BALLYDOYLE STAR Fame and Glory will need a marathon performance to make his California dream come true at the Breeders’ Cup.
With over $25m in prize money up for grabs over two days, the famous festival gets underway with seven races in Santa Anita this evening.
And while Irish eyes will be keenly focused on Aidan O’Brien’s dual threats of St Nicholas’ Abbey and Excelebration on Saturday’s card, the yard’s challenge kicks off in the gruelling 1m6f Breeders Cup Marathon on the dirt.
A brilliant winner of the Ascot Gold Cup and the Long Distance Cup as a five-year-old in 2011, Fame and Glory will need to roll the clock back 12 months to prove that he still has the stamina to stay in a top-class field. His defence of both Group 1 titles ended in defeat this season and on that form, there is a feeling that tonight could be more mournful farewell than triumphant exit.
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“He doesn’t owe anyone a thing,” O’Brien said, “and we are entitled to be the wiser after Ascot because in soft ground he tends to look after himself.”
Santa Anita’s dirt course presents another new challenge for the veteran campaigner, best known in his younger years for testing the legendary Sea the Stars over shorter middle distances. Although his credentials still stand up — he is currently second-favourite in the betting behind Atigun — Fame and Glory will have to be on form if he is to fend off the challenge of the specialists and live up to his name one last time.
The outside Irish interest in the Marathon, worth $320,000 to the winner, comes from Dermot Weld’s Sense of Purpose. The mare disappointed in her early-season outings over more than a mile and a half, and a drop back in the distance produced no noticeable improvement on her last outing in the Curragh in September.
Later on in the evening O’Brien tries his luck with Up in the Filly & Mare Turf, a race in which all of the European focus will be on John Gosden’s The Fugue, winner of the Group 1 Nassau Stakes earlier this summer.
Meanwhile Weld’s best chance comes under the light of moon when Speaking of Which lines up for the final race on Friday night’s card, the Grade 2 Twilight Derby over 1m1f.
Son of Invincible Spirit, the three-year-old set down a marker for the season when winning by nine lengths over 1m4f at the Curragh in the summer. The drop back in trip may suit and Weld backers will no doubt find plenty of excuses to stay up late.