By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
We all know how dominant European shippers have been in
the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Turf (gr. I), and we all know that among the European shippers, those
trainer by Ireland's Aidan O'Brien have enjoyed particularly spectacular
Just look at the numbers—horses that prepped in Europe
have won eight of the first 11 editions of this race, including six of the last
seven. Just as impressively, Aidan O'Brien has won this race four times since
2011, and in two of the years when he didn't win, he trained the runner-up.
But while these are useful stats to know, narrowing down
the contenders in the Juvenile Turf is still a tricky task since the field is
usually packed with European shippers and multiple horses trained by O'Brien.
This year is no exception; six Europeans have been pre-entered, including two from
O'Brien's deep stable.
Since the Juvenile Turf is prominently placed in the major
multi-race wagers on Friday and serves as the first leg of a two-day double
wager ending with Saturday's Breeders' Cup Turf, identifying the main players (and,
ultimately, the winner) is going to be critical if you want to make a nice
wagering score involving the Friday races. With that in mind, I've gone over the six
European contenders for the Juvenile Turf to (hopefully) help you sort through
the confusion and determine which ones you would like to play....
On paper, I don't think anyone can dispute that Anthony
Van Dyck is the best of the European shippers. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, this
highly-regarded son of Galileo won three straight races in Ireland this summer,
starting off with a maiden win going a mile at Killarney before following up
with a 4 ¾-length romp in the Tyros Stakes (Ire-III) at Leopardstown and a
hard-fought triumph over yielding ground in the Futurity Stakes (Ire-II) at the
Subsequently, Anthony Van Dyck stepped up in class and
proved his mettle against some of the best young runners in Europe while
finishing a close second in the Vincent O'Brien National Stakes (Ire-I) at the
Curragh and third in the Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I) at Newmarket. Those classy
efforts earned him eye-catching Timeform Ratings of 106 and 104, respectively,
and Racing Post Ratings of 119 and 115.
By both of those standards, Anthony Van Dyck towers over
his fellow European shippers in the Juvenile Turf, and I like that he's won
over the left-handed courses at Leopardstown and Killarney. His victory at Killarney
actually came in a race that featured two very sharp turns (at least by
European standards), so the turns at Churchill Downs shouldn't be too much of
an obstacle. He might be a short price, but I think Anthony Van Dyck will be tough
to beat in the Juvenile Turf.
This son of Camelot showed plenty of early promise for
trainer Thomas Dascombe, winning his debut at Haydock Park in May before
stepping up to seven furlongs and scoring a hard-fought victory in the Chesham
Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Like Anthony Van Dyck, Arthur Kitt can boast a solid race
against one of the best two-year-olds in Europe (he finished second behind the
unbeaten Too Darn Hot in the Group 3 Solario Stakes at Newmarket), but when
Arthur Kitt stepped up to a mile for the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes (Eng-II)
at Newmarket, he seemed to hit a wall from a stamina perspective and faded to
finish fifth of seven, beaten six lengths.
It might not be fair to judge Arthur Kitt's distance
capabilities on the basis of one race, but he wasn't facing the toughest
caliber of competition that day and his Timeform and Racing Post ratings both dropped
sharply. Arthur Kitt is a talented colt, but going a mile in the Juvenile Turf—with
his front-running/pace-tracking style—could prove challenging, especially if
the pace is on the quick side, as is often the case in the Juvenile Turf.
O'Brien's second runner hasn't reached quite the same
level of success as Anthony Van Dyck, but nor is he terribly far behind. After
finishing fifth behind Anthony Van Dyck in the latter's maiden win at Killarney, Broome
secured his own maiden victory in an 8.5-furlong event over yielding ground at
Galway, which remains his lone victory to date.
You could look at that fact alone and conclude that
Broome prefers softer ground or isn't good enough to hold his own against
winners, but his subsequent efforts have suggested otherwise. After
finishing sixth in the Acomb Stakes (Eng-III), his stakes debut, Broome
improved to second place when stretched back out to a mile in the KPMG Champions
Juvenile Stakes (Eng-II) over the left-handed course at Leopardstown, and in
his most recent effort, he set the pace in the one-mile Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere
(Fr-I) at Longchamp and missed victory by just a neck, earning career-best Timeform and
Racing Post ratings of 101 and 112, respectively.
Still, there were only five other starters in the Prix
Jean-Luc Lagardere, and the winner—Royal Marine—was entering off a maiden victory
at Doncaster, so the overall quality of that field is a bit debatable.
Furthermore, France is not where O'Brien tends preps his top contenders for the
Juvenile Turf, or even his top horses in general—none of O'Brien's four
previous Juvenile Turf winners ran in France prior to the Breeders' Cup,
and neither did his two recent Juvenile Turf second-place finishers.
Strictly on ratings, Broome might be the second-best European
in the Juvenile Turf field, but I wonder if some of the others might have a
little more upside and potential to win or hit the board. I'll likely lean against
Broome in the Juvenile Turf.
Yes, Line of Duty hasn't really beaten anyone of note
yet, and true, his career-best Timeform (90) and Racing Post (105) ratings are pretty
unremarkable as a result, especially when you consider that the last five
European-prepped Juvenile Turf winners had all cracked 110 on the Racing Post
scale prior to the Breeders' Cup.
But looking on the bright side, Line of Duty has raced
exclusively on turning courses (including a left-handed course at Haydock), and
he has yet to finish out of the exacta in four starts. He's shown steady
improvement throughout his career, most recently stepping up in class to win
the 1 1/8-mile Prix de Conde (Fr-III) at Chantilly, and his performance in the
latter race was much more impressive than the bare form suggests. For much of
the homestretch, Line of Duty was boxed in behind horses with nowhere to run,
and it was only in the final furlong that he managed to bull his way through an
impossibly small opening and roar past the leaders to win with authority.
Furthermore, Line of Duty races for the team of trainer
Charlie Appleby and Godolphin Racing, who teamed up to win this race in 2013
with Outstrip. Appleby doesn't run horses in North America very often, but when he does,
he means business. Two of his three Breeders' Cup starters have been
victorious, and the one loser was the future Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winner Masar,
who finished sixth in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, beaten just 2 ½ lengths
while enduring a nightmarishly traffic-filled trip.
It's also worth noting that British bookmakers rank Line
of Duty as the clear second choice in the Juvenile Turf wagering, behind only
Anthony Van Dyck. All ratings aside, Line of Duty appears to have a bright
future and could have a strong chance to win the Juvenile Turf.
There's quite a bit to like about Marie's Diamond, who is
already a veteran with nine starts under his belt. That includes a victory
sprinting six furlongs over the roughly one-mile left-handed course at Chester,
which is essentially a round track with no meaningful straightways to speak of.
That bodes well for Marie's Diamond's chances of handling the tight-turning
turf course at Churchill Downs, and we know he's got some class since he won
the Jebel Ali Anglesey Stakes (Ire-III) at the Curragh.
On the other hand, Marie's Diamond has never run farther
than 6 ½ furlongs, and in his two Group 1 tests to date, he was soundly beaten
in both the Darley Prix Morny (Fr-I) at Deauville and the Juddmonte Middle Park
Stakes (Eng-I) at Newmarket. His career-best Timeform Rating (92) and Racing
Post Rating (108) both suggest that he's a step below the likes of Anthony Van
Dyck and Broome, and while it's a bit encouraging to see that trainer Mark
Johnston is willing to send Marie's Diamond to the Juvenile Turf (he's had just
one previous Breeders' Cup starter), overall I get the feeling that Marie's Diamond might be
a bit overmatched here, especially while stretching out beyond 6 ½ furlongs for
the first time.
You have to admire a horse who has won three of his first
five starts, including the Group 3 Prix la Rochette going seven furlongs at
Longchamp. Purchased privately by Team Valor International following that
effort, The Black Album will remain in the U.S. after the Breeders' Cup and
could have a bright future here, though with a career-best Timeform Rating of
86 (and a Racing Post Rating of 103), he would need to step up his game
significantly to contend against the best of the Europeans at the Breeders' Cup.
Now it's your turn! Which of the Europeans do you like
best in the Juvenile Turf?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.