European challenge comes up short on opening day of Breeders’ Cup

European challenge comes up short on opening day of Breeders’ Cup

For the second year running, the European challenge on the first day of the Breeders’ Cup came up short on Friday, as second-place finishes for Aidan O’Brien’s Battleground and Mother Earth were the best that a strong list of contenders could muster.

Battleground finished strongly from well off the pace but was still three lengths adrift of Mike Maker’s Fire At Will in the Juvenile Turf, while Jessica Harrington’s Cadillac finished fourth in the same race.

Mother Earth, meanwhile, ran a similar race to Battleground’s behind the easy winner Aunt Pearl in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf, with Miss Amulet, from Ken Condon’s stable in Ireland, back in third.

Bookmakers saw no reason to alter Battleground’s price for next year’s 2,000 Guineas and he remains the 10-1 joint-favourite for the Classic with his stable companion, St Mark’s Basilica. Mother Earth remains a 20-1 chance for the 1,000 Guineas.

It was a similar story of hitting the bar in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, where Ubettabelieveit, trained in Yorkshire by Nigel Tinkler, stayed on after a slow start to finish third, but the easy winner Golden Pal is a name to note for British backers as his trainer, Wesley Ward, is a regular at Royal Ascot and will consider a run in either the King’s Stand Stakes or the Commonwealth Cup next June.

Golden Pal recorded an explosive success, soon in front against the rail and then bursting clear in the stretch before being closed down in the final strides.

“He’s a wonderful colt to train,” Ward said. “I’ve had him since September of his yearling year, right from the sale here [at Keeneland].

“I’m so excited to take a horse like that and then just watch him emerge, every month that goes by, he’s like a young kid and you could tell he was an athlete. And then as we go through, as time goes on, the months go on, you could just see him just building stronger and stronger and really mentally coming together.

“It would be like a young quarterback that’s kind of a cocky young guy and then as we finally get to the end of the season, he’s really, really come together mentally. He’s just really a cool guy to be around.” Golden Pal was so fast through the early part of the race from a wide draw in stall 14 that the King’s Stand Stakes, over five furlongs, looks a more likely target than the Commonwealth Cup, which is restricted to three-year-olds but run over six furlongs.

“We’ll shut him down now,” Ward said. “That was always the plan. We’re going to finish the year off here and bring him back just after Christmas kind of start him back nice and easy and have him ready to go.

“They usually have a stakes here opening day for straight three-year-olds and that will usually tell us if we need another one before we get to Ascot, or that will be it until we get to Ascot and we’ll probably go for the King’s Stand. He was getting a little late there the last part, so he’s a lot better at five than six, but he’s just got such quality that he was able to sustain that extra 16th of a mile.”

On the dirt, Essential Quality was an impressive winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for the US arm of the Godolphin operation. Brad Cox’s colt powered past Jackie’s Warrior, the favourite, and Dreamer’s Disease just as the pair seemed set for a duel down the stretch, staying on strongly to suggest that the Kentucky Derby is a realistic target.

A first-day blank was disappointing for the travelling team but there are several big names on the card at Keeneland on Saturday, when nine races will make up the major afternoon at the meeting.

Kameko, the 2,000 Guineas winner, is likely to start favourite for the Mile, while Magical, Tarnawa and Mogul lead a strong European challenge for the Turf. Yorkshire could also be among the winners in Kentucky, as Glass Slippers, a Group One-winning sprinter from Kevin Ryan’s yard near Malton, is in the field for the Turf Sprint against a strong line-up of US-trained sprinters.