European Invaders Arrive for Breeders Cup
By Bob Ehalt
As much as turf milers are held in high regard in Europe, they have not dominated the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
Unlike the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), where Europeans have more wins than North Americans, in the Mile horses based in North America have 20 wins, compared to 13 for runners who came from overseas.
American dominance in recent years has expanded the margin, with the home team claiming victories in five of the last six editions of the one-mile turf stakes.
Yet overlooking the European contingent is folly in any year, and once again a formidable array of Europeans is expected to be on hand for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Among the overflow crowd of 21 pre-entered in the BC Mile are an intriguing foursome in Ribchester, Karar, So Beloved and Zelzal, all of whom are exiting important European Group 1 stakes.
In his last start, Ribchester was sent off as a 2-1 favorite but finished second by a length to Persuasive in the one-mile QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II (G1) at Ascot on Oct. 21. Contested on soft ground, which Ribchester does not relish, the final time of 1:46.13 for a mile was nearly 10 seconds slower than the track record of 1:36 3/5, set by none other than Ribchester in the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) on June 20 during the Royal Ascot meet.
“I would be more than happy to take him (to the Breeders’ Cup). I’d love to get him back on decent ground,” trainer Richard Fahey told Sporting Life after the Queen Elizabeth II. “If any horse could do it, it is Ribchester. He’s extremely tough and loves his job and loves his work.”
Prior to the Queen Elizabeth II, the 4-year-old colt prevailed by three-quarters-of-a-length as a 3-5 favorite in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (G1) on Sept. 10.
Owned by the world-famous Godolphin Stable, Ribchester has three wins, two seconds and a third in six 2017 starts, all in Group 1 stakes. His other win came in the Lockringe Stakes in May at Newmarket.
Thoroughbred British Racing’s So Beloved and Al Shaqab Racing’s Karar are coming off solid efforts in the Qatar Prix de la Foret (G1) on the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe undercard at Chantilly on Oct. 1. The seven-furlong stakes was captured in 2010 by three-time BC Mile champion Goldikova (2008-10).
A 7-year-old Dansili gelding with 41 starts and six victories, So Beloved rallied to finish second by three-quarters-of-a-length at 31-1 odds in the Prix de la Foret.
Karar was a nose behind So Beloved in third. A year ago, he was second in the Prix de la Foret behind Limato, who then finished sixth as the 3-1 favorite in the BC Mile.
A 5-year-old gelding out of Invincible Spirit, Karar also traveled to the United States for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup but broke in the air and wound up 14th and last in the BC Turf Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita.
Zelzal was the 6-5 favorite in the Prix de la Foret, but the Al Shaqab 4-year-old finished a close sixth, just 1 ¾ lengths behind the victorious Aclaim.
Two Europeans who have already raced in North America this year will also be major factors in the race.
Suedois, a 6-year-old gelding who made his first 31 starts in Europe, shipped to Keeneland for the $1 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) and notched a half-length victory to grab a “Win and You’re In” spot in the BC Mile through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series.
Lancaster Bomber, owned by Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith and trained by Aidan O’Brien, opted for the $800,000 Ricoh Woodbine Mile and finished second by 2 ½ lengths to leading U.S. candidate World Approval in the Sept. 16 stakes. Second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Lancaster Bomber followed up a strong showing at Woodbine by finishing 14th in the QIPCO Queen Elizabeth II.
The 14 pre-entrants with spots in the starting gate for the BC Mile are: Bal a Bali, Ballagh Rocks, Big Score, Blackjackcat, Churchill, Decorated Knight, Heart to Heart, Lancaster Bomber, Ribchester, Roly Poly, Senga, Suedois, World Approval and Zelzal.
The seven horses on the also-eligible list, in order of preference by the Breeders’ Cup Racing Directors/Secretaries panel, are: Godolphin’s Home of the Brave, who was third behind Aclaim in the Park Stakes (G2), Midnight Storm, Karar, 2016 BC Mile runner-up Om, Hunt, Mr. Roary and Frank Conservation.
Spots in the field should open up for horses on the also-eligible list as four horses in the main body of 14 (Decorated Knight [Turf], Roly Poly [FM Turf], Senga [FM Turf] and Churchill [Classic]) have declared a first preference for another Breeders’ Cup race.
Bal a Bali, Decorated Knight, Hunt, Suedois and World Approval all won Breeders’ Cup Challenge series races.
The BC Mile will be run as the ninth race on the Nov. 4 card with post time at 6:19 p.m. EDT. Television coverage will be provided by NBCSN.