If you feel the Breeders' Cup Classic field is pretty much cut and dry, you might want to follow the results of Saturday's Prix Dollar at Longchamp.
A big effort by the Irish-bred Planteur could earn the son of Danehill Dancer a trip to Santa Anita, and he is classy enough and tough enough to be taken seriously.
Run at nearly 1 1/4 miles, the group II event has been won two of the last three years by the top-class group I winner Cirrus des Aigles, who is back again this year. It should be noted that Planteur defeated Cirrus des Aigles, as well as group I winners Sarafina and Cape Blanco, in group I Prix Ganay at about 1 1/4 miles in 2011. He also defeated Rewilding, winner of the group I Prince of Wales's Stakes, in the group II Prix Noailles in 2010, so we know he has plenty of back class.
But he is best known for having finished third in the last two runnings of the Dubai World Cup, so we also know that he handles a synthetic track, as he demonstrated when he captured the winter Derby Trial Stakes over Lingfield's all-weather track this past February.
The 6-year-old Planteur is trained by Marco Botti, who has already launched a successful invasion of Santa Anita, winning the 2009 Goodwood Stakes with 18-1 shot Gitano Hernando, who was coming out of a weight for age race at Wolverhampton. Ironically, it was Gitano Hernando who defected from the 2012 Dubai World Cup after changing hands, leaving a spot open for none other than Planteur, who, as first reserve, took advantage of his late entrance into the race by finishing a strong third behind Godolphin's Monterosso.
Planteur first established his reputation as a 3-year-old by winning the Prix Noailles before rattling off a string of second-place finishes in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), Grand Prix de Paris, and Prix Niel before finishing seventh in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. He concluded the year by finishing fifth of 13, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths by Snow Fairy, in the Hong Kong Cup.
He then started off his 4-year-old campaign with back-to-back victories in the group II Prix d'Harcourt and group I Prix Ganay.
Planteur began his career racing for his breeders, the Wildenstein brothers, before being sold to Mohamed Albousi Alghafli. Then, 10 days before this year's Dubai World Cup, he was sold to Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani from the ruling family of Qatar.
Planteur has established himself as one of the classiest, toughest horses in Europe during his five years of racing. While his breeding is made up mostly of grass influences, his broodmare sire, Giant's Causeway, demonstrated his affinity for dirt by nearly winning the 2000 BC Classic and has sired several classy dirt horses. Planteur's dam, Plante Rare, is inbred to Roberto, who also has sired both top grass and dirt horses.
It is also interesting to note that Planteur's second dam, Palmeraie, is a half-sister to the dam of the Wildensteins' great Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Peintre Celebre.
The Prix Dollar is not an easy spot, especially if Cirrus des Aigles has returned to form, but a good performance from Planteur could very well send him to the States for the Classic.
Another race to watch regarding the Classic is either the Champion Stakes or Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot Oct. 19, as one of them should attract Ballydoyle's Declaration of War, who has had the Classic targeted for a while now. However, he was forced to scratch out of the Irish Champion Stakes because of soft ground, and the Newmarket races are run only two weeks before the Breeders' Cup, so that would mean a quick turnaround.
Declaration of War is a two-time group I winner this year, having taken the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot at one mile (the race in which Animal Kingdom finished far up the track) and the Juddmonte International at 1 5/16 miles in his last start.
The son of War Front has also placed in the group I Coral Eclipse Stakes and Sussex Stakes.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien ranks him right up there with Giant's Causeway as one of the toughest horses he's ever trained.
Declaration of War is being quoted from 10-1 to 12-1 in England, while Planteur's odds are holding steady at 25-1...for now.