It’s back. Yes, the Breeders' Cup, the meeting that truly crowns champions, gets under way Friday before the climax that is the Breeders' Cup Classic Saturday. And remember, the only place you will see every single race live on TV in the UK is At The Races, writes Matt Chapman.
Although back home we chat most about the Mile and Turf, Stateside, the Classic is without doubt the big deal. Like, it's the biggest deal!
There's a strong European challenge - including in the Classic - for Breeders’ Cup 2017, so here is a quick look through the leading raiders.
Champion Juvenile and a brilliant winner of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, and again in the Curragh version. However, he’s beaten since at Royal Ascot, York, Leopardstown and Ascot.
Has still shown a high level of form over a mile and a mile and a quarter. Problem is he has never run on any sort of artificial surface and he would probably have to improve for dirt to score here. Hard ask.
When I talked to Aidan O'Brien, he said, "He seems to have come out of Ascot very well. He jumped smart in that [QEII] and Ryan [Moore] got him into a lovely rhythm. He just got tightened a little bit going into the two when he started to build into his rhythm.”
“Ryan felt he never got into top gear, but he went to the line very strong. He seems to have come out of the race well and we look forward to what is going to happen. He is very like Giant’s Causeway. He is miler that you would like to think will get a mile and a quarter. He is big and powerful, like those dirt horses.”
War Decree (Aidan O'Brien)
Fascinating, improving horse. Son of War Front has only had six races and won three, including a Group 3 on the artificial at Dundalk last time. European form - not beaten far in French Derby - needs improving on, but he could be capable of a lot more and might just be the joker in the pack.
Ulysses (Sir Michael Stoute)
Beautifully bred colt who was fourth behind Highland Reel in this 12 months ago but has improved since by at least 5lb-10lb. Winner of the Eclipse Stakes and Juddmonte International Stakes over 10 furlongs, and that is the problem for bettors - is this horse a true stayer at 1m4f?
Third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe suggests he at least stays the trip to an extent, and of course this is a much less testing 1m4f on likely much quicker ground. But it is still a mile and half. Frankie Dettori takes over from Jim Crowley despite never having ridden him to success.
Highland Reel (Aidan O'Brien)
Defending Champion and top-class mile and a half performer on top of the ground. Dictated and ran them ragged 12 months ago. Fourth in the King George wasn't a great run on good to soft going, but has since ran a better third behind Cracksman in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.
If back to best will be hard to peg back.
Cliffs of Moher (Aidan O'Brien)
I'm still a believer in this horse, and he's got the ability to win a big one. Didn't quite stay when second in the Derby at Epsom and been at a mile and a quarter since, including when a very unlucky sixth behind Decorated Knight in the Irish Champion Stakes.
Might had won that race with a clear run. Not to be ignored.
Decorated Knight (Roger Charlton)
Been a revelation for Roger Charlton this season and brilliantly trained to land the Irish Champion Stakes and before that, the Tattersalls Gold Cup. In many ways has over achieved, and it’s hard to believe he's quite as good as those runs suggest.
That said, he keeps coming up with the shocks! Big worry here is the distance. Although bred to stay, he's never gone this far.
Roger Charlton said this week, "He had the option to run in either the Turf or Mile following his win in the Irish Champion Stakes, which is a 'win and you are in' race, and although we leaned towards the Mile initially, the more I thought about it the more I came round to the Turf.”
“I've huge respect for Ulysses and Highland Reel, but we did get within a length and a quarter of Highland Reel in the Prince of Wales's and although I don't know what the ideal preparation is for a Breeders' Cup, it could be to his advantage that, since Leopardstown, he's had a seven-week break without a tough race on soft or heavy ground."
Trained by a genius but yet to strike at Group 1 level. Good winner of the Maurice de Nieuil at Saint-Cloud on his penultimate start but then beaten over this trip last time. On paper, simply not good enough, but never rule out Fabre. Remember Arcangues?!
Seventh Heaven (Aidan O'Brien)
High class filly at her best, and was a good winner of the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket. Well beaten in the Arc last time and would be a shock winner here.
Filly & Mare Turf
5-4f to beat Winter in the 1000 Guineas back in May, but only recorded her first win of the campaign when beating Hydrangea in the Prix de l'Opera over Arc weekend when ditched by Ryan Moore. That was a big step in the right direction and the form is solid. Might well run a huge race, but she’s got a tough draw.
Queen's Trust (Sir Michael Stoute)
Defending Champion having beaten Lady Eli a nose in 2016 in a great finish. Not been in that kind of form this season and hard to see a repeat success unless US racing conditions simply change her inside out.
Nezwaah (Roger Varian)
Loved the good ground at the Curragh when landing the Group 1 Pretty Polly in July and hasn't been as good since on ground that has had more juice in it. The surface might be the key and has a telling turn of foot when conditions are in her favour. Best at 1m2f on European form.
Roger Varian said, "Nezwaah is a very good filly, but firm ground is pretty well essential for her. That was mirrored in her form, where she got the ground on her first two starts but then found conditions against her when she was withdrawn from the Nassau.”
“She ran on soft in the Yorkshire Oaks and soft to heavy in places when she went to Canada for the E.P. Taylor. While the ground is a plus here, her draw in 11 and the sharp nine furlongs might make it tough for her to show her very best form, but she is a Group 1 winner and I don't think that was a fluke. She has to bounce back, but there's every chance in my view that she will."
Senga (Pascal Bary)
Well beaten in the l'Opera last time and has no chance on that form. However, won the French Oaks (Diane) earlier in the season so can't be totally dismissed. Never raced on fast ground and that could bring about dramatic improvement.
Group 1 winning juvenile and not beaten far behind Rhododendron and Hydrangea this term. On paper has a bit to find, but if US racing suits could easily have the ability to cause an upset.
Ribchester (Richard Fahey)
Top miler in Europe and goes on most ground. Two recent defeats unlucky, as should have won the Sussex Stakes despite the mud and was mugged by soft ground performer Persuasive in the QEII last time out.
Other than that, hard to fault and the one to beat on European form.
Richard Fahey said, "He has kept his coat, he looks a picture and clearly he wants to go. He has done everything but tell me himself that he should be on the plane to California. As a trainer, after a run like that [at Ascot] you’re probably looking for a reason not to take him, but I couldn’t find it. He’s in great order and he’s eating well.”
Suedois (David O'Meara)
Started career over a mile but then mostly sprinting and often looking a hard ride until returning to a mile recently. That move has seen wins in a Group 2 at Leopardstown and the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. Hard to believe he will be good enough, but in the form of his life.
Lancaster Bomber (Aidan O'Brien)
Often used as a pacemaker for Churchill, but a decent animal. Placed in the Dewhurst and Juvenile Turf last season and second to Barney Roy in the St James's Palace Stakes. Terrible last time in the QEII but capable of a shock.
Zelzal (Jean-Claude Rouget)
French horses often suited to the running style of this race, and wasn't beaten far in the Prix de la Foret last time. Does have a Grade 1 to his name but on balance of form not good enough.
Home of the Brave (Hugo Palmer)
Tough front runner for stable and a Group 3 winner at Newmarket this season. That said, can't really winning unless he brings another couple of legs!
Roly Poly (Aidan O'Brien)
Tiny filly with a huge heart. Triple Group 1 winner this season landing the Sun Chariot, Prix Rothschild and Falmouth Stakes, although hard to believe she's really quite as good as those successes suggest.
Del Mar suits a late kicking Turf horse and her front running style might just leave her vulnerable unless she gets an uncontested lead. Her draw could’ve been a little kinder.
Karar (F-H Graffard)
Terrible draw and although a recent Group 3 winner no real chance on European form.
Marsha (Sir Mark Prescott)
Shock Breeders' Cup runner for Sir Mark Prescott. Beat the top-class favourite Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe Stakes and far from disgraced in France last time. Running style well suited to this track, but still must do something special to beat her old rival, travelling from the UK.
Prescott said, “It will be my first runner at the Breeders' Cup in 47 years of training - and as you can imagine I know nothing of Del Mar, but I will ask my friend Mr. Noseda who keeps me right on the layout of US tracks. It's a five-furlong race but they tell me the straight is only a furlong and a half long, so I doubt we'll see which way Lady Aurelia goes around there to be honest."
Cotai Glory (Charlie Hills)
Bundles of ability and can rattle home on occasions. Was third behind Marsha and Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe but beaten in Group 2s and 3s since then. Must up game.
Washington DC (Aidan O'Brien)
Sometimes can look a very promising sprinter, as when landing the Phoenix Sprint at the Curragh. However, well stuffed in the Nunthorpe and also in the Qipco Champions Sprint last time. Got outpaced when seventh in this last year, although eventually beaten less than five lengths.
U S Navy Flag (Aidan O’Brien)
Top class juvenile, landing the Middle Park Stakes and Dewhurst Stakes, although whether those were the greatest renewals is open to question. That said, can do no more than win, and appears to be improving all the time. Not proven over a mile, but this is a tight 8f so should stay. Not shown best form on fast ground. An unknown on dirt.
Lightly raced and showed massive improvement to be beaten less than 3l by US Navy Flag in the Dewhurst last time. Must decide whether it was a poor renewal, the run flatters him or he's improving? My gut feeling is a mixture of them all. Unproven on dirt.
Third behind filly Happily in the Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly and a good Group 3 winner at Sandown earlier. Raced a bit keen in France and might well go close here if settling better.
Nelson (Aidan O'Brien)
Royal Lodge second looks a lot better now after winner Roaring Lion went so close in the Racing Post Trophy last weekend. Stays strong and improving so, every chance with the possibility a fast surface will really help.
James Garfield (George Scott)
Huge first Breeders' Cup runner for rookie trainer George Scott and a tidy winner of the Mill Reef Stakes last time. However, previous form suggests he won't be good enough unless improving again.
Beckford (Gordon Elliott)
Decent juvenile for predominantly jumps trainer Gordon Elliott, but could have real issues with the trip. Best form, as when second in the Group 1 Phoenix, over 6f.
Battling winner of the Coventry at Royal Ascot after a devastating debut success at Newcastle. However, wheels have fallen off since, although not disgraced at Newmarket. Stamina the big question.
Sands of Mali(Richard Fahey)
Decent youngster but not up to winning this judged by effort in the Middle Park and a doubtful stayer.
Juvenile Fillies' Turf
Happily (Aidan O'Brien)
High class European filly, taking the Group 1 Moyglare Stakes at the Curragh before beating the boys in the Group 1 Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly. Most of her efforts have come with juice in the ground, and provided she likes it fast and maybe improves for quicker going, she must go close.
September (Aidan O'Brien)
Looked good when taking the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and has since been third in the Moyglare over 7f and beaten a nose when desperately unlucky in the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket. True stayer and smart performer who loved the good to firm at the Royal meeting so should be happy here.
Juliet Capulet (John Gosden)
Any John Gosden runner must be feared, and this filly did well to beat Nyaleti in the Rockfel Stakes, However, that form leaves her with something to find over the best of the Euros.
Now You're Talking (Joseph O'Brien)
Beaten less than four lengths over 6f in the Cheveley Park but would have to improve a lot for the step up in distance to worry the market leaders.