O’Brien thinks he’s in with big chance
Whatever else may shift in the Turf's international topography, the Breeders' Cup remains a defining landmark for Ballydoyle and its owners.
When the entries were published yesterday, Aidan O'Brien accounted for no fewer than a dozen — and if they all show up at Churchill Downs next week, he will match or better the entire European raiding party in eight of the previous 27 years.
Yet neither O'Brien nor his patrons will look upon their recent record and pretend that it remotely matches this apparent sense of purpose.
Since High Chaparral won his second Turf in 2003, they have mustered only one winner — and they will acknowledge Man Of Iron, in the Marathon over a synthetic surface at Santa Anita two years ago, as the flimsiest of fig leaves.
In pointing So You Think at the Classic, then, they hope to redress seven years' ill luck or, as O'Brien himself implied yesterday, worse judgment. “As every year goes by, I suppose we're trying to learn from past mistakes,” he said. “And to put them right.”
The stakes could scarcely be higher in switching So You Think to the dirt. On the face of it, he conforms uncomfortably to the model of several high-profile failures for the Co Tipperary yard at the Breeders' Cup.
So You Think has just been given two hard races inside a fortnight, finishing fourth in the Arc and then second at Ascot in the Champion Stakes.
But O'Brien has long stressed the sheer physical prowess of the champion imported from Australia last winter, and can in any case point to his best days at the Breeders' Cup as proof that horses like Johannesburg and Giant's Causeway could soak up a long campaign in Europe and arrive with still more to give.
Giant's Causeway's heart-breaking defeat in the 2000 Classic is as close as O'Brien has come to a Breeders' Cup win in Louisville, and testifies that the dirt is not so inimical to the right turf horses.
“We've always said that for the Classic, from this part of the world, you need a big-hearted horse that gets the trip well as well as having tactical speed,” O'Brien said.
“This is a great horse and the times he hasn't won this season maybe we didn't do the right thing. He's a great traveller through his races, and though it's a big ask on the dirt first time, we think he's a unique big horse with a great constitution and loads of experience on his side.”
O'Brien, who confirmed that Ryan Moore will ride So You Think on Saturday week, has also retained an option for Await The Dawn in the Classic but expects that colt, absent since disappointing at York in August, to join St Nicholas Abbey in the Turf.
“We always dreamt he could be a horse for the Classic,” O'Brien said. “But he was so sick after York that he nearly passed away. It's nearly incredible that he looks like he'll be ready to run at all.”
Perhaps the most significant weight of the Ballydoyle challenge this time round is in the two-year-old races, notably with Crusade and Daddy Long Legs both proceeding from turf success at Newmarket this autumn to try their luck on dirt in the Juvenile.
Overall, however, the European challenge majors on the turf races as usual, with Goldikova's quest for that fourth consecutive Mile obstructed most obviously by Strong Suit. Midday, previously expected to go for the Filly and Mare Turf, has been given first preference against colts in the Turf.