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Breeders' Cup 2017

European Runners Plan Assault on Little Mike

In what is looking to be one of the most competitive renewals of the Arlington Million, as many as seven Europeans are aiming to take on defending champion Little Mike on Aug. 17.  Add to that the intriguing Argentinian multiple Group I-winner – and recent American import – Indy Point, multiple Grade II stakes winners Rahystrada and Nates Mineshaft and Grade I-placed Finnegan’s Wake and Real Solution, and this year’s event has the look of a bettor’s paradise. 

According to the International Racing Bureau, Grandeur, Guest of Honour, Mull of Killough, Side Glance, The Apache and Hunter’s Light have all been confirmed, while 2012 Million runner-up Afsare, though doubtful, is still a possibility.   While it is difficult to pick a standout in the European horseflesh union, the most accomplished are Group I winners Hunter’s Light, from the powerful Godolphin Stable, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum and Winston Chow’s The Apache, from the potent barn of dominant South African trainer Mike De Kock. 

The Saeed bin Suroor-trained Hunter’s Light comes out of a very good third in the Group I Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen in Munich on July 28.  In his first race since a dull sixth in May’s Group I Singapore Airlines International Cup, the son of Dubawi – one of the hottest sires in the world – made a strong bid at the quarter pole of the left-handed course only to get a bit rubber-legged late.  The race looked like a perfect fitness-building prep for the Million, which is at the same 10-furlong distance, but on a much flatter course. 

The Apache is coming off a one-paced fifth in a race which could produce multiple starters in the Million – the Group II York Stakes, which was contested on July 27 over 1 5/16-miles at York Racecourse.  In his first race since a runner-up finish in the nine-furlong Group I Dubai Duty Free in March, The Apache chased the leaders in a race that was slightly beyond his best distance and visibly a fitness builder for the 6-year-old horse.  Also in the race were the Arlington-bound duo of Grandeur and Wigmore Hall.  While the latter is more likely for the American St. Leger, Yvonne Jacques’s multiple Grade II-winning Grandeur has been aiming toward the Million all season. 

Trained by Jeremy Noseda, Grandeur was a flying second in the York Stakes, which was only his second start of the year and came only 16 days after his seasonal debut – a good fourth in the Group II Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket over an 12 furlongs – an ambitious distance for a first start in seven months.  As a sophomore in 2012, Grandeur had an extended stay in the States when winning the Grade II Twilight Derby (formerly the Oak Tree Derby) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, finishing a hard-charging second in the Grade I Hollywood Derby and culminating his season with an impressive victory in the Grade II Hollywood Turf Cup.  A lover of firmer going and a winner of four stakes at nine to 10 furlongs, Grandeur should revel in the conditions of Million.

Both Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Mull of Killough and the lightly raced (only four times) Guest of Honour have to prove they belong at the top level of racing, but both ran superb races in the July 13 Group II Summer Mile over good-to-firm going at Ascot.  At a grueling straight course, the Summer Mile should set both horses up for big runs at Arlington if they are good enough.  While Guest of Honour has to prove he can stay 10 furlongs for trainer Marco Botti – winner of last year’s American St. Leger with Jakkalberry - Mull of Killough will definitely appreciate a return to the distance at which he won his last stakes race and at which he finished a very good fifth – beating Hunter’s Light – in the Singapore Airlines International Cup. 

Pearl Bloodstock’s Side Glance has repeatedly tried to prove he is capable at the Grade I level.  Seven of the Andrew Balding-trained gelding’s last 13 races have been in Group/Grade I events, but he has never finished better than third.  Though he is doubtful to make the trip, last year’s runner-up Afsare also has to prove he is a Group/Grade I horse.  Originally on track to come back to Arlington this year, the Luca Cumani-trained Dubawi gelding has twice in his last three tries had severe trouble at the gate.  Though he passed a recent stalls test administered by the British Horseracing Authority, he has yet to be confirmed for a repeat journey across the Atlantic. 

Such a repeat journey would mean he would still have to beat the one they will all be chasing, Priscilla Vaccarezza’s defending champion Little Mike.  The Dale Romans-trained son of Spanish Steps returned from a layoff to run a fading fourth in the Grade I United Nations Stakes on July 6.  The loss was reminiscent of all three of his losses prior to his three biggest wins last year.  After pacesetting (and then fading) losses in the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes, Grade I Shoemaker Mile and Grade I Turf Classic Invitational in 2012, he rebounded home an impressive winner in the Grade I Turf Classic (Churchill Downs), Grade I Arlington Million and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf in his respective subsequent starts.  After working five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.80 on Saturday, it looks as though he is right back on track and ready to take on the onslaught of Euros.

As of now, the horses who will not be taking on the Europeans, Little Mike or the aforementioned other Americans include Calumet Farm’s D. Wayne Lukas-trained duo of Optimizer and Skyring.  Both are expected to run next at Saratoga Race Course, instead.  Another dropped from the possibles is Wertheimer and Frere’s Nutello, an improving colt currently trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias.  He may also be headed to Saratoga in what could be a one-way trip to an American barn thereafter.



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