If George Washington wants to shoot at the moon, Araafa is more than happy to settle for a million dollars instead. Respectively the best milers of their generation in Ireland and Britain, their three meetings on the track have conclusively demonstrated the superiority of George Washington - not only to Araafa, as it happens, but to every other thoroughbred in Europe. After the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot last month, Jeremy Noseda strode over and shook Aidan O'Brien's hand. "The best horse won," he said warmly. Little could Araafa's trainer realise that he would soon be rewarded by a still more sporting gesture.
The decision to run George Washington in the Breeders' Cup Classic, first revealed in this newspaper 11 days ago, has given Noseda an unexpectedly clear run at the race for which the Irish champion, according to Ladbrokes, would otherwise be odds-on favourite. As it is, they make George Washington 10-1 to beat the American monster, Bernardini, over an unfamiliar surface and distance - and Araafa half those odds for the Mile.
Entries for the 23rd Breeders' Cup were published yesterday, and the team of 16 European candidates is predictably concentrated among the three turf races. In fact, George Washington apart, the only dirt runner at Churchill Downs on Saturday week will be Satulagi in the Juvenile Fillies' race. She does have an advantage over the Ballydoyle Goliath in terms of her family tree - which is dirt, root and branch - but otherwise her trainer, Stan Moore, has only her fourth place in the Fillies' Mile to load into his sling.
That race was won by Noseda, with Simply Perfect, and was his fourth Group One success of the campaign. Given that he has run a total of 75 horses on the Flat this year, that is a phenomenal return. To put it in context, Mark Johnston has called upon 206 different runners, Richard Hannon 192, Mick Channon 171, and Barry Hills 165. They have mustered one Group One each.
Noseda's Breeders' Cup record to date is short but sweet: Majors Cast was fifth in the Mile at Belmont 12 months ago, and Wilko rallied to win the Juvenile in Texas the previous year. And he certainly sounds optimistic about Araafa, who will be ridden by the local ace, John Velasquez.
"I was delighted when I heard about George Washington going for the other race," he admitted yesterday. "Araafa's run at Ascot was the best of his life. If George Washington hadn't been there, Araafa would have been getting a lot of accolades and going to the Breeders' Cup with a favourite's chance. I do feel this horse has all the right attributes needed to run well, and I'm actually happier with him now - with the way he's training and with his general condition - than I was before Ascot. I think he's made for racing in America, and would be very hopeful so long as he travels well and gets a good draw."
Noseda will give Araafa a final piece of work on Saturday, and the colt will fly out with the other British runners the next day. That precious cargo will also include the shortest-priced raider of all in Ouija Board, 7-4 favourite with Coral to retrieve the Filly & Mare Turf crown she surrendered last year.
Durable as she is, those odds take little account of an arduous schedule this year. "Dubai in March does seem a very long time ago," Lord Derby, her owner, said. "We were treating that as the tail-end of the previous year, and thought she would have a nice long break after that. But things didn't work out that way, and it has been pretty much non-stop since. She does seem to thrive on it, though, and Frankie Dettori said she felt as good as ever when he rode her work last week."
Dettori apparently tends to address him as "Lordy". The Italian may not be on such affectionate terms with everyone in Louisville, where his wild ride on Swain in 1998 is still remembered. The last time the Breeders' Cup was staged here, in 2000, the raiders went even closer in the Classic through Giant's Causeway, and O'Brien would be overjoyed to go one better with George Washington.
O'Brien still has strong chances on the grass, with Scorpion confirmed for the Turf and Aussie Rules, Ad Valorem and possibly Ivan Denisovich in the Mile.
"Aussie Rules looked a different horse in the blinkers when he won at Keeneland last month," O'Brien said. "It's in his favour too that he has a jockey who knows him now in Garret Gomez. When he got to the front, this horse used to wait on horses, but he seemed to concentrate more there. Ad Valorem also ran well at Woodbine last time, he lost a shoe and finished real well.
"Scorpion split a pastern in the spring and while it healed perfectly, he barely got back in time to run at the Curragh the other day. He ran a lovely race on ground he would have hated, and we have been delighted with him since."
NB: Hawridge King
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