Irish Eyes: Make it DC at the BC
Irish Eyes previews day two of the action from Santa Anita and is bowled over by Aidan O'Brien's enthusiasm.
Next Best: Highland Reel, 10.22 Santa Ainta
There's no disguising the fact that yesterday was a bit of a damp squib as far as the European horses were concerned, save for an excellent run by Lancaster Bomber to finish runner-up in the Juvenile Turf.
Our juvenile fillies proved especially disappointing with five of the last six home having run in Europe on their last outings. It does temper enthusiasm to a degree for day two but at the same time, it was merely the appetizer really and today is a new day for which we have some live chances.
On a positive side, the Distaff produced an absolutely classic finish that will be remembered for many, many years to come and the reception that the runner-up Songbird received, not to mind the victor Beholder, was one of many moments that will live long in the memory.
The genuine enthusiasm of the crowd provided ample and reassuring proof of all that is good about the United States at a time when the country is being ripped to shreds by a desperately negative presidential campaign. Walls were being smashed – not built – at Santa Anita yesterday and for a few precious moments, the Santa Anita crowd of 45,000 put aside all that cynicism and bad blood and came together in one glorious moment of positivity, the type that has been synonymous with America for hundreds of years.
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The Land Of Hope and Glory appeared to be metamorphosing into the Land of 'Dope and Gory' but in the aftermath of the Distaff especially, Santa Anita positively oozed with excitement, hope and a very distinct appreciation of the sport horseracing.
Hopefully that was merely a precursor for the main action today (and for the future of the USA).
In the big one, California Chrome can always be relied upon to run his race and if Frosted can repeat his 14 ½ length win in the Met Mile and Arrogate can replicate his 13 ½ length record-breaking Travers performance, then this race could indeed live up to its Classic billing. It could, like yesterday's Distaff, throw up one the most memorable races of 2016.
The Irish challenge is strong and Aidan O'Brien has been as keen as mustard on the prospects of Washington DC this week. Trainers are often predictable and a lot of what they say can often be predicted in advance but there was discernable excitement in O'Brien's voice when he spoke of his chances this week. It's almost as if he can't wait to show the world what the horse can do.
At 6/1 with Sky Bet, he must be backed on the basis of Aidan's excitement alone, but there is plenty of form on offer to back up his opinion. From 15 starts, he's only ever been out of the first three on three occasions. A Royal Ascot win at two marked him down as a serious horse and he followed that up by splitting Air Force Blue and Buratino in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes. Whilst both of those two clearly, miserably failed to train on, it should be remembered they were the best two-year-old's arounds at the time.
Washington DC won on debut over 7f this season and ran third to Quiet Reflection in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot on softish ground, not beaten far. Next up was a close fifth in the July Cup behind Limato and co but he now appears to be an 'all speed' horse and has since been campaigned exclusively at 5f. Of his four runs since, his latest, a fast-finishing ¾ length second in the l'Abbaye at Longchamp was the best. He probably should have won that day, in which case he would be closer to 7/4 favourite for this race, but he can put that right today and capture his first victory at the highest level. The one proviso, given the way he has to be ridden (i.e. from behind) is that he will require luck in running but it is worth taking a chance on that given he is 6/1.
Ryan Moore is on the defending Breeders' Cup Turf champion Found who defeated stablemate Highland Reel by just under two lengths in the Arc last month. Whilst she has since taken in Champions Day at Ascot (finishing second to Almanzor), Highland Reel has had a break in preparation for this. This will be Found's tenth run of 2016 and it's hard to escape the feeling that she will simply have to be made of iron if she is to regain her crown today. The fact that she was being considered for the Classic before being rerouted to this has been taken as a positive by many but given they are very different races on varying surfaces and over different trips makes this coluimn think to the contrary.
The free-sweating Highland Reel has made two less appearances than Found and it could well be that this is his 'Cup Final', the one O'Brien has brought him to a crescendo for. On his only previous US start, he hacked up by over 5 lengths in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington.
That was over 2 furlongs shorter that today's trip but he has won two of his last four Group 1 starts over 12f, the Hong Kong Vase and Ascot's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes whilst a third performance from those four starts came when he filled the runner-up spot in the aforementioned Arc. Found was crowned at Chantilly and it would be that the globetrotting Highland Reel could have his moment in the glorious Santa Anita sun today.
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