BY his own high standards, this has been a disappointing season for Sir Michael Stoute.
He was winless in the domestic Classics – the Queen’s Carlton House was third in the Derby – and former Derby hero Workforce failed to defend his Arc crown.
However, it would not be the greatest surprise if Stoute won the $3m Emirates Airlines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs tonight with Sea Moon, the emphatic winner of the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York’s Ebor festival.
Taken out of the corresponding race on the morning of the meeting 12 months ago, Sea Moon – a close relative of Workforce – is likely to encounter perfect underfoot conditions for the mile-and-a-half Grade One contest following the predicted heavy rainfall in Kentucky.
There are two reasons to be optimistic despite Stoute’s modest 2011. The trainer has won this race on four previous occasions, a race record. Pillsudski was his first winner in 1996 followed by Kalanisi in 2000 and Conduit’s back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009 under Ryan Moore.
That Moore, the former champion jockey, is in the saddle is also key. Injury forced him to miss the St Leger ride on Sea Moon when stand-in jockey Olivier Peslier inexplicably allowed the colt to become boxed in during a nine-runner race. When they eventually found daylight, it was too late – Masked Marvel already had an unassailable lead under William Buick.
Despite a war of words with Churchill Downs officials after Sea Moon, and other UK raiders, were denied a turf gallop on Thursday because of the wet conditions, Stoute will be even more determined to make his mark on the meeting.
With his undoubted freshness, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s colt has not run since the St Leger, Sea Moon ticks most of the boxes on what will be only his fourth start of the year and sixth in all.
Of the main rivals, Sarafina needs to bounce back from her below-par run in the Arc while Sir Henry Cecil’s Midday, second in York’s Juddmonte International, would possibly require a personal best to oblige on her final career outing.
Goldikova has looked as content in her demeanour than at any stage of her distinguished career and should take plenty of stopping in her bid to record a historic fourth straight win in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile. Trainer Freddie Head has a spring in his step after watching the six-year-old, beaten by a Buick-inspired Dream Ahead at Longchamp, work enthusiastically on the dirt course at Churchill Downs.
She has a clear beating of her 12 rivals on the ratings, although Richard Hannon’s two-time Royal Ascot winner Strong Suit will pose a formidable challenge under jockey Richard Hughes who has been at the centre of the whip controversy, and who was only cleared to ride in the US once the BHA had relaxed its rules.
Meanwhile So You Think may well be ridden more aggressively when he tackles the $5m Breeders’ Cup Classic for Aidan O’Brien.
The richest race on the card, the ex-Australian star, labelled a ‘monster’ when he was transferred to Ballydoyle at the start of the year, is Europe’s only entry and O’Brien hopes his charge can rekindle the form that saw him beat Workforce in the Eclipse back in July.
“We think he is overdoing the relaxing bit now,” explained O’Brien.
“We put blinkers on him the other day and my son Joseph rode him in a canter and he said the horse felt more attentive.
“If he handles the surface the blinkers might make a big difference if he handles the dirt surface.”