By George, Vancouver turns the tide
Moore brings Breeders' Cup solace to O'Brien but Excelebration finds the pace too hot in California
So Frankel isn't the only horse who can make Excelebration look pedestrian. We will never know how the retired champion would have fared, if only his connections had dared to risk his unbeaten record at the Breeders' Cup. But we do know that the Americans have seldom had a turf miler like Wise Dan, who last night broke the track record here in a vintage race.
Excelebration, who became a standard gauge of Frankel's brilliance in Britain, just missed out on the podium as Wise Dan saw off the rallying 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, in a thriller. Obviously, who controlled a less frantic pace than many had anticipated, held Excelebration at bay for third.
That shifted the European raiders over the margin between satisfaction and disappointment. The defeat in the Turf of his stablemate, St Nicholas Abbey, had left the visitors indebted to the meeting's expansion, five years ago, to accommodate two turf races for juveniles.
As one of several initiatives devised to fortify its status as the Turf's defining international carnival, these have proved a significant stimulus to European interest in the Breeders' Cup. On Friday's preliminary card, Flotilla had exported the fillies' race to France – albeit she might not have done so, had Richard Hughes had better fortune on Sky Lantern – and yesterday George Vancouver plundered the colts' prize for Aidan O'Brien and Ryan Moore. The same pair had combined to win with Wrote, last year, and took the overall European tally to four wins from six runnings.
In fairness to Hughes and William Buick, who had endured a similarly vexing experience on The Fugue the previous day, Moore's tactics were more or less identical – with the difference that a stronger gallop almost guaranteed him a break in the straight. "Yesterday, they went quite steady in those races," Moore said. "When the pace is slow a lot of horses will still be travelling, turning in, and it's harder to find room. I only had a small gap, but I had so much horse that if anything I got there too soon."
So it was that George Vancouver, in west coast sunshine, took the Ballydoyle team to the other end of the spectrum from George Washington – their tragic loss in a New Jersey monsoon, five years previously. Placed in two of Europe's elite juvenile races, the Prix Morny and the Dewhurst, George Vancouver was brought here by O'Brien in the hope of fast ground. "He's been crying out for it all year," the Ballydoyle trainer said. "His dad was the same, Henrythenavigator. We've been destroyed with soft ground at home. Most races have been slogging races, not speed races. All this one needed was for the going to turn."
Clearly relishing the extra furlong, George Vancouver might yet have another crack at the Dewhurst winner, Dawn Approach, in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas – but O'Brien emphasised that fast ground would be "vital". Coral offer 20-1.
St Nicholas Abbey had himself bogged down in unsuitable ground at Longchamp last month. Not for the first time this year, however, St Nicholas Abbey was never closer than at the line in his bid to retain the Turf, beaten a little over a length in third behind Little Mike and Point Of Entry.
To the stable's patrons at Coolmore Stud, however, that reverse had already been rendered tolerable by a priceless success in the Juvenile itself, on the dirt track. Only days previously they had secured a deal to stand Shanghai Bobby on their Kentucky farm, as and when he eventually leaves Todd Pletcher's barn – and they suddenly find themselves on a historic mission. For Rosie Napravnik not only became only the second woman to ride a Breeders' Cup winner, after Julie Krone in 2003. On the assumption that she retains the mount next May, the 24-year-old will have a big chance of becoming the first of her sex to win the Kentucky Derby itself.
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