Breeders Cup display may have big impact on Churchill’s stud fee
O'Brien-trained Caravaggio and Highland Reel will both stand at Coolmore next year
Giant’s Causeway’s narrow loss to Tiznow at Churchill Downs in 2000 is the closest Aidan O’Brien has come to winning the Breeders Cup Classic. Photograph: Jeff Haynes/Getty Images.
Dual Guineas winner Churchill is a 14-1 shot for the Breeders Cup Classic at Del Mar. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho.
Del Mar is a first-time Breeders Cup host venue later this week and Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore Stud team are likely to be keeping their fingers crossed the new location provides a change of luck in the $6 Million Classic.
The Breeders Cup climax has become something of an elusive holy grail for Coolmore who for 17 years have thrown some of Ballydoyle’s finest turf stars at US dirt racing’s most valuable prize only to come up short every time.
Giants Causeway was the first of O’Brien’s 14 runners in the race and he’s still the one to get closest to successfully making the surface crossover, failing narrowly to Tiznow in a memorable finish in the year 2000 at Churchill Downs.
Eight years later Henrythenavigator was also runner-up at Santa Anita when the Classic was run on a synthetic surface. Declaration Of War was third at the same track in 2013 after it had reverted back to dirt.
Even Coolmore’s legendary stallion Galileo is among a lengthy list of other O’Brien stars that have also come up short in the Classic.
Nevertheless his son Churchill appears set to try and change Ballydoyle’s luck against the top American dirt horses on Saturday night and there will be plenty riding on his capacity to succeed where others have failed.
It was confirmed on Monday the dual 2,000 Guineas winner will retire to stud for 2018 although the phrase ‘To Be Announced’ features next to his name on Coolmore’s new stallion roster rather than a fee.
A Breeders Cup Classic success would take Churchill’s value to another level again so holding fire on naming a fee is little surprise.
In contrast, Churchill’s stable companion Caravaggio is also new for 2018 with the son of Scat Daddy already handed a fee of €35,000. Coolmore’s third new addition for next year is Highland Reel and his price is ‘To Be Announced’ given he defends his Breeders Cup Turf crown on Saturday.
The fee for the pre-potent daddy of the lot, Galileo, remains resolutely ‘Private’ on a roster of 23 flat stallions that also includes Fastnet Rock at €70,000 and Gleneagles who is the next most costly at a fee of €40,000.
Gleneagles was the last of O’Brien’s 14 runners in the Breeders Cup Classic but that son of Galileo finished almost tailed off behind American Pharoah in 2015.
Churchill is a general 14-1 shot to crack the Classic code for Ballydoyle this time and could be joined by the 33-1 outsider War Decree in a race which appears to be dominated by the US dirt stars, Gun Runner and Arrogate.
However O’Brien is just 11-8 with one firm to saddle at least one winner at the Breeders Cup which kicks off on Friday night with four Grade One races.
Ireland’s record-breaking champion trainer has won 11 previous Breeders Cup races from 110 runners since first being represented at American racing’s shop-window event in 1998.
O’Brien could have his biggest team ever at the meeting, beating last year’s dozen runners, and US Navy Flag is already favourite for Friday’s Juvenile Turf event, a race the Irishman has won on three occasions previously.
Both Happily and September are possible starters for the Juvenile Turf event on Friday while Rhododendron and Highland Reel are at the top of the betting for the Filly & Mare and Turf respectively.
O’Brien’s 26th Group One success of 2017 memorably came with Saxon Warrior in Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster.
Verbal Dexterity proved disappointing in the same race however, fading to fourth after having to be niggled by jockey Kevin Manning for much of the race.
His trainer Jim Bolger still believes the National Stakes winner, who had to miss the Dewhurst after a poor scope earlier this month, is a classic prospect for 2018.
”Everything came to light two weeks ago when he didn’t scope well,” he reported “He seemed in good form so I took a chance and ran him. But I shouldn’t have and I paid the penalty. He didn’t run up to his best on the day but he’s home safe and well so we have the horse for next year. The plan would be to go straight for the 2,000 Guineas.”