High Hopes for European Raiders in 2022 Breeders’ Cup

Highfield PrincessEuropean trainers have become much braver when it comes to putting their stable stars on to a transatlantic flight and hopes are high for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup. This year it is not just the big names in the training ranks who are making the journey to Keeneland.

Perhaps the smaller operations were inspired by John ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s success in the US Grand National in October at Far Hills. Based in Ireland, he won the race with Hewick, a seven-year-old son of Virtual out of an Oscar mare who was purchased by him for less than $1,000 as a two-year-old.

Hanlon has a relatively small string and works with low budgets. He was so delighted with the victory that he took Hewick into his local bar for a pint of Guinness to celebrate on his return and posted the evidence on Twitter.

The 76-year-old Willie Browne has only four horses in conventional training in his barn in Tipperary, Ireland. There are plenty more horses around but Browne is known and renowned for preparing juveniles for breeze-up sales rather than the race track. He has never saddled a horse in the US before but goes to Keeneland with Spirit Gal who will contest the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. He says it is like ‘winning the Lotto’.

This daughter of Invincible Spirit is owned and bred by Charles Fipke out of Awesome Gal, a daughter of Galileo, and has been offered at a single figure odds. Browne met Fipke at Keeneland 20 years ago, they got talking over lunch and Fipke has supported him ever since.

Spirit Gal has rewarded Fipke’s faith in Browne. She was narrowly beaten on her second start in August and proved a worthy favorite when winning her maiden in mid-September over six furlongs. She was last seen winning a seven-furlong listed race in Ireland from the front, breaking better than the majority of her nine rivals. She was a 4/1 shot and beat the notorious Aidan O’Brien’s 11/10 favorite by more than two lengths. The form of that race has worked out well but this is obviously a big step up in class and this filly has only raced four times, all at relatively quiet tracks in Ireland.

European juveniles will never have experienced anything like the carnival atmosphere of a Breeders’ Cup. Browne says the filly is improving all the time and is fairly confident that the one-mile trip should not be a problem for her but is realistic about her chances and is hoping for a good run. Ricardo Santana Jr will be doing the steering from gate seven.

Hopes will be higher for Meditate, a daughter of No Nay Never and the Juvenile Fillies Turf favorite, saddled by O’Brien, the top trainer in Ireland, for Ballydoyle. Her six starts include a victory on quick ground in a group 3 at the relatively noisy Royal Ascot in June. She has started as the favorite but finished second at the top level in her two most recent starts. This will be her first try at a mile too.

Richard Fahey, based in the north of England, saddles Midnight Mile. This daughter of No Nay Never is unbeaten after her two starts. She defied odds of 14/1 to win first time out over six furlongs in July and surprised bettors again by narrowly winning a group 3 over seven furlongs in early October over seven furlongs at Newmarket. She was a 22/1 shot but is half those odds in this race despite being drawn wide in gate 12.

Fahey has had no luck in the draw with his other Breeders’ Cup runner, The Platinum Queen. This daughter of Cotai Glory out of a Kodiac mare has proved a worthwhile investment for Middleham Park who bought her for approximately $60,000 as two-year-old. She has already provided a 500% return on her purchase price and was last seen winning a group 1 in France on bottomless ground over five furlongs.

The Platinum Queen has also performed well at the top level on quick ground, finding only Highfield Princess too good at York in August. The only time she has finished out of the first two in her seven starts was at Royal Ascot. The atmosphere might have been a factor in her second start and she was beaten seven lengths. Drawn in gate 12 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, she is currently the 7/2 co-favorite with Wesley Ward’s Love Reigns and will partnered by the talented Hollie Doyle.

UK based challengers fill the next two places in the Juvenile Turf Sprint betting. The Karl Burke trained Dramatised has raced three times and won both her starts over five furlongs, including a group 2 at Royal Ascot on quick ground. She was a beaten favorite when last seen in August, her trainer thought this daughter of Showcasing out of a Turtle Bowl mare was not suited by six furlongs. This distance of five and a half furlongs may well be within her reach. Her owners, Clipper Logistics will have high hopes. O’Brien’s jockey, Ryan Moore has been booked for the ride from gate four.

The flamboyant, Italian bred but UK-based jockey Frankie Dettori will be partnering Richard Hannon’s Persian Force in the race. He is the fourth choice for bettors at 8/1. This son of Mehmas bred by Tom Lacy out of a Lope De Vega mare was purchased for $210,000 as a yearling and has already repaid his purchase price. He is super consistent, winning three of his seven starts, all over six furlongs, for Amo Racing. His wins include a group 2 in July at Newmarket.

That was the last time he finished with his head in front. He has not been able to emulate that success in group 1 company in his past three runs but has finished second twice and third most recently in September. He will start from stall six and should be streetwise enough to run his race if he copes with the buzz beforehand.

Having focused on the less well-known trainers, the big guns from Europe look set for Breeders’ Cup glory. Godolphin’s top UK trainer, Charlie Appleby, enjoyed a hat-trick in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup and has the horse power to replicate that record. He has the favorite, Silver Knott in the Juvenile Turf, Modern Games (2/1) in the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Nations Pride as well as Rebel’s Romance filling the first two places in the Breeders’ Cup Turf betting.

After his experiences last year Appleby is cautious on how they will handle the Breeders’ Cup ‘jamboree’ atmosphere but expect the majority of his runners to do well if they don’t miss the break.