TRAINER AIDAN O’BRIEN believes St Nicholas Abbey will find the sun-baked turf track at Santa Anita to his liking Saturday when he defends his Breeders’ Cup Turf title.
Last year at Churchill Downs, St Nicholas Abbey made O’Brien’s son, Joseph O’Brien, the youngest jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race with the victory in the $3 million, 1m4f event.
Since then the five-year-old has had just one win — the Coronation Cup at Epsom — and he was never a factor in finishing 11th over heavy ground in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on 7 October.
“I think it is safe to say you can put a line through his last run in the Arc,” O’Brien said Wednesday. “Joseph knew after a furlong or so that the horse was in trouble on that ground, and did his best to look after the horse as well as he could.
“Hopefully it will be a different story on quicker ground here.”
St Nicholas Abbey, who was set to get a glimpse of the track nestled in the hills northeast of Los Angeles after clearing quarantine on Thursday morning, drew the third post in the 12-horse field for the race which is one of the Saturday highlights of the two-day, $25 million Breeders’ Cup championships.
The 1m2f $5 million Classic will cap the action on Saturday, with the Ladies’ Classic highlighting Friday’s schedule.
While the Turf and the other Breeders’ Cup races run on grass traditionally draw a strong European contingent, New York-based Point of Entry provides a tough home challenge.
The four-year-old colt trained by Shug McGaughey has won his last five starts and will break from the rail under jockey John Velazquez.
Other Turf contenders include the Dale Romans-trained Dullahan and stablemate Little Mike, along with Shareta — trained at Chantilly by Alain de Royer-Dupre — and Slim Shady, who began his career in Europe but has raced primarily in California this year.
Romans sent both Dullahan and Little Mike out on Wednesday to give them some experience of Santa Anita’s downhill turf course and, in particular, the tricky spot where the footing changes as it crosses the dirt track.
“The main thing I wanted was for them to get a feel of the downhill and see the dirt course — so they don’t jump it,” Romans said.
While Dullahan and Little Mike have trained together regularly since arriving in California, Romans said their differing styles mean they aren’t likely to be near each other on Saturday.
“They certainly won’t be getting in each other’s way,” Romans said. “One (Little Mike) will be in front and the other (Dullahan) will come running late.”
Trailblazer, a 5-year-old son of the Sunday Silence stallion Zenno Rob Roy, competed in Japan before traveling to California for his Turf bid.
Trailblazer prepped in the Arroyo Seco Mile on October 6, where he closed well for second behind Mile candidate Obviously.
He will be on the outside, and worked across town at Hollywood Park on Tuesday.
“He has acclimated well,” said trainer Yasutoshi Ikee. “He acts a bit immature on the grounds but once on the track, he’s all business.”