Aidan O’Brien has already set a new world record for training the most top level winners on the Flat in a calendar year. He can put the icing on the cake of a brilliant season by training Highland Reel to win the Breeders Cup Turf at Del Mar on Saturday. He also has Churchill in the Classic but he is up against the best horses in the world though he still has place prospects.
The Breeders Cup World Championships is the official title of the two-day event that comprises 13 races worth $26.5 Million. The concept was introduced in 1982 and has been staged in the United States every year except in 1996 when the meeting was held at Woodbine in Canada. Del Mar is a tight track so horses drawn on the inside have an advantage. The races are run on turf and dirt over distances from five furlongs to one and a half miles.
Mike Smith is the leading jockey with 25 wins and D.Wayne Lukas is the top trainer with 20 wins. Frankie Dettori has won 11 Breeders’ Cup races while O’Brien has trained the same number of winners. Godolphin have won most prize money and a horse called Zenyatta is the leading earner in the history of the meeting. Only Goldikova (2008, 2009 and 2010) and Beholder (2012, 2103 and 2016) have won three Breeders’ Cup races. Four horses have won two different races.
Nine horses have won the same Breeders Cup race at least twice so Highland Reel could join that elite group. The horse was the third favourite for the Turf last season but won the race with the favourite Flintshire one and three quarter lengths adrift in second place. Ulysses was fourth in the race but has improved over the last year and will be tough to beat. Highland Reel beat Ulysses by over six lengths in the Turf last year carrying four pounds more.
That form was turned on its head in the King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July. In wet conditions on good to soft ground Ulysses was almost five lengths ahead of Highland Reel at the line off level weights. That form represented a swing of more than 10 lengths in favour of Ulysses but the race was run in extreme conditions and Del Mar should be dry and provide good ground. Highland Reel has the Breeders’ Cup form to beat Ulysses in the Turf again.
The Classic is the last race of the meeting and the most lucrative with a $6 million prize fund. Only one horse (Tiznow in 2000 and 2001) has won the race more than once so Arrogate is looking to join a very small group of multiple winners. The horse was ridden by Mike Smith last year and is trained by Bob Baffert so has the right jockey and trainer team. However, Gun Runner is slightly preferred in the betting and that horse can prevent Arrogate recording back-to-back wins.
O’Brien gets his horses prepared and running like no other trainer in the world. He is given the best horses but has to deliver in the races that matter most. He was the leading trainer in Britain this season from a select group of winners. On early season form Churchill has a chance in the Classic but the trip may not be ideal. In any case the horse is the standout bet of the night to make the payout places. Highland Reel can deliver for the stable and add another Grade 1 race to O’Brien’s total for the year.