Though some European raiders will show the beginnings of a winter coat, the return of the Breeders' Cup to Santa Anita this time entails a still more abrupt change of climate for those arriving from the East Coast of the United States. For while one planeload of New York horses did manage to hasten west today, even as Hurricane Sandy closed in, another seems likely to be grounded today. With bridges in their home city likely to be closed by the Port Authority, several leading fancies in the care of the record-breaking trainer Todd Pletcher are unlikely to make their scheduled departure.
Breeders' Cup regulations require all runners to be on site for 72 hours ahead of the weekend, but officials indicated that an exception will be made in the dramatic circumstances. Arrangements will be made to have all runners under the same surveillance, wherever they are stabled. The bulk of European runners had been flown out ahead of the anticipated disruption, but many horsemen remain uncertain of their own travel options, both on the East Coast and in Europe.
Richard Hughes, who hopes to crown his maiden championship by breaking his Breeders' Cup duck on Sky Lantern in the Juvenile Fillies' Turf, meanwhile kept up his relentless autumn form with another four winners at Leicester. Remarkably, his father, Dessie, was able to match that feat by saddling a winner at Naas and three at Galway. Most notable of the latter was Lyreen Legend, a useful novice hurdler last season, who looked a real prospect for staying chases at the first attempt.
He was just one of several jumpers, either side of the Irish Sea, undertaking preliminary skirmishes en route to major battlegrounds of the winter. Tominator, a smart handicapper on the Flat, made an auspicious start over timber at Bangor, but top billing went to Hidden Cyclone, who is 20-1 from 33-1 with Boylesports for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup after seeing off some useful, race-fit rivals over an inadequate trip at Naas.
Hidden Cyclone had not been seen since his defeat by Sir Des Champs in January – only his second reverse in nine career starts, the other likewise behind a subsequent Festival winner in First Lieutenant. Shark Hanlon, his trainer, has long viewed him as potentially top-class, and will hardly think less of him after ending a nightmare streak exceeding 100 consecutive losers. Though looking a little rusty, both in his jumping and in his focus on the run-in, Hidden Cyclone powered home by a length and a half under Andrew McNamara. "He hadn't run for nine months so wouldn't have been spot on for this," Hanlon said. "Andrew said he was a bit leery after the last, but he had plenty in the tank."
Perhaps the most gratifying spectacle of all, however, was at Galway – where Go Native completed his rehabilitation after injury with a stylish success on the Flat. His trainer, Noel Meade, pronounced the top-class hurdler "back to his best" and will restore him to timber at Punchestown next month.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Beyeh (4.10 Yarmouth)
Showed a measure of ability once switching stables and sent over hurdles, and returns to the Flat off a very modest rating.
Next Best: Attain (3.10 Yarmouth)
Has dropped down weights and signs of renewal tried in blinkers last time, travelling well when hampered. Has form over distance and going.
One to watch: Sunbula (Charles Hills) is bred to thrive over middle distances next year, and laid promising foundations in her debut at Newmarket last week.