George Vancouver one in a million


RACING:Yet again European presumption ran into Breeders’ Cup reality when George Vancouver provided a rare chink of light for the visitors with a $1 million success at Santa Anita on Saturday night.

Aidan O’Brien’s colt benefited from a fine Ryan Moore ride to land the Juvenile Turf event, the second of just two European wins over the two days of America’s $25 million showpiece event, following the French filly Flotilla’s success on Friday.

The coincidence that both victories came in two-year-old races that were medication-free for the first time is hard to ignore and will provide hope for a better Euro show next year when the entire Breeders’ Cup will be back at Santa Anita, and granted the acquiescence of American trainers, entirely drug-free.

And by 2013, as seems the norm, the lessons of Breeders’ Cup 2012 will probably have been forgotten, just as they seem to have been on an annual basis for almost the last three decades.

With hindsight, O’Brien’s Ballydoyle team might not have sent Excelebration for Saturday night’s Mile, coming as it did just a fortnight after a career-best performance in the QEII at Ascot.

Even the absence of Frankel couldn’t mitigate against the impact of a 6,000-mile trip to Los Angeles, an alien track, and a home team that, like the Irish star, ran on Lasix, but which unlike Excelebration appeared to have generally been badly underrated on this side of the Atlantic.

Wise Dan looked the winner throughout the race and since the unconsidered Fort Larned afterwards won the $5 million Classic probably set himself up for Horse of the Year honours in the US.


But there was also last year’s Kentucky Derby hero Animal Kingdom who was stopped more than once in his run on his return to action on yet sliced through the field in the closing stages to take second, leaving Excelebration and Joseph O’Brien only fourth.

It was yet another deflating Breeders’ Cup experience for Coolmore, and in a race where possibly even better milers than Excelebration have come unstuck in the past such as Zilzal, Rock Of Gibraltar and Mark Of Esteem.

“Everything was happening so fast for him,” said O’Brien jnr afterwards who also pointed to going left-handed as a negative, while his father reported: “We felt we had to give it a go but the edge wasn’t on him. Ascot may have left its mark.”

As excuses go, they were perfectly valid but also hardly new in terms of reasons for why a top European performer under-performed in the US. Excelebration will join Coolmore’s stallion roster although St Nicholas Abbey will race on in 2013 after finishing third to the surprise winner, Little Mike, in the Turf.

A strong European team in the mile-and-a-half event were widely expected to dominate but it was the unlucky local favourite, Point Of Entry, that got closest to the winner at the line.

“It was a solid run. He got into a nice rhythm. He did have a tough race in the Arc and didn’t pick up the way he can in the straight,” Aidan O’Brien said. “I hope he will be around and keep going next year.”

A meeting that began for Ballydoyle with a former top Classic winner Fame And Glory being actually pulled up due to obvious disinterest in Friday night’s Marathon did at least contain the considerable chink of light represented by George Vancouver.

He followed in the footsteps of Wrote and gave Aidan O’Brien a seventh Breeders’ Cup win, and Ryan Moore a fourth.

“He could be an English Guineas horse but ground is important. We’ve been destroyed by soft ground all year but we always expected from him once the ground turned,” said O’Brien while Moore said “there was only a small gap but . . . I had plenty to get through. He was actually in front a little too soon”.

After a meeting that saw other top European names like The Fugue and Shareta eclipsed, that was a good complaint to have.

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