Cecil chases Breeders' Cup win
Expanded raiding party gives British trainer fine chance of first California win
Thursday 29 October 2009
The one omission in the glittering CV of Henry Cecil is a Breeders' Cup victory. But it should be pointed out that, in 25 years of the hugely valuable meeting, Britain's ten-time champion trainer has fielded only six runners, half of which won prize money. The first to blaze a trail from Warren Place was Indian Skimmer, who finished third in the Turf in 1988, the most recent Passage Of Time, third in the Filly & Mare Turf two years ago.
This time around, Cecil is playing what is by his standards a numbers game, California dreaming with a team of three. Twice Over is bound for the fixture's richest prize, the $5m Classic, Midday for the Filly & Mare Turf and Father Time (right) for the Marathon. All three carry the silks of Khaled Abdullah.
Cecil is as partial to fat purses as any trainer – this year's 14 races over two days are worth $25.5m (£15.5m) – but practical considerations have also restricted his raiding parties in past seasons.
"I've always found it difficult as it's so late in the year," he said. "By now horses have had a long season and the travelling doesn't make it easy. In the past, I've only taken one horse at a time, this time I'm taking three.
"Hopefully the three of them will run really well. I'd like to think they'll all be in the first three. Whether they win or not, though, is another matter."
The market gives the best chance to Midday, third-favourite for her ten-furlong contest, and so does her trainer. Since winning the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood at the start of August, the daughter of Oasis Dream has had Santa Anita on Saturday week as her target, though Cecil admits he left her slightly undercooked for her warm-up in the Prix de L'Opera on Arc day.
"She's still growing and getting much stronger and I gave her a break with the Breeders' Cup in mind," he said. "I gave her six easy weeks and I mistimed it. I was a week behind with her and in the Opera she came there to win but got tired in the last furlong. After the race I knew I'd got it wrong as she was really heaving, which she never does. At home she was doing things so easily – she was only just doing enough. She needed that race."
Twice Over, who proved himself a genuine top-level performer in the Champion Stakes and has thrived mentally and physically since, faces a stiff task against Aidan O'Brien-trained Rip van Winkle and, possibly, the unbeaten US star Zenyatta. A decision about whether the filly will take on males for the first time will be made after she works on Saturday.
Both Twice Over and Rip van Winkle are set for their first starts on an artificial track, but most European horses now train regularly on such surfaces and 12 months ago, at the same venue, Raven's Pass memorably notched only the second European victory in the Classic, after Arcangues 16 years ago.
"I expect he'll like it," said Cecil of his charge. "He likes a bit of give in the ground. It was lovely to win the Champion Stakes seeing him run like that on that faster ground – I'd like to think he'd be even better on the surface in America."
Rip van Winkle, coming off Group 1 mile wins in the Sussex and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes after beating all bar Sea The Stars in the 10-furlong Eclipse, is 13-8 favourite to make it back-to-back wins for Europe on the underfoot conditions, introduced to the Breeders' Cup for the first time last year and more familiar to the raiders than the traditional American dirt. "He is full of strength and determination," said O'Brien yesterday, "and I'll be surprised if the surface does not work for him."
The master of Ballydoyle will take seven to Santa Anita and Royal Ascot winner Mastercraftsman, who successfully warmed up on Dundalk's sand, is 2-1 favourite for the Dirt Mile. Europe, with five victories from 24 runners last year, has other strong fancies in the Turf (Conduit, Spanish Moon, Dar Re Mi), Turf Mile (Goldikova, Delegator and Gladiatorus), Marathon (Mastery and Father Time) and Turf Sprint (Fleeting Spirit).
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Moonlife (2.40 Lingfield) Showed the benefit of a mid-season break with a confidence-booster 16 days ago and although that win was something of a penalty kick, she can continue her impressive progress.
Spirit of Sharjah (3.10 Lingfield) Produced a good first all-weather effort, despite running keenly from a high draw, on today's course last time and has dropped to his previous winning turf mark.
One to watch
Of the debutants in Tuesday's seven-furlong maiden at Yarmouth, none shaped better than Lileo (L Cumani). The colt, by Galileo, will benefit from a step up in trip next time.
Where the money's going
Poquelin is 5-1 favourite with the sponsors for the Paddy Power Gold Cup, the first valuable handicap of the Cheltenham season, on 14 November.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Get Me Out Of Here (3.20 Stratford).
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