A year on, Zenyatta's first and only defeat already seems preserved by some golden patina of nostalgia. Even back here at Churchill Downs, a stage that has guaranteed so many other fleeting moments in the collective memory of the Turf, it seems too much to hope for just a vignette of the same epic quality at the 28th Breeders' Cup. But you never know. After all, the carnival's defining theme this time round – namely, the prowess of the female thoroughbred – pays unmistakable homage to her Amazonian example.
Goldikova's unprecedented third success at the Breeders' Cup last year was a distinction many had reserved for the other mare, later that day. Zenyatta contrived to steal the show even in defeat, but Goldikova returns tonight to avenge that indignity, undisputed at the top of the bill as she bids to close one of the greatest of all careers with a fourth consecutive Mile. Likewise taking a stand against the colts, and abjuring easier opportunities against their own sex, are Midday and Sarafina in the Turf, and Havre De Grace in the Classic.
The latter's rivals include So You Think, for whom success on his dirt debut would instantly redeem a variety of omissions in both his own CV and that of his trainer. Aidan O'Brien admits candidly to the "hurt" of having saddled just one Breeders' Cup winner – and, if anything, the Marathon on a synthetic track would tend to make the mantelpiece look still barer than an empty one – since High Chaparral won his second Turf in 2003. The Ballydoyle trainer remains adamant that So You Think is capable of a good deal better than he has shown since his arrival from Australia, and he could seek no more resounding vindication for that view than to beat the locals to their greatest prize.
Victory would have a broader significance, moreover, in attesting to the feasibility of the dirt races for the Europeans. Unquestionably, the Breeders' Cup finds itself at a crossroads, having teased the raiders with two record-breaking years on a synthetic track at Santa Anita. When the series returns there next year, the restoration of dirt will doubtless prompt the majority of Europeans to seek sanctuary on the grass. Lord Grimthorpe, racing manager to Khaled Abdullah, has already lamented the fact that the 2012 Classic will not be run on a surface more congenial to Frankel. And while these dilemmas remain an awfully long way off, it already seems alarming – and utterly, maddeningly stupid – that the second Champions Day at Ascot should be scheduled just a fortnight before the 29th Breeders' Cup.
With all this in mind, the hosts should prove rather more gracious in defeat today than might be anticipated after a lesser schism during the week. On Thursday, there were angry scenes when three European horses were denied access to the turf track for scheduled workouts after the first, innocuous minutes of rain. That episode could have been handled rather better by all parties, albeit Richard Hannon Jnr was quick to repent of some fairly hasty remarks.
Hannon Snr, set to be joined by Paul Hanagan at Doncaster today in the successful defence of their respective titles, is apparently disposed at last to exchange roles with his son. While the difference will be largely formal, it would be disappointing if the new regime also proved seamless in terms of a reluctance – dating back to the loss of Mr Brooks in 1992 – to come to the Breeders' Cup.
To that extent, it must be hoped that Strong Suit can lay down the most exciting challenge to Goldikova. But while he has long seemed an ideal type for the race, the draw and weather have also conspired against him and her proven felicity in this theatre makes the French mare hard to resist. Courageous Cat is recommended as each-way value, but the perceived decline in Goldikova (10.07) remains marginal at worst.
As ever, the home defence generally looks vulnerable on grass, and the raiders should once again dominate the Turf itself. Given the uncertainty accompanying Await The Dawn following his recuperation from sickness, Sea Moon (8.45) can be more reliably expected to produce a new peak.
Caspar Netscher has been a credit to his trainer all season but has stamina to prove in the Juvenile Turf and, unusually, it may be that the best prospect among the European two-year-olds can be found on the dirt. O'Brien has already said that Daddy Long Legs (9.25) is here on reconnaissance for the Kentucky Derby, and his genes suggest he may build even on the smart form he has already shown now that he switches surface.
Nobody could make any such prediction about So You Think, but it has long been easy to see why his patrons at Coolmore should have encouraged O'Brien to have a crack at the Classic. Everything bar his pedigree suggests that his monstrous stride will be well suited by the tempo and demands of dirt racing. He will have to be every bit as tough and indolent as O'Brien protests, if he is to raise his game anew – in blinkers – after two hard races in just 13 days over the past month. But the horse evidently did not lose a kilo after his run at Ascot, which certainly qualifies as freakish, and there is a strong case for saying that he will either win or be tailed off. On that basis, he is likely to be a very palatable price on the pari-mutuel.
Uncle Mo is the most brilliant of his indigenous rivals but an unknown quantity at this distance, so those seeking a solid run for their money should perhaps take a chance with Game On Dude (11.00). This horse is mighty tough to pass in the stretch. And it would certainly be fitting, with the Turf expecting so much of its females on four legs, if Chantal Sutherland could reach a new summit on behalf of those relying on just the two.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Pekan Star (3.10 Doncaster) Gelded during a three-month absence, looks likely to make greater progress than most of these.
Checkerboard (3.20 Wincanton) Not many miles on the clock, improving when last seen and now, having joined a yard going places, is worth chancing off his low weight.
One to Watch
Mabel Tasman (Neil Mulholland) Made an encouraging start over timber at Exeter, keeping on for a distant fourth, and might be worth another look when handicapped.
Where the money's going
Or likely to go, anyway, after Ladbrokes eased Goldikova – as short as 6-4 in places on Thursday – to 5-2 for the Breeders' Cup Mile, and Uncle Mo to 6-1 for the Classic.Reuse content