Lady Aurelia versus Marsha: it's the decider in the Turf Sprint
7.37 Del Mar
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint | Grade 1 | 3yo+ | 5f turf | ATR/RUK
They've met twice already and it's one-all, so why should Lady Aurelia be such a red-hot favourite for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and Marsha available at up to 11-2?
Home advantage is no doubt a big plus for Lady Aurelia. What's more, Wesley Ward's filly was hugely impressive when gaining her second Royal Ascot win in the King's Stand, in which Marsha was only third, while there was almost nothing in it in the Nunthorpe at York, where Marsha got the verdict yet was in front for only the final stride or two.
Ward himself has made several references to Del Mar's turning five-furlong track favouring 'closers' rather than out-and-out speed machines like Lady Aurelia.
He said: "I think it would probably favour Marsha, because Del Mar is a come-from-behind-type track. A lot of horses come from behind at five-eighths and win. However, if our filly settles in the first part of the race, which is what she's been doing all year, we'll have first run on Marsha, which could be key."
Ward is delighted with the conditions of Lady Aurelia, who has had a good break since York, whereas Marsha has travelled to Chantilly for the Abbaye, where she was no match for Battaash.
He said: "We have a little bit of an added rest, whereas Marsha came back and ran second at Chantilly."
Ward also believes Lady Aurelia is essentially a better filly than Marsha – or indeed any other sprinter.
"I believe she's the fastest horse in the world," he said. "She has an explosive punch when you ask her, and now her mind is getting settled she can reserve that punch when needed."
Does Morris have the experience?
Marsha, who carries the hopes of thousands of members of the Elite Racing Club, some of whom have travelled to Del Mar, is a first Breeders' Cup runner for Sir Mark Prescott and first ride in the United States for Luke Morris.
Marsha has travelled over well, and it has been evident since her record-breaking win in the Palace House Stakes that she is a top-class sprinter, but some might question whether her rider's lack of Stateside experience might count against her.
Not Morris himself. All of his Group 1 wins have been over five furlongs, and he actually has more experience in the US than many will appreciate.
He said: "I spent three months in Santa Anita with Ben Cecil when I was an apprentice eight or so years ago, so I'm very aware of the nature of the racing, and that's stood me in good stead for this trip. I didn't ride in any races but rode lots of track work over the trip.
"Marsha has a nice draw where we can stalk the pace. Lady Aurelia is likely to be on the front end and it's about not being too far away on her while also keeping her nicely balanced and on the right lead. She was fine round Chelmsford the other day, so I'd be hopeful."
Added European interest
European interest also comes through Cotai Glory and Washington DC.
Charlie Hills has already enjoyed Group 1 sprint success with Muhaarar and Battaash, and so perhaps Cotai Glory should not be underestimated.
Hills said: "He seems to have taken the travelling in his stride and I've been happy with his progress here. The track's fantastic, it's obviously tight, as tight as any track he's ever been on. He's got a nice draw in eight which gives us a chance to do what we want."
Washington DC is 0-10 at Group 1 level and was beaten by Marsha in the Palace House. He meets her on 7lb worse terms but Aidan O'Brien believes conditions will be ideal.
He said: "He's a fast-ground five furlong horse, that's what he is. He'll need a bit of luck and if he gets lucky he'll win a good one one day."
While for many the Turf Sprint is first and foremost a match between Lady Aurelia and Marsha, five-year-old Disco Partner is pressing Marsha for second favouritism in some lists.
He has won three of his four races since joining Christophe Clement and his form suggests he is highly effective on fast ground, though his wins for his new trainer have been at six furlongs (twice) and a mile, so will he have the speed to match the two principals over the minimum distance?