The management team at Churchill Downs were alarmed on Tuesday when a tornado warning was issued for the Louisville area. They did not like the idea of an 11th-hour repair job on the iconic twin spires, just 10 days before staging the Breeders' Cup. In the event, the epicentre passed to the north, and it might well be that the meteorologists had simply got their wires crossed with the local horsemen. For there is no mistaking the storm gathering over the Atlantic, with the three hottest favourites at the meeting – Workforce, Goldikova and Midday – all being flown across from Europe.
It was fitting that the nominations for the 27th Breeders' Cup should have been unveiled yesterday at Epsom, scene of Workforce's spectacular coming of age back in June. He will be the first Derby winner to go to America since High Chaparral, the dual Turf winner of 2002 and 2003. In conjunction with the possibility of a first Breeders' Cup hat-trick – whether through Goldikova in the Mile, or Zenyatta in the Classic – Workforce's participation enabled the Cup's chief executive to hail the fields assembling on Friday and Saturday week as "the deepest in Breeders' Cup history".
Underlying concerns remain. The return to Churchill Downs means the dirt races will be run on the sort of punishing surface that has historically inhibited the European challenge. Only four European horses have been entered for the dirt races, a dispiriting commentary on the vested interests of those who have since persuaded Santa Anita, site of ground-breaking European success in the last two years, to dig up its synthetic track and restore dirt. The Breeders' Cup promoters have done their best to redress the balance with revolutionary incentives in eligibility and fees for overseas raiders, from 2011. And it is edifying, in the meantime, that the biggest names from either side of the Atlantic should be converging for a carnival culpably rejected last year by connections of both Sea The Stars and Rachel Alexandra.
In their absence, Zenyatta proved able to save the day, and she returns to defend the Classic with a 19-race unbeaten career on the line. She will dominate the build-up, but the raiders top the agenda in almost all the grass races. John Gosden, for instance, has entrusted his hat-trick attempt in the Juvenile Turf to Utley, fifth when fast-tracked from a Yarmouth maiden to a Group One race on Arc day; he also runs Flood Plain in the fillies' version. Utley's opponents will include Mantoba, Dux Scholar and Master Of Hounds – the latter looking pretty attractive, at 5-1 with Ladbrokes, after running third in the Racing Post Trophy.
Like Workforce, Dux Scholar is trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Khaled Abdullah, whose 16 Group One winners this year leave him two short of a personal best. With Midday also in his service, he could well find them both in Kentucky next week. Abdullah's racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, yesterday made a cogent case for Dux Scholar as an experienced juvenile with more to offer than might seem evident in two defeats since broking his maiden at the third attempt.
"In the Autumn Stakes, at Ascot, we felt he came to win his race quite comfortably, but he had a really good blow after that," he said. "Then, at Newbury, he got his head in front and just seemed to lose concentration. When the other horse came to him, he fought back, but just too late. He's improving, we think he'll like the [fast] ground and he might have a pair of blinkers, too."
However, Workforce bears the standard. "He's come back into his work rhythm pretty quickly since the Arc," Grimthorpe said. "He worked on Saturday morning and I have to say he did look in tremendous shape."
Workforce has frightened off most of the opposition, the bookmakers rating Behkabad as most competent among just seven other entries after his troubled run into fourth in the Arc. Dangerous Midge and Debussy accompany Workforce from Britain.
The international sport has evolved almost beyond recognition since Dancing Brave, perhaps Abdullah's greatest champion, finished only fourth in the same race. "Workforce hasn't had anything like the year Dancing Brave had," Grimthorpe noted. "The horse who arrived at Santa Anita in 1986 was not the same horse who had arrived at Longchamp. But that's all history now."
And that, with Zenyatta, Goldikova and Workforce all on the brink of unprecedented achievement, is precisely what beckons.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Quick Wit (2.40 Lingfield) Thrashed a subsequent winner at Nottingham last time and can shrug off an 11lb higher rating on his way to proving better than a handicapper.
Island Legend (5.50 Wolverhampton) Sent off too quickly round here last time but left no doubt that he remains in top form, well clear until fading late.
One to watch
Spring Jim (J R Fanshawe) Looked back on track at Doncaster last Friday, going strongly as he weaved through for third.
Where the money's going
Workforce is even money from 6-5 with Coral for the Breeders' Cup Turf on Saturday week.Reuse content