Thursday, November 22, 2012

2012 Breeders Cup

2012 Breeders Cup

By Stephen Dwyer

You will be familiar of course with a little horse called Sea The Stars. Winner of six Group One’s he is the only horse to have won the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the same year. So exceptional was Sea The Stars that no matter what Aidan O’ Brien threw at him, he was forever bested. Mastercrafstman, Rip Van Winkle and Fame And Glory all finished second to Sea The Stars. In particular Fame And Glory was beaten into second twice, he himself is no slouch having won a collection of Group One’s. As good as the colts were, they were unlucky to run against one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

Such was the case with Frankel and Excelebration. Second to Frankel on no less than four separate occasions, it seemed that Excelebration was constantly the bridesmaid. That was until recently. With no Frankel in the field, Excelebration ran out a comfortable winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Champion’s Day. This was the biggest win of his career and he now heads to Santa Anita for the Breeder’s Cup Mile this Saturday.

Opened in 1934, Santa Anita is the oldest racetrack in Southern California. The San Gabriel Mountains provide the backdrop to the prestigious Breeder’s Cup. The 29th running of the showcase meeting will be televised to more than 130 foreign countries It is the richest prize-money event in sports, consisting of 15 races and prize money totalling $26 million. It thus attracts the best thoroughbreds in the world. Worth $2 million alone, the Breeder’s Cup Mile is one of the most valuable races in the world. And Excelebration has every chance of winning it.

Cut from 7/2 into 7/4 favourite for the Breeder’s Cup Mile, Excelebration is bidding to provide Aidan O’ Brien with his first ever success in this race. It is a notoriously difficult race to win. Only two Irish trainers managed this feat, John Oxx trained the brilliant filly Ridgewood Pearl to win the 1995 renewal; this was the last time an Irish trainer was successful in the event. Before that it was Vincent O’ Brien and Royal Academy in 1990.

The 7/4 on offer for Excelebration is a short price for what is a very competitive affair. Excelebration though is held in the highest regard at Ballydoyle. Originally bought for £20,000 at the 2009 Doncaster St Leger sales by Marco Botti, Excelebration was acquired at the start of this season by Coolmore for a sum believed to be in the region of €1.5 million. By champion Australian sprinter Exceed And Excel, Excelebration was precocious in his first season and always showed class in abundance. He won the German 2000 Guineas, the Group 3 Hungerford Stakes and was twice a Group 1 winner in France. Speaking after his win at Ascot, Aidan O’ Brien noted “The boys (Coolmore) had it in their head they would go to the Breeders' Cup after Ascot. He has progressed with every run and we have only had him this year so we were experimenting with him a little bit. The beauty is this horse is on the upgrade.”

O’ Brien also noted "We have learnt a lot about him. He is a very fast horse right up to a mile which he gets well. He shows an awful lot of speed and is a very classy horse." Just the type of horse that could win a Breeder’s Cup.

Speed and class he has in abundance. Excelebration was officially rated as the joint seventh best horse in the world in 2011, with a rating of 126. He was rated the third best miler behind Frankel and Canford Cliffs. But it will be no easy task and the opposition is fierce. Wise Dan, trained in Kentucky by Charles Lopresti is the current second favourite for the race at 3/1. Winner of twelve races, Wise Dan can trace his bloodlines back to 1973 Triple Crown winner and two-time Horse of the Year Secretariat.

Fillies have a good record in this race and Moonlight Cloud, trained in France by Freddy Head is a battling sort. By leading sire, Invincible Spirit, Moonlight Cloud is a three time Group 1 winner and is expected to go well. Animal Kingdom, last year's Kentucky Derby winner and champion three-year-old also lines up in the valuable field.

Successful in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf last year with St Nicholas Abbey, Aidan O’ Brien would dearly love to continue his winning ways. Keep an eye out for Excelebration, he could make the headlines and finally banish the ghost of Frankel from his memory.

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