AIDAN O’BRIEN insists he will not let his “disaster day” at Monmouth Park last year cloud his enthusiasm for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The Ballydoyle trainer saddles Henrythenavigator and Duke of Marmalade in the feature race in California on Saturday night, 12 months after the death of George Washington following the 2007 Classic.
Conditions could not be more different, however.
George Washington broke down in the slop as heavy rain turned New Jersey’s Monmouth Park dirt tack into a mudbath while Santa Anita’s new Pro-Ride synthetic track has won rave reviews for its safety and consistency.
The California sun will also be shining down on Breeders’ Cup with temperatures expected to soar into the 90s over the two days of racing beginning Friday.
“That was never going to have any influence,” said O’Brien, referring to George Washington’s death. “That was just a bad day. Everything went wrong and it was just a disaster.
“Those things happen and it was just one of those days you want to forget and this is a beautiful place, a great track and we’re privileged to be able to come really.
“We won’t look back, we’ll look forward. This is what it’s all about.”
All eight of the Ballydoyle contingent emerged from quarantine yesterday to get their first look at the Santa Anita track but did no more than a trot before returning to quarters.
In addition to his Classic runners, O’Brien has an equally strong hand at Santa Anita with Soldier of Fortune set to go off favourite in the Turf, Westphalia favoured in the Juvenile Turf and Halfway to Heaven leading the market for Friday’s Filly & Mare Turf.
He also has Red Rock Canyon running alongside Soldier of Fortune while Heart Shaped goes in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and US Ranger runs in the Mile.
“They seemed to love it out there and they’ll canter tomorrow and canter the next day,” he said.
O’Brien is not concerned about temperatures that could reach 90 degrees on Saturday, rather whether his challengers had one more big race left in them. “I don’t think the weather is an issue but they’ve all had long, hard seasons, although they seem fine.”
Of Henrythenavigator, O’Brien also has the other unanswered question over the trip to deal with. “He’s never been past a mile before so we have to take a lot of that on trust,” he said.
“He has loads of speed and one thing that’s very important is that Henry likes to get up on his toes when he gallops and horses like that are very nimble, very quick. And obviously on a fast, level surface we’re hoping, if the season hasn’t been too long, that he’ll be able to do that. On slow ground he’s much more sluggish.”
Duke of Marmalade’s disappointing seventh place in last month’s Arc should be discounted, he added.
“The Arc was a mile and a half and it was slow in the middle of the race and Duke of Marmalade is one of those horses that likes a strong tempo through the race.
“He’s another horse that likes fast ground, he’s very tough and a good cruiser. So if he gets a good race and he’s able to get to a good position he’ll be a tough opponent.”
Meanwhile, exiled Irish trainer Eoin Harty has warned backers of Classic favourite Curlin not to discount the European challenge.
Beaten only once since, and that on the turf at Belmont Park in New York in July, Curlin already looks to have won over American tipsters and punters. Yet Dubliner Harty has urged caution against considering the Classic a one-horse race, pointing not just to his own challenger, Colonel John, but to Henrythenavigator and Duke of Marmalade as well as John Gosden’s Raven’s Pass.
“The European group is by far the best European group we’ve seen in the Classic to date and I think racing on the synthetic surface they have to be respected,” said Harty.
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