Tough guy Street Sense poised to ambush George Washington in Breeders' Classic

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The Independent Online

As President, Ulysses S. Grant was a regular at the new racecourse near his summer home on the New Jersey shore. Some 125 years later, the greatest day in the history of Monmouth Park will identify a hero who must borrow one of the aphorisms of Grant's Civil War campaign. "In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten," the general would say. "He who continues the attack wins."

In its 24th year, the Breeders' Cup has come to this rainswept coast in search of a champion equal to such attrition. It may prove a brutal business. Not just for the poor souls in the bleachers, unsheltered against the forecast rain. It may not be too pretty on the track, either.

The Classic promises to be one of the great bareknuckle showdowns. For a start, it will settle the festering grudges between an outstanding generation of three-year-olds. Then there is Lawyer Ron, best older horse in the land, morning-line favourite to bang all their heads together. And, lest we forget, George Washington himself – the European paragon who has become a paradox.

He has lost none of his theatricality. Hundreds of horses share the track for their morning exercise, but yesterday it was closed to all but one of them for 20 minutes – or two, if you count George Washington's escort, a pony ridden by Aidan O'Brien himself. Everyone else stood and waited as George walked round at his leisure, briefly breaking into a trot, before finally cantering down the stretch.

This is the one colt with the ability to make it look easy, but the Classic is more likely to be settled by a photograph. It could be very different for his stablemate, Dylan Thomas, in the Turf. Unless Red Rocks retrieves the form that won him the race last year, the Arc winner could lap this lot. Even so, he too faces a ruthless test of strength. In this case, however, he must instead fight an enemy within: the insidious effects of a long, gruelling campaign.

And success for the third of the Ballydoyle big guns, Excellent Art, depends on yet another kind of an ordeal. For unflinching mental fortitude will be required of his jockey if they are to overcome "the Death Valley draw" – just one gate away from the outside on what is a very tight turf circuit, even by American standards.

Jeremy has fared better, but Nobiz Like Showbiz (8.20) seems to have found his metier since being switched to turf and is a class act.

Four of the nine European raiders muster in the Filly and Mare Turf, headed by Passage Of Time. A first Breeders' Cup success for Henry Cecil is a perfectly feasible prospect, as this filly remains fresh after a light campaign and will be helped by the rain, but Argentina (6.55) looks great value at 20-1. She embraces a suitable test of stamina for the first time since her arrival from France.

As for Dylan Thomas, he had another hard race in Paris but Aidan O'Brien is very encouraging about his condition. "An amazing horse," the trainer said. "Every race, he has bounced out better than before. He just keeps getting stronger and stronger, physically and mentally. He's a powerhouse now."

Dylan Thomas (9.50) could run below his best and still win, but it is difficult to envisage a race as rancorous as the Classic proving the key to the George Washington enigma. True, O'Brien is persuasive. "Mick (Kinane) was confident he would have been placed in the race last year if he hadn't been knocked off balance in the straight," he reasoned.

"And whereas you wanted a staying horse that day, this time it seems as though you want a fast one. He was a little bit washed out last year, too, his condition had gone, but we've been easier on him this time and he's tighter in his quarters, very fresh and fit. George is the exciting one, because with him who knows what can happen? If you know George, anything is possible."

It would certainly be a perfect, bloody-minded climax to a bewitching career. But Street Sense (10.35) is surely too much of a hard-knocking specialist, over the trip and surface, to be ambushed by a mere dilettante. There will assuredly come a time when the winner of this race is staring defeat in the face. And here is the colt to see the attack through.

Proud price is right in Trophy clash

Johnny Murtagh rides Excellent Art for the first time today, replacing Jamie Spencer, who has repeatedly been unlucky on the colt. Spencer's record for Ballydoyle in North America will not have encouraged the stable's owners that this was the time and place to redress both trends.

But he will not be too dismayed to sit out the Breeders' Cup, as he maintains his heroic duel with Seb Sanders for the jockeys' championship.

Aidan O'Brien has instead asked him to ride one of his runners in a fascinating race at Doncaster for the Racing Post Trophy, the final Group One race of the British season.

Three of the past six winners have gone on to win the Derby the following June, including Authorized, and there can be no doubt that New Approach will face formidable opposition from any colt capable of beating this field with authority.

It is impossible to be adamant over the relative merits even of the two Ballydoyle runners, never mind the rest of the field. Both are sons of Montjeu, and have laid down promising markers in their maidens.

There can be no solid bet in a race contested by so many improving youngsters, but Curtain Call is running on faster ground this time and River Proud (3.40) looks better value at 8-1. This handsome colt has an advantage in experience over the Ballydoyle pair, and is capable of finding the necessary improvement now that he samples an eighth furlong for the first time.

Channel 4 is also at Newbury, where Sanders will be trying to retrieve the initiative. The Mountgrange Stud Horris Hill Stakes is another intriguing race, Iguazu Falls looking solid after running River Proud close last time, but the unexposed opposition includes Almajd (2.15) – so impressive on his debut that his owner's retained rider comes here instead of riding a similar type in the Racing Post Trophy.

Everything in the Garden looks lovely

After today, only the contest for the jockeys' title will stoke the dying embers of the Flat season. As if staking a formal claim to our attention, tomorrow no less a jumper than Kauto Star makes his reappearance in a race of unfeasible quality for the time of year.

Though he only faces four rivals for the Bonusprint Old Roan Chase, they include some of the best steeplechasers in the land and, first time out under a big weight, Kauto Star could well be beaten on merit for the first time in two years. Exotic Dancer twice finished second to him at championship level last season, and receives 7lb, but this is surely the moment for Monet's Garden.

The grey is another 7lb lower in the handicap, and loves this sharp, flat track. He has won both his starts here and is one of those exuberant types that can easily whet his blade at home. Indeed, he has never been beaten first time out in his career.

Clearly, this is largely a skirmish for all concerned. But it may require a career best for Kauto Star to win, and he is hardly going to be given a hard race, on his comeback, should Monet's Garden get him off the bridle. He would have ample opportunity for revenge during the months ahead.

Meehan not pulling any punches

The Bleeders' Cup? The Americans can be rather sensitive about the role of drugs in their training and racing regime. Angry traditionalists would like to prohibit everything bar hay, oats and water from the manger. Others mutter about level playing fields.

Few would ever be as blunt as Manton trainer Brian Meehan when he was asked whether his four-year-old Red Rocks would run on medication at Monmouth Park. "He'll run on Lasix and Bute," Meehan declared. "We're here to win and there's no point being a pious prima donna about it."