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Racing Preview Murtagh sitting pretty in Breeders’ Cup

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Manley

John Murtagh has had a dream year, racking up Group I victories in Europe with stunning regularity. He brings his act to Churchill Downs in Kentucky this Saturday for the Breeders’ Cup, where he rides two probable favorites.

Murtagh, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Ridgewood Pearl in 1995, will partner Irish-breds Petrushka in the Filly & Mare Turf and Kalanisi in the Turf.

Throw in the Aidan O’Brien squadron that could see action in four Cup races, horses trained by a handful of other Irish trainers, and a host of contenders bred in Ireland, and the country’s mark in the eight races will be obvious to the most casual observer.

Filly & Mare Turf

Harry Herbert’s Petrushka, bred by the Airlie Stud of Lucan, Co. Dublin, enters her assignment off a string of three Group I victories in Europe, which began with the Irish Oaks. A 3-year-old filly by Unfuwain, she has five victories from seven lifetime starts. Michael Stoute trains her.

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The opposition to Petrushka includes two other Irish-breds. Caffe Latte finished a troubled fourth in this race last year. Since then, she has been transferred to Bob Baffert’s barn and has two stakes wins in California this year. Goldamix won a Group I in her second start last year in France, but is winless in three attempts this year. Colstar, Perfect Sting and Tranquility

Lake are the main threats in here.

Turf

The Aga Khan’s Kalanisi was foaled at his owner’s stud in Co. Kildare. He was a close second to Giant’s Causeway in two British Group I races this summer. He then surprised many with his score over Montjeu in September’s Champion Stakes at Newmarket, with Murtagh taking over for Pat Eddery. Kalanisi, also trained by Stoute, looks to step out of the shadows of the Aga Khan’s more illustrious colorbearer, the now-retired Sinndar.

His task won’t be easy, though. The main competition could come from two familiar faces. Manndar shared the same paddocks with Kalanisi in their formative years, having also been foaled at the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud. He was considered the top grass horse in this country until a second-place finish in the Arlington Million, despite an inability to gain clear running.

Manndar won the Grade I Woodford at Churchill on Kentucky Derby day. Like

Kalanisi, he is a 4-year-old sired by Doyoun.

Montjeu is also likely for the Turf, although his connections have been running hot and cold on the idea. An Irish-bred by Sadler’s Wells, Montjeu’s finest moment came last year, when he won the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris over Daylami. He began this year with a victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh. A fourth-place finish to Sinndar in this year’s Arc, along with his second to Kalanisi, have observers wondering if he’s gone over the top. Michael Kinane is expected to ride once again.

The Turf lineup also includes Ciro, the Irish Derby third. Subsequently sent to Arlington by O’Brien for a romp in the Secretariat Stakes under Kinane, he has since been transferred to Christophe Clement. Subtle Power, an Irish-bred 3-year-old, won a Group II race in Britain this summer. He is now trained by Bill Mott and will be ridden by Jerry Bailey.

Classic

O’Brien’s string is led by Giant’s Causeway, a 3-year-old colt entered in the Classic. He has won five Group I races in Europe this year and his will to win should not be underestimated. Those five victories, plus a win in the Gladness Stakes at The Curragh in April, were all won by less than a length. He lost the Irish 2000 Guineas by only a neck. His ability to transfer his form to Churchill’s main track is the major issue here. However, his pedigree suggests he should handle the transition. The Kentucky-bred is by Storm Cat out of Mariah’s Storm, a multiple stakes winner on the dirt. Kinane will be aboard.

Dermot Weld and Niall O’Callaghan aren’t about to concede the Classic to Giant’s Causeway. Weld has entered Pine Dance, the versatile winner of the American Derby on grass and the Pennsylvania Derby in the slop. The Pine Bluff colt was third in the Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands last Friday. Michael McCarthy is expected to ride. O’Callaghan’s taking a big shot with Guided Tour, a 4-year-old gelding that has never run in either a Grade I or II race. Look for Larry Melancon to be in the saddle.

Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus leads the Classic field. Cat Thief and Golden Missile, first and third in this race at Gulfstream last year, are also part of a very deep supporting cast.

Juvenile

Another closely watched race will be the Juvenile. Next year’s Derby field could be impacted by this race for 2-year-olds, in which Eoin Harty sends out Godolphin’s Irish-bred Street Cry. This is the first crop of runners that Harty has had to his own name, having served ably as Baffert’s top aide for several years. Godolphin is on a mission to come up with runners for the

Triple Crown and Street Cry, a son of Machiavellian, could justify the effort. After breaking his maiden in his second start, he has twice finished second in photos to Flame Thrower (a Juvenile rival) in California stakes. David Flores, his regular rider, has the mount.

O’Brien has Turnberry Isle slated for the Juvenile. An Irish-bred with a dirt pedigree (Deputy Minister-Blush With Pride), the colt most recently won the Beresford Stakes at The Curragh. This could be a Derby dress rehearsal for him and Kinane, as well.

Mile

The Mile will also serve as Paddy Gallagher’s first Breeders’ Cup appearance. Walkslikeaduck is the name of the colt and he comes off wins in two graded stakes races in California.

A possibility in the Mile is the Irish-bred Indian Lodge, although his connections have said that the colt will run only if the ground is soft. Forecasts at press time were for firm conditions. Pat Eddery may ride Indian Lodge if he runs, but Eddery first has to receive a waiver to a suspension he recently picked up in England. Kinane will take the mount if Eddery cannot.

Altibr, a Kiaran McLaughlin runner, is also in the Mile field. The Shadwell Stable colorbearer recently gutted out a win in the Keeneland Turf Mile. Richard Migliore is his pilot.

Distaff

Crimplene represents the lone Irish hope in the Distaff. Bred in Ireland by her owner, Sheikh Marwan al Maktoum, Crimplene won the Irish 1000 Guineas at The Curragh in May. The Distaff will be the 3-year-old Lion Cavern filly’s first spin on dirt and there are no creampuffs in the field. Riboletta has been a terror all year, Beautiful Pleasure and Heritage of Gold (first and third, respectively, in the Distaff last year) are entered, as is Jostle, the reigning 3-year-old filly on these shores. Clive Brittain, Crimplene’s trainer, nearly pulled off a coup at Churchill in 1986, when he sent Bold Arrangement out to a second-place finish in the Derby. Crimplene has been cross entered in the Mile, where she is an alternate.

O’Brien will need some help to get his two other runners into their races. La Vida Loca is first alternate in the Juvenile Fillies and Bernstein is far down on the reserve list in the Mile and is unlikely to run. La Vida Loca has only a maiden win at The Curragh to her credit. She has failed to hit the board in three subsequent Group I races. Bernstein was a narrow winner in the Concorde Stakes at Cork in his last outing.

The Breeders’ Cup will be telecast over NBC. Most racetracks will simulcast the event, including Aqueduct in New York, Meadowlands and Monmouth in New Jersey, Suffolk Downs in Boston, and Delaware Park, Laurel and Philadelphia Park in the mid-Atlantic region.

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