It’s rare for Aidan O’Brien’s top classic star to be relegated to ‘extra’ billing but that’s Gleneagles’ lot when he tries to make it 14th time lucky for his trainer in tonight’s $5 million (€4.5 million) Breeders’ Cup Classic in Keeneland.
O’Brien has thrown some of his greatest names at American racing’s most valuable dirt prize over the years, yet the closest he has come to success in the race he and Coolmore covet most was with Giants Causeway in his first tilt in 2000.
He finished runner up, as did Henrythenavigator in 2008, while Declaration Of War was third in 2013. Now it is up to Giants Causeway’s ‘nephew’ Gleneagles to try to attain the commercial holy grail of becoming a proven cross-discipline performer on both turf and dirt.
That Galileo, Hawk Wing and Rip Van Winkle all spectacularly failed to take to dirt emphasises the difficulty of the task ahead of Gleneagles. And they didn’t have a home superstar such as the Triple Crown hero American Pharoah to defeat either.
Throw in how the Irish horse hasn't even raced beyond a mile yet and it is little wonder many Kentucky locals are dismissing Gleneagles as a realistic threat to American Pharoah before the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years retires to Coolmore's Ashford Stud.
The 32nd Breeders’ Cup remains an essentially local show with a little European stardust but even the locals are acknowledging the allure of both America’s and Europe’s finest runners of 2015 appearing within 45 minutes of each other.
That the outstanding Derby and Arc winner Golden Horn has already twice beaten the O’Brien-trained Found, rated by bookmakers his biggest threat in the $3 million (€2.7 million) Turf, illustrates how if Frankie Dettori’s mount is even close to his best he should draw his illustrious career to a successful close.
Five previous Arc winners have run in the race and all were beaten with just one making the frame. It’s asking a lot for a colt to travel 4,000 miles at the end of such a busy campaign and still be at his best but Golden Horn does look a truly exceptional three year old.
American Pharoah is clearly the same and with Beholder and Liam’s Map not in the Classic he could get the soft lead he thrives on. However, he is taking on older horses now and there could be value in siding with the late-running Honor Code to run him down if there’s a decent early pace.
Waterloo Bridge is the O’Brien hope in the Juvenile on dirt but the big Irish hope is David Wachman’s outstanding Legatissimo in the Filly & Mare. She could prefer fast going though and with first-time Lasix, the enigmatic French Group One winner, Queen’s Jewel, may be a value alternative at a big price.
The French can also fly the Euro flag in the Mile with the Foret winner Make Believe.