Mucho Macho Man to deny Declaration Of War’s bid for Classic victory

Trainer Aidan O’Brien has gone close in the past but it looks a bridge too far again at Santa Anita

 Declaration Of War has a run-out at Santa Anita for tonight’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Declaration Of War has a run-out at Santa Anita for tonight’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Photograph: Jeff Gross/Getty Images


Declaration Of War is unlikely to ever be regarded as the most talented horse ever to go through Aidan O’Brien’s hands but if he can deliver Ireland’s champion trainer tonight’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic he will have to be regarded as the most freakishly adaptable.

Over the years, O’Brien has thrown the very best at the USA’s most valuable race, the culmination of North America’s most prestigious meeting. Galileo and Hawk Wing never got close to conquering dirt. George Washington was killed trying. Giant’s Causeway heroically almost managed the miracle 13 years ago. Since then, though, only Henrythenavigator got within touching distance in 2008, but on an artificial surface.

Yet the almost annual post-race analysis that it’s asking too much of horses trained on European turf to transfer their ability across the Atlantic to an alien surface — and an alien medication environment – seems to get forgotten in the face of the potential commercial pay-dirt that’s in it for Coolmore Stud if one of their horse somehow manages to bridge the surface divide.

Stun Santa Anita crowd
And it’s not as if winning the Classic is actually impossible for a European horse. Twenty years ago the unheralded Arcangues arrived in Los Angeles to stun the Santa Anita crowd. But Arcangues’ famous 133/1 SP on that occasion indicates the kind of challenge Declaration Of War and Joseph O’Brien face against the best American dirt specialists in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

That the Irish hope is as low as 8/1 in some betting lists is a tribute to his own class, O’Brien Snr’s worldwide reputation, and perhaps the European capacity to forget how difficult it is to beat a home team doing what they’ve spent their lives doing on their own patch.

The big American hope Game On Dude is very much in his backyard. Fort Larned is a defending champion. Palace Malice is a Belmont Stakes winner. Mucho Macho Man might be named with US racing’s traditional swagger in mind. If Declaration Of War can do what other Ballydoyle stars haven’t managed, it will be a tribute to his class, but especially his toughness and adaptability.

The O’Brien team also pitch Magician into the Turf and Cristiforo Colombo into the Mile tonight but their best chance lie with Declaration Of War.