The first place to look for the winner of the 1 ½-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf is, quite clearly, the European contingent.
European horses clearly excel at this trip on turf, and with nine of the last 12 editions of this race being won by trans-Atlantic raiders, their connections know how to cope with the journey.
Six of the 14 runners in the 2017 Turf are Europeans. They include three from the stable of Aidan O’Brien, who’s won the race six times before, and one from that of Sir Michael Stoute, who’s taken it out four times.
Their two big hopes are Sir Michael’s 4-year-old Ulysses, the 7-2 morning-line favorite, and O’Brien’s Highland Reel, on the third line at 5-1.
They have met three times, including this race last year, when Highland Reel won and the still-improving Ulysses finished fourth. This year Highland Reel relegated Ulysses to third when he won the 1 ¼-mile Prince of Wales’s Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot, but Ulysses came out on top in the 1 ½-mile King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1), finishing second behind champion filly Enable while Highland Reel finished fourth.
Ulysses also won the 1 ¼-mile Eclipse Stakes (G1) and the 1 5/16-mile International Stakes (G1), and also added a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe third behind Enable.
However, Highland Reel has been handicapped at his last two starts – the King George and the British Champion Stakes, in which he finished third to Cracksman – by wet tracks, which he hates. With firm conditions likely at Del Mar, his 5-1 morning-line odds look generous.
Highland Reel and Ulysses are among five runners in the race by Galileo. The others are Highland Reel’s stablemates, dual Oaks winner Seventh Heaven and Epsom Derby runner-up Cliffs of Moher, and the multiple group one winner Decorated Knight, winner of the Irish Champion Stakes (G1) at his last start.
The other European runner is Andre Fabre’s Talismanic. His form doesn’t look as good as the others, but Fabre doesn’t normally come this far for nothing.
The local team is headed by last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Oscar Performance, a dual grade one winner this year, and Chad Brown’s impressive Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) winner Beach Patrol. Sadler’s Joy and Fanciful Angel have the ability to get some of the money, while a downpour could help Canadian International winner Bullards Alley.
If Ulysses and Highland Reel are at the top of their game and don’t strike traffic they should be right in the finish, and any exotic bets should include them. Beach Patrol is the most likely of the American runners to trouble them.