International racing fans have travelled from around the globe to Churchill Downs for the annual Breeders’ Cup meeting.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, the biggest race of the championships, is not vintage in terms of participants. In 2015 we had Triple Crown hero American Pharoah, in 2016 we had that mighty duel between Arrogate and California Chrome, last year Gun Runner topped a stand-out season with victory in Del Mar, but this time round it seems to be lacking a superstar. That said, there are some fascinating competitors.
For British followers, Roaring Lion is one of the horses of the season after notching four straight Group 1s. He puts his winning streak on the line on dirt, a surface he has never raced on. On pedigree he might handle it, but the kick back from the surface will be a new thing for him, and it is tough to take on the experienced US dirt horses in their own back yard.
Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow blasted the Meydan field apart in March and actually ran a solid second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont in preparation for the Classic. He has slipped a little under the radar.
The Home Team have the best chance with the likes of Accelerate, Mckinzie and West Coast. Mckinzie would get the narrow vote from me. He’s finished first past the post in all five starts (although one was demoted to second after a stewards’ enquiry). Bob Baffert is the golden trainer who knows how to win at the Breeders’ Cup and I think he might be celebrating again with Mckinzie.
In the UK, focus has now switched to the jumps, with the Charlie Hall Chase attracting a quite small field of five. Black Corton steps up from novice company having won a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 last season. His campaign tailed off a little at Cheltenham and Aintree in the Spring but he has a very good record when fresh so this might be the time to catch him.
Double Shuffle is a consistent, smooth jumper who was second in the King George last year. I also think the ground will be in his favour, which might not be true of Definitly Red who likes some juice in the turf. It’s a tough call, but Paul Nicholls has got off to a good start this autumn and does so well in these big Saturday races that it may just pay to side with the favourite. Sometimes it’s just that simple.