This has to be one of the deepest contingents of European invaders, with a number of proven contenders, such as defending BC Turf winner Highland Reel; the leading miler in Europe, Ribchester; Juddmonte International and Eclipse winner Ulysses; English and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Churchill; Nunthorpe Stakes winner Marsha, conqueror of Lady Aurelia; defending BC Filly & Mare Turf winner Queen’s Trust, conqueror of Lady Eli; Prix de l’Opera winner Rhododendron; three-time group 1 winner Roly Poly; and top-class juveniles Mendelssohn, Happily, Masar, James Garfield, U.S. Navy Flag, and Beckford.
But the European danger does not end there. There actually are a number of live longshots who could very well be sitting on a huge upset, based on the fact that they have underachieved on soft going, but love it firm. And that includes the aforementioned Queen’s Trust, who despite her victory last year, in which she broke everyone’s hearts, is listed at 12-1 on the morning line, due to a lack of recent form, which is extremely misleading, which we’ll get into later.
Here are several interesting angles on potential big-price Euros that should not be overlooked, starting with the Turf, despite the presence of Highland Reel and Ulysses, as well as the Irish Champion Stakes winner Decorated Knight, who is a 1 1/4-mile specialist that has run well at 1 1/8 miles, but has never been 1 1/2 miles.
SEVENTH HEAVEN (TURF) – Aidan O’Brien won this race with a filly two years ago and he’s back with another top-class distaffer, who is listed at 20-1 because she is coming off two dismal performances in the Arc and the group 2 Blandford Stakes. But those two races were run on soft and yielding ground. In her race before that, on firm going, she crushed the boys by five lengths in the group 2 Jockey Club Stakes at a mile and an half at Newmarket. She had earlier finished a good second to the Irish Derby winner Jack Hobbs in the group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic, and although that was run on yielding ground, it was not nearly as soft as the European courses. Yes, she can be inconsistent, but on her good days she was classy and talented enough to win both the Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks by almost three lengths and was closing fastest of all to get fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths by Queen’s Trust and Lady Eli. O’Brien would not bring this filly over here off her poor Arc performance, in which she never picked up her feet, if he didn’t think she could rebound big-time on firm going.
CLIFFS OF MOHER (TURF) – Yes, another O’Brien horse at 20-1 and you would be advised not to dismiss him, as he also should relish the firm going after running unsuccessfully in three straight races, all on soft, yielding, or good to soft ground. Go back to his victory in the Dee Stakes at Chester. I love prospective U.S. invaders who have run big at Chester, which in the U.S. would be considered a bull ring track, as the horses are constantly going around turns. Horses who run well at Chester are normally athletic, U.S. types who you know will handle our sharper turns. Cliffs of Moher won the Dee in impressive fashion and then came back to be edged at the wire by stablemate Wings of Eagles in the English Derby, finishing a neck ahead of Cracksman, who has developed into the top male in Europe following his runaway victory in the Champion Stakes, demolishing Highland Reel by seven lengths. What you have to decide is whether Cliffs of Moher is over the top or just didn’t handle the going in his recent races. Again, I don’t think O’Brien would bother sending him and Seventh Heaven for the Turf when he has Highland Reel, another who loves the firm ground. There often are surprise European winners in the Breeders’ Cup and I would have to give both Cliffs of Moher and Seventh Heaven a shot in here.
TALISMANIC (TURF) – Definitely watch out for this colt at 15-1. The combination of Godolphin, jockey Mickael Barzalona, and especially trainer Andre Fabre makes for a deadly combination, as all Fabre horses are. This is a hard-knocking son of Medaglia d’Oro who has finished in the money in his last six races. He handles all types of going, and in his last start, the Prix Foy, a prep for the Arc de Triomphe, he closed fast to finish third, a neck behind runner-up Cloth of Stars, who came right back to finish second behind the great Enable in the Arc. I really liked Talismanic’s race two back when he drew clear in the final furlong to capture the group 2, 1 3/4-mile Prix Maurice de Nieuil on firm going at Saint-Cloud, like the U.S. tracks a left-handed course. He underachieved last year in the major races, but he has developed into a tough, consistent 4-year-old, and I love the way he holds himself on the racetrack and the way he moved this morning. This is a step up in class, but at the price he’s likely to be, he, and monsieur Fabre, could very well be worth a shot.
I will put win bets on all three of these and probably put them in the exotics with several of the Americans. Obviously, I did not like the 14 post for Oscar Performance, but I feel even more convinced now he is going to bust out of there (he has to) and try to use his natural speed to run these horses off their feet.
LANCASTER BOMBER (MILE) – Trying to beat the likes of Ribchester, World Approval, Suedois, Midnight Storm, and Heart to Heart is not going to be easy, but if you’re looking for yet another 20-1 shot from Ballydoyle to get into the mix, just go back to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and the huge late run by Lancaster Bomber to finish second to Oscar Performance. OK, that’s a pretty obvious angle, but the fact is, he is coming off a 14th-place finish in the group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, hence his 20-1 odds. But this strictly a firm course horse, who despises soft going, which he encountered in the Queen Elizabeth, Sussex Stakes, and Irish 2,000 Guineas. He started off the year showing his versatility by finishing a close fourth in the UAE Derby on dirt, beaten two lengths by Thunder Snow. On good to firm going in the English 2,000 Guineas, he changed tactics and went to the front, setting a solid pace for stablemate Churchill. He was headed a furlong out and looked as if he were cooked, but battled gamely the final furlong to finish fourth, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths by Churchill and a neck behind Barney Roy, who would later beat him a length in the St. James’s Palace Stakes on good to firm going at Royal Ascot, in which he finished ahead of Thunder Snow. If you love World Approval in the BC Mile at 9-2, you have to give him a shot at 20-1 after closing fast to finish second to the Live Oak Plantation colt in the Woodbine Mile. He has already made two trips to North America, running bang-up seconds each time. He gets his firm going again and we know he can run big from well off the pace or be right up there. He may not be good enough to beat these horses, having won only one of 13 career starts, but on his best day and with the right conditions he can run with anyone.
ZELZAL (MILE) -- No major angles here other than he fits the profile of that sneaky French horse who pops up and wins at a big price, and he does love firm going. He's one of the freshest of all the Euros with only three starts, two of them on soft going. Yet he didn't run badly, getting beaten only 1 3/4 lengths in the Prix de la Foret and 2 1/2 lengths in the Sussex Stakes, where he ran into traffic problems in the stretch. His big effort last year was an impressive victory in the group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly, in which he ran the about a mile distance in a sharp 1:34 2/5 over firm ground. He's won four of nine career starts and you have to respect his trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget. He is another at 20-1 and it would come as no surprise if he's sitting on a big effort in only his fourth start of the year.
The tough 5-year-old French horse Karar, a seven-furlong specialist who is stretching out, is coming off an excellent third in the group 1 Prix de la Foret, a race in which he ran second last year before losing all chance at the start of the BC Turf Sprint. But he drew post 14 in here and that is going to make things pretty difficult for him.
WUHEIDA (FILLY & MARE TURF) – I absolutely loved what I saw of this powerhouse of a filly on the track this morning. She is a big muscular filly with a powerful hind end and was really motoring around there, striding out beautifully. Not bad for another 20-1 shot. Her last three starts have all been on soft or yielding ground, and although she ran good races in defeat, including a half-length defeat in the group 1 Prix de l’Opera, it is important to note that her record on firm going is three starts, two wins, and a solid second to BC Mile starter Roly Poly in the group 1 Falmouth Stakes. Roly Poly, who went on to win two more group 1 stakes, is 6-1 on the morning line in the Mile, and Wuheida is 20-1 in here. One of Wuheida’s victories on firm going was in the group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly at 9-1. Despite racing only six times in her career, she has run big in France, England, Ireland, and Germany (finishing third in the German Oaks on heavier ground than she likes), and has never been worse than fourth. From what I’ve seen of her so far, she definitely is one of my major longshot plays.
SENGA (FILLY & MARE TURF) – Nothing wrong with two live 20-1 shots. All eyes will be on Lady Eli and several of the other U.S. horses, as well as Ballydoyle’s Rhododendron, who drew post 14. But do not overlook Senga at 20-1 off her 11th-place finish in the Prix de l’Opera. Like with most of the others mentioned above. Senga’s only two poor performances in her career have come on soft going. But on firm ground she was good enough to win the French Oaks, and her trainer Pascal Bary should always be feared. This filly is European in location only, being a daughter of Blame, out of an A.P. Indy mare. French trainers like Fabre and Bary are too shrewd to send a horse to America unless they feel they have a big chance. Although Senga has been running mostly at 1 1/4 miles, she has enough good efforts at a mile to suggest a drop back to 1 1/8 miles will be just fine.
A mention must be made of QUEEN’S TRUST. I don’t know if she is capable of beating Lady Eli again, especially at the shorter distance of 1 1/8 miles, but at 12-1, throw out her last three races on soft ground, and in fact, she didn’t run badly finishing third to Enable in the Yorkshire Oaks on good to soft going. But before that, on good to firm ground, she closed fast to finish fourth, beaten only two lengths, in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot behind Highland Reel, Decorated Knight, and Ulysses, all of whom have a big shot in the BC Turf. As mentioned, the only concern is if she can deliver her big closing punch and get up in time going 1 1/8 miles. She has never run that distance, and the last time she ran shorter than 1 1/4 miles was the seven-furlong Oh So Sharp Stakes back when she was a 2-year-old. But if she is 12-1 on race day, then my two-horse Euro longshot play will become three, with her a definite bet on the back end of the exotics. Sir Michael Stoute has proven time and again, do not ignore him in the Breeders’ Cup. No trainer picks his spots here as carefully and meticulously as Stoute. So when he sends one, pay attention.
The Euros in the two Juvenile turf races look very strong as a whole, but none I can say will be a big longshot, as the short-priced horses have extremely strong credentials. So I will stick to the seven mentioned above, all of whom will be ignored at the windows, and we’ll wait and see how the public handles Queen’s Trust.
As for the Classic, with yet another try at it from Coolmore and the gang, I have already devoted an entire column to WAR DECREE and CHURCHILL. There is no way I am ignoring them, and although Churchill, the classier of the two, is a question mark on the dirt, War Decree has enough angles to make him very intriguing. As I keep saying about O’Brien and his Classic quest, one of these days, Aidan, bang…zoom!
If you have soaked all this in, good luck with the American horses. I just thought I would make things more confusing for you. Hey, a $2 bet on all seven of the aforementioned horses will cost you $14. No big deal. Just don’t forget about them when delving head on into your exotics bets. I wouldn’t want some 20-1 Euro bomb who moves up five to 10 lengths on firm going to mess up your pick 6’s, superfectas, and trifectas.