They did not dare send Frankel here, but at least we have his representative on Earth. And success in a vintage Breeders’ Cup Mile would certainly seal the emergence of Excelebration from the shadow of his nemesis. After all, remarkably enough, he arrives here with the highest official rating of all the horses Aidan O’Brien has run at the Breeders’ Cup.
Frankel’s regular punchbag did rather more than merely reiterate his own merit – and, in the process, the extraordinary abilities of the champion – at Ascot two weeks ago. In winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (a good deal more easily than Frankel did his own race, later on the card) Excelebration looked better than ever. His confidence had been artfully restored, following his final humiliation by Frankel at Royal Ascot in June, and he duly extended his superiority over the two horses who had followed him home at Deauville in August.
Today, however, it may prove harder to confirm the form with the fourth that day. Moonlight Cloud met traffic there and her Group One wins either side of that reverse, including one over a much shorter trip, have convinced her trainer, Freddy Head, that she has all the dash that secured him this race three times with Goldikova.
Having had so little time to absorb that big performance in horrid ground at Ascot, you could not be adamant that Excelebration will reproduce that form anyway. Even if he does, Moonlight Cloud looks better value at 5-1 to pounce from off the anticipated strong pace.
For once, however, the Europeans are awaited in the big turf races by a formidable home defence. Animal Kingdom, last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, mounts an audacious challenge on his first start since February. But the one to beat is Wise Dan (11.40pm GMT). He beat Cityscape every bit as comprehensively, at Woodbine in September, as did Excelebration at Deauville and Ascot and he looks in magnificent condition.
In the Turf itself, similarly, the Europeans must beware complacency. As a test of stamina on grass, they have dominated this race throughout its history. O’Brien is happy to indulge St Nicholas Abbey, last year’s winner, an uncharacteristically tame run in the Arc on bad ground. He had previously acquitted himself creditably in top company over 10 furlongs, including behind Frankel at York, while confirming himself best over this trip. Set plenty to do in the King George, and indeed in Dubai earlier in the year, he looked better than ever when landing the odds in the Coronation Cup.
But he must be at his very best to see off Point Of Entry (10.18). He has proved himself in a different class from the indigenous horses, since being set this kind of test, and looks fair value for top connections at 4-1 with Coral. Trailblazer, a stablemate of the Arc runner-up, also warrants respect in what may prove a deeper race than last year.
The Europeans also have a reliably strong hand in the Juvenile Turf. Dundonnell retains every right to break into the elite, but George Vancouver has already made the podium in two of Europe’s top two-year-old races and it looks significant that O’Brien also brings over one yet to try that grade in Lines Of Battle (6.50). This improving colt seems generously priced at 14-1.
Sadly, nobody from Europe has had the nerve or ambition to challenge for any of the dirt races today, and it is a particular torment to ponder how Frankel might have fared in the Classic itself. In his absence, Game On Dude (12.35am) can dominate a field depleted by setbacks to the best American three-year-olds. Ach. He would have lapped them, you know.