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Five of the best: Ballydoyle raiders in the Classic

Churchill: the latest O'Brien star to be tasked with winning the Breeders' Cup Classic
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Before 2017, the world record for Group 1 winners in a season was almost never mentioned as the moment to define Aidan O'Brien's career. Ever since the turn of the century, the Breeders' Cup Classic has been his rosebud. With the news that Churchill is likely to become the latest from Ballydoyle to bid for Classic glory, we look back on a selection of the best who have gone before.


Giant's Causeway
2nd, 2000

Of the 14 who have tried to bring the Classic back to Ballydoyle, the iron horse came the closest. He won five Group 1s in the summer, showing both the speed for 1m and the ability to last home over 1m2f, which along with his US sire Storm Cat gave him a comprehensive profile for the Classic.

As they turned in, Giant's Causeway was taking aim at Tiznow as it became clear that he was the target. Giant's Causeway drew upsides 100 yards out, but Tiznow achieved the remarkable in showing himself the more willing.

The commentator called it a nose between them, which gave an indication of the excitement rather than the result because it was officially a neck. Tiznow at least had the good grace to edge out Godolphin's Sakhee the next year, when Galileo was sixth.

George Washington
6th and PU, 2006/2007

Gorgeous George won just one of eight starts after he blitzed the 2,000 Guineas field in 2006 but became one of O'Brien's most popular horses all the same. A star miler who could stretch to 1m2f, he ran in two versions of the Classic, in 2006 at Churchill, when he finished sixth, and at Monmouth in 2007 after an abortive stud career.

The second attempt ended in tragedy, as he broke down in the straight and could not be saved after vets found that he had fractured both of his off-fore sesamoid bones.

Henrythenavigator
2nd, 2008

Though Giant's Causeway got closer, this was the one that got away. America's short-lived dabbling with synthetic surfaces at the end of the last decade opened the door to European raiders at the Breeders' Cup, to the extent that the 2008 Classic was "just like a European turf race," according to one unnamed US jockey who rode in the race.

Given that one of the great running battles of the European turf season had just transferred seamlessly to the Pro-Ride, whoever it was had a point. Henrythenavigator had beaten Raven's Pass three times earlier in the season, but it had been getting closer with every meeting and the crossover eventually came in the QEII. By the time of the Breeders' Cup, the late-blooming Raven's Pass just had too much for Henrythenavigator, who stayed on past defending champion Curlin for a gallant second.

Declaration Of War
3rd, 2013

Though a dual Group 1 winner, Declaration Of War would not have been an O'Brien luminary in the realms of Giant's Causeway, George Washington or even Churchill. He was, however, by War Front, a US sire Coolmore have used to great effect in recent years and his projected suitability to the dirt gave him a fighting chance in a relatively weak renewal of the Classic.

Another exhibit in the case against the best races being those of the highest quality, the 2013 Classic was one to remember. It was decided by a nose and a head, those being the margins by which hitherto perennial bridesmaid Mucho Macho Man held off the thrusting Will Take Charge and Declaration Of War.

Gleneagles
8th, 2015

As a son of Galileo who won the Guineas and was later surpassed by others in Europe, in his case the better-staying Golden Horn whom he was twice declared to meet but didn't, Gleneagles informs Churchill more than most of Ballydoyle's previous Classic runners.

Gleneagles, whose European campaign at three was truncated by continuously meeting with ground connections deemed too soft, trailed in last in a Classic immortalised by its winner, American Pharoah. The difference is that Gleneagles' style of racing was more obviously European than that of Churchill, who has been ridden with a fair amount of dash in winning the Guineas and finishing second in the International.

Though a dual Group 1 winner, Declaration Of War would not have been an O'Brien luminary
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