Getting an early start handicapping the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) is always a challenge, since European runners tend to have the advantage, but determining which ones might make the trip is easier said than done.
That said, with less than seven weeks remaining until the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, here’s my preliminary attempt at ranking some of the top contenders, which includes some guesswork as to which Euros might contest the race….
- Robert Bruce
If not for a disastrously troubled trip in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I), Robert Bruce might be undefeated in nine starts. In any case, the Chad Brown-trained star produced an explosive finish to win the Arlington Million (gr. I) last time out, gaining five lengths in the final furlong to win going away, and since he hasn’t even reached his fourth birthday yet, there’s no telling how good he might become as he matures.
- Roaring Lion
It’s not a given that Roaring Lion will make the trip to Churchill Downs, but with three straight Group 1 wins under his belt in Europe—including a powerful triumph against older rivals in the Juddmonte International (Eng-I)—it’s clear that this son of Kitten’s Joy is among the most talented turf horses in the world. Whether he can handle 1 ½ miles is another question (he’s been something of a 1 ¼-mile specialist thus far), but on class alone he would have to be viewed as a major player in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner ran well when finishing second against a tough field in the Qatar Prix Foy (Fr-I) at Longchamp on September 16th, his second start off a 4 ½-month layoff. We already know he can handle the trip to North America and the tight-turning courses on this side of the Atlantic, and since he hasn’t been on the go all summer long, he should be reaching peak form just in time to defend his Breeders’ Cup title.
- Crystal Ocean
Talk about consistent! Crystal Ocean has never finished out of the trifecta in ten starts and has fired off some very big efforts this season, including a neck defeat in the 1 ½-mile King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) at Ascot. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who has already won the Breeders’ Cup Turf four times, Crystal Ocean seems perfectly at home going 1 ½ miles and would warrant a lot of respect if he makes the trip to Churchill Downs.
- Glorious Empire
This Irish-bred son of Holy Roman Emperor has a long dealt with exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, even while racing on Lasix, but he seems to have put those troubles behind him this season, as demonstrated by his back-to-back victories in the Bowling Green Stakes (gr. II) and Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. He did secure easy leads in both of those races, but a lot of horses don’t have the tactical speed to take advantage of such situations, and Glorious Song’s speed could certainly be dangerous in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
- Spring Quality
He was compromised by the slow pace and fast finish in the Sword Dancer Stakes, but nevertheless produced the best finish among the late runners to secure third place while running the final quarter-mile in about :22 2/5, a solid time. Previously, Spring Quality had upset a deep field in the ten-furlong Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, so we know he’s got the class to prevail at the Grade 1 level.
- Channel Maker
A determined late rally enabled him to finish in a dead-heat for victory with Glorious Empire in the Bowling Green Stakes, but that was over a soft course—when employing stalking tactics over firm turf in the Sword Dancer, he was never able to get on even terms with Glorious Empire and had to settle for the runner-up spot. Still, Channel Maker has made great strides this year and is bred like a true 1 ½-mile turf specialist, so there might be more room for improvement from this son of English Channel.
It’s anyone’s guess as to which horse(s) Aidan O’Brien might send to contest the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but Rostropovich seems like a logical candidate. The son of Frankel might not be among the true elite in Europe, but his record going 1 ½ miles is strong, with the highlights including a close runner-up effort in the Irish Derby (Ire-I) and a victory in the September 15th Paddy’s Rewards Club Stakes (Eng-III). He would be an intriguing player if he does make the trip.
True, Arklow hasn’t really been competitive yet at the Grade 1 level, but this improving four-year-old fired off his best effort to date in the 1 ½-mile Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Kentucky Downs on September 8th, defeating the Grade 1 winner Bigger Picture in a determined finish. That was Arklow’s second straight stakes win, so the Brad Cox-trained colt seems to be finding his best form just in time for the Breeders’ Cup.
With just four starts under his belt, the future looks bright for this up-and-coming three-year-old, who rallied with determination to win the 1 ¼-mile Secretariat Stakes (gr. I) last time out. Notably, Carrick posted a significantly faster final time than Robert Bruce recorded in the Arlington Million later that afternoon. He’s nominated to the upcoming Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. I) at Belmont Park, where we could see him face older horses while stretching out to 1 ½ miles for the first time.