Having the same stars to cheer on year after year is the state of the game for fans of the National Hunt in the UK and Ireland. A sense of familiarity is one of several reasons why horse racing from October to April in that part of the world is so popular. People have time to fall in love with a horse. Jumpers don’t just up and disappear once they’ve had enough. They stay on and on, and on and on, to the delight of their following.
In less than a fortnight, horse racing fans in North America are in for a taste of the same when Breeders’ Cup fields congregate at Churchill Downs. More so this year than in other years, a select list of returnees will spice things up in the 27th renewal of the USA’s World Thoroughbred Championships. A confluence of factors including the ascendance of fillies and mares and a drop in the prices for stallions explains why this Breeders’ Cup may become the Déjà Vu Breeders’ Cup.
A second return by Zenyatta, of course, is what’s got everyone jazzed. In search of her 20th straight trophy, Ann and Jerry Moss’s unbeaten mare has enjoyed ultimate success in her two Breeders’ Cup races already. Some people forget that the handsome mare was the bomb of the 2008 Ladies Classic before sweeping to stardom last year. Had she not won the 2009 Classic, she would still have a Hall of Fame resume.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile seems the easiest in which to repeat. Miesque won in 1987 and 1988, Lure in 1992 and 1993, Da Hoss won in 1996 and 1998 and Goldikova in 2008 and 2009. If Goldikova wins the Mile again in 2010, the Irish-bred, French-owned mare will become the first horse to capture three Breeders’ Cup Miles – in fact, three Breeders’ Cup races of any sort. But, with the Classic only a few hours later, the distinction may last only briefly and Zenyatta and she then would share it.
Horses that have won on Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe day at Longchamp in their last start before their Breeders’ Cup races can be fried from a full-out effort in Paris. No Arc winner, for example, has finished first in the Breeders’ Cup Classic or Turf. Eleven Arc winners have tried and failed, thus the hesitancy of Prince Khalid Abdullah to greenlight trainer Sir Michael Stoute to have Workforce compete at Churchill Downs.
Before Goldikova won her first Breeders’ Cup Mile she had two months to rest. In early September of 2008, she topped a tough European field that included Darjina and Henrythenavigator in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin and subsequently beat the defending champion, Kip Deville, at Santa Anita. Before winning her second Breeders’ Cup Mile, beating Courageous Cat in 2009, Goldikova won the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville in August and then finished third in the Group 1 Prix de la Forêt at Longchamp. This year, she’ll have a five-week break after going all out against 16 male horses on a less than firm track to win the Prix de la Forêt on Arc day.
Midday, a daughter of the sprinter Oasis Dream and a mare by the distance loving Kingmambo, has a less accomplished past than Goldikova. But the four-year-old filly will defend her Filly and Mare Turf title backed by plenty of confidence. She has won all her Group 1 starts and is three out of four in Europe since defeating Pure Clan at Santa Anita. Her trainer Henry Cecil has won everything in sight with other horses in his barn since she won her last race in September.
At this early stage in the proceedings, it appears that Midday’s competition will come mostly from horses based in the USA. She should find this kind easy pickins’, having beaten Antara, Plumania, Sarafina, Snow Fairy and Stacelita in Europe. One likely starter in the Filly and Mare Turf - Hibaayeb, the facile winner of the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Hollywood Park, finished seventh to Midday in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, Midday’s last outing.
How tough is repeating? Well, four horses won their first Breeders’ Cup start and tried twice in vain to win another Thirty-two horses won their first Breeders’ Cup start and tried to win back in the next year and failed. This list includes Cigar, Go for Wand, Open Mind, Paseanna, Pleasantly Perfect, Silverbulletday and Unbridled. Fifteen horses, including Alysheba, Ashado, Precisionist and Theatrical, won a Breeders’ Cup race but took more than two attempts in fruitless search of a second. Better Talk Now won the 2004 Turf and tried four additional times to win and couldn’t.
In this perspective, Goldikova and Zenyatta are already in the elite company of the Breeders’ Cup’s foremost achievers. If Midday wins, she will become only the 12th horse with two Breeders’ Cup wins. It’ll be a memorable two-day event if only one of these horses triumph. But, even if none comes in first, the fans will thrill to seeing them in action again.
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