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Breeder’s Cup Preview: If O’Brien stands heat, he may cook in Breeders’ Cup kitchen

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Manley

The conventional wisdom is that European horses don’t fare well when the Breeders’ Cup is held at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, due mainly to the notable change in climate. That notion hasn’t deterred Aidan O’Brien, who may start as many as five horses in three of the Cup races this Saturday.

Conventional wisdom holds that a series of stiff prep races is necessary to prepare a horse for its Breeders’ Cup assignment. Michael Dickinson turned that theory on its ear with Da Hoss last year and he seems to have found an adherent in Noel Hickey. The Corkman will send Buck’s Boy out in defense of the Turf, which he won last year at Churchill Downs. Unlike last year, when Buck’s Boy spent the spring, summer and fall knocking heads with the best up and down the Atlantic seaboard, he has been a relative slacker this year.

Add to the mix a smattering of contenders that could burnish Ireland’s reputation for producing superior racing stock, and the year’s climactic event once again beckons like a sumptuous buffet.

O’Brien didn’t fare too well in his first Breeders’ Cup appearance last year, when Second Empire finished sixth in the Mile. The tropical climate notwithstanding, he is looking at three races, with the Sprint his best shot at victory. Stravinsky, a 3-year-old son of Nureyev out of Fire the Groom, will make his first start on dirt off consecutive wins in Group I sprints in England. While European sprinters have a lackluster record in this race, a victory by Sheikh Albadou and a close second by Dayjur are all the precedent needed for encouragement.

O’Brien will also contest both of the 2-year-old races. Brahms, Mull of Kintyre and Bach have all been pre-entered for the Juvenile. The trio has not raced on dirt, nor have they run farther than seven furlongs. The Juvenile is 3-16ths of a mile beyond that. Susan Magnier has an interest in all of O’Brien’s Juvenile aspirants, as well as High Yield, which is trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Ms. Magnier is the daughter of Vincent O’Brien and the wife of Coolmore Stud’s John Magnier.

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Warrior Queen is Aidan O’Brien’s hope in the Juvenile Fillies. After winning her debut at Leopardstown in May, she failed in a pair of Group stakes in England. She returned in the listed Round Tower Stakes at The Curragh in September and went wire to window. By Quiet American out of an Afleet mare, she appears well bred to handle the loam.

Michael Kinane, whose illustrious career is void of a Breeders’ Cup victory, is expected to partner O’Brien’s charges, although an extra hand or two will be necessary in the Juvenile.

Buck’s Boy has had it soft since he won the Turf last year. The 1998 Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top grasser returned to the races in September at Woodbine, where he dusted an allowance field. He then ran second in the Sky Classic Stakes there, but finished ahead of Thornfield, which came back to defeat a solid field in the Canadian International.

Those expected to match hooves with Buck’s Boy include a quartet of Irish-breds: Daylami, a highly regarded European could well go off the favorite; Single Empire, trained by Neil Drysdale, who has won five Cup races; First Magnitude, trained by Andre Fabre, best known for Arcangues’ 133-1 upset in the 1993 Classic; and Fahris, a longshot trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. Also expected to run is Dream Well, the 1998 Irish Derby hero.

River Keen, fresh off wins in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Woodward Stakes, will seek to become the second Irish-bred winner of the Classic; Black Tie Affair was the first. The Ballylinch Stud of Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny-bred River Keen.

The Mile features Irish-breds Hawksley Hill and Khumba Mela. The former lost this race to Da Hoss last year by a nose. The inaugural running of the Filly & Mare Turf will include Caffe Latte and Coretta, both of which were foaled in Ireland.

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