Men­delssohn Clas­sic win could be O’Brien’s finest hour

Thun­der Snow and top three-year-old Roar­ing Lion join Ir­ish hope in field of 14 En­able bids to be­come the first Arc win­ner to dou­ble up in Breeders Cup Turf


Men­delssohn will be Ai­dan O’Brien’s 18th Breeders Cup Clas­sic starter and maybe fi­nally the one to give Ire­land’s cham­pion trainer some­thing of a com­ing of age suc­cess in the $6 mil­lion high­light tonight.

Giants Cause­way was the Ir­ish­man’s first Clas­sic run­ner all of 18 years ago, com­ing within a whisker of trans­lat­ing out­stand­ing Euro­pean turf form to US dirt at Amer­i­can rac­ing’s show­piece event.

It be­gan al­most two decades of O’Brien pitch­ing some of his great­est turf stars into an end of sea­son, shot to noth­ing at­tempt at beat­ing Amer­ica’s best on their own dirt in their own back­yard.

Rolling the dice with su­per­star names such as Galileo and Hawk Wing didn’t work. An­other, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, even sus­tained fa­tal in­juries on the dirt in 2007. A year later Hen­ry­thenav­i­ga­tor fin­ished run­ner-up but that was on a rare syn­thetic sur­face.

Dec­la­ra­tion Of War was close too in 2013. But there’s still been no Clas­sic cigar for O’Brien. Last year’s dual-Guineas hero Churchill be­came just the lat­est turf star to find it too big an ask to front up first time of ask­ing on an alien sur­face.

“As long as we’re alive we’ll keep try­ing,” O’Brien once said of the elu­sive Clas­sic. “We’ll just keep try­ing to find the right horse.”

It’s not just O’Brien and Cool­more Stud who have tried to iden­tify a sin­gu­lar horse ca­pa­ble of suc­cess­fully travers­ing the codes. Godol­phin al­most got their Arc win­ner Sakhee to win the year after Gi­ant Cause­way, only he too ran into Tiznow. Both of world rac­ing’s most pow­er­ful op­er­a­tions are back for an­other try when the high­light of US rac­ing’s $30 mil­lion show­piece is run at 9.44pm Ir­ish-time.

Mon­u­men­tal task

Thun­der Snow joins Men­delssohn in the 14-run­ner event which also in­cludes Europe’s top three year old colt of 2018, Roar­ing Lion.

His tilt at the dirt re­sem­bles so many Euro­pean tries of the past. Maybe Qatar Rac­ing’s grey will prove sin­gu­lar enough to make light of the dirt kick­back just a fort­night after win­ning on As­cot’s mud. But the ev­i­dence and the odds sug­gest he faces a mon­u­men­tal task.

In­stead it is the con­trary path taken to Churchill Downs by Men­delssohn and Thun­der Snow which sug­gests hard­earned lessons have been learned.

Men­delssohn’s tilt at last May’s Ken­tucky Derby ended in bru­tal fail­ure on a sloppy track. A year pre­vi­ously Thun­der Snow hated the ‘Durby’ ex­pe­ri­ence so much he had to be pulled up. But rather than any end of cam­paign af­ter­thought this Clas­sic is one both horses have been pin­pointed at.

They even clashed at Bel­mont last month when placed be­hind Dis­creet Lover.

O’Brien has eight other run­ners on Satur­day. They in­clude Magical who has the un­en­vi­able task of try­ing to beat the dual-Arc hero­ine En­able in the Turf (8.56 Ir­ish-time.)

An­other cou­ple of Bal­ly­doyle fillies, Magic Wand and Athena, are joined in the Filly & Mare (6.04) by Dermot Weld’s Eziyra and Gavin Cromwell’s Princes Yaiza. Weld has never won at the Breeders Cup. Cromwell’s never had a run­ner. In con­trast O’Brien has one of the event’s finest records. But should Men­delssohn emerge on top it will be the cul­mi­na­tion of years of ef­fort and also per­haps rep­re­sent O’Brien’s finest hour.

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