivalent and a complete no-show in the King George (on testing ground) when fitted with cheekpieces for the first time. The headgear was binned off last time when dropped back in distance in the Irish Champion Stakes and he was definitely back to his best, boxing on in eyecatching fashion having never been too far off the pace. Magical and Deirdre have done the Leopardstown form no harm whatsoever since and it looks really significant that O'Brien has resisted a shot at the Arc or Champions Day. He's a son of Galileo, like Highland Reel, Found and Magician, and he's going to love the quick conditions, coupled with a return to 12 furlongs. He may not be a Ballydoyle great just yet, but history suggests we can overlook a few defeats when it comes to O'Brien and this race and Anthony Van Dyck has the requisite class, versatility and experience to make his mark as the seventh Turf hero for his fantastic trainer.
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