O'Brien lines up Churchill for showdown with Arrogate
Churchill could be set to fight them on the dirt at Del Mar after Aidan O'Brien insisted his dual 2,000 Guineas hero has what it takes to lock horns with the likes of Arrogate and Gun Runner in the Breeders' Cup Classic a week on Saturday.
O'Brien has handed Churchill 'pre-entries' in the Classic and Mile but the Classic is listed as first preference, and the trainer, who will hope to board the plane to California as a world record-holder, revealed on Wednesday connections are leaning towards the meeting's showpiece event.
"The lads will make the final decision but there's a big chance Churchill will go for the Classic," said O'Brien, who last weekend saddled his 25th top-flight winner of 2017, equalling Bobby Frankel's record for the Flat that had stood since 2003.
"Churchill has come out of Ascot very well. He jumped smart and got into a nice rhythm but Ryan [Moore] just felt he could never get into top gear.
"He hit the line very strong though and we're looking forward to seeing what he can do at Del Mar."
The Breeders' Cup Classic is one of the few major contests to have eluded O'Brien during his spectacular career, with Giant's Causeway and Declaration Of War narrowly denied in 2000 and 2013.
A start in the ten-furlong contest would be a first experience of dirt for Churchill – third in the QEII over a mile at Ascot last weekend on ground softer than ideal – but O'Brien is confident the son of Galileo has the tools to handle it and compared him to Giant's Causeway.
"He's a lot like Giant's Causeway in that he's a miler that you hope can get a mile and a quarter," said O'Brien.
"Like Giant's Causeway, he's happy going quick early, and then he relaxes, is dour and comes home very strong. In an ideal world you'd like him to get a good, clear run as he can just take a bit of time to get into top gear.
"You're never sure about running on the dirt but he's powerful like those big dirt horses and he's made like one of them, so it could be something to look forward to."
Churchill was one of 14 O'Brien-trained horses featuring among the pre-entries for the Breeders' Cup unveiled on Wednesday, forming part of what could be a record year for European participation, with as many as 36 horses in contention to run at the two-day meeting.
The Middle Park and Dewhurst Stakes hero US Navy Flag is another Ballydoyle star in line for the trip, with a first preference pre-entry in the Juvenile Turf and another in the Juvenile on the dirt.
Mendelssohn also holds pre-entries for both races and O'Brien said it is likely the two will be kept apart.
Europeans are well represented, aside from O'Brien, in the Juvenile Turf, meanwhile, with Beckford, Masar, James Garfield and Sands Of Mali among the 27 pre-entries for that contest.
James Garfield's participation represents a dream come true for trainer George Scott, who secured a first British Group-race success when the colt won the Mill Reef at Newbury.
"We're lucky to have had such a nice horse come to us so early on," said Scott. "I'm a racing fan and love the Breeders' Cup, I watch it every year and fanatically follow the build-up. It's going to be a magical experience for us."
On his horse's chances of handling Del Mar, Scott added: "There's a very good round canter near where I train that would be tighter than Del Mar and he's been around that many times, so the bend will not be an issue."
'He'll love the nice ground'
Elsewhere, O'Brien has another decision to make with Roly Poly and Rhododendron. They feature in the Filly & Mare Turf and while the trainer believes it is possible they could both be allowed to take on US star Lady Eli, Roly Poly could be re-routed to the Mile.
Happily and September, meanwhile, are on course to meet again in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, while Highland Reel will bid to defend his Breeders' Cup Turf crown alongside stablemate Cliffs Of Moher – that duo finished third and seventh in the Champion Stakes last Saturday.
"The ground wasn't suitable for Cliffs Of Moher at Ascot but he'll love the nice ground at Del Mar and he's in good form," said O'Brien, who confirmed it is likely his horses will all compete on Lasix.
"We were delighted with Highland Reel as we just felt he needed that run before travelling and he's come out of the race well."
Other notable European pre-entries include the soon-to-be-retired Ribchester and fellow Godolphin-owned Home Of The Brave, who feature in the Mile along with Suedois, while Ulysses, Decorated Knight and Nezwaah are among 20 in the Turf.
James Doyle is one jockey who won't be in action on the Saturday of the Breeders' Cup having dropped his appeal against the seven-day ban he received at Ascot last Saturday.
Breeders’ Cup specials
Aidan O’Brien winners
Coral: 6-4 One, 15-8 Two, 4 None, 11-2 Three, 16 Four or more
William Hill: 15-8 Three, 2 Four, 4 Five or more, 9-2 Two, 12 One, 100 None
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