Appleby And O'Brien Repeat The Dose

Rebel's Romance & James Doyle | Coady Photography


LEXINGTON, KY–This was a day that seemed to hang suspended, if not quite on a single hair of his tail, then certainly on the fate of a single horse. Even the gale that blew through the afternoon had a portentous quality, as though the very elements were anticipating some complementary melodrama of wind and fire from Flightline (Tapit). Yet history is often made not to a blaring fanfare but in quiet increments–and the 39 steps taken by the Breeders' Cup since its inauguration in 1984 here brought the Europeans to a new pinnacle of their own.

True, the raiders' contribution nowadays tends to be diffidently confined to the turf races. And nor did they spread their spoils at all widely. Saturday was very much a case of rounding up the usual suspects. For the measurement of their superiority over the domestic grass talent once again contained an internal rivalry of its own, with two powerhouses of the European industry ending up evenly dividing six of the seven grass races staged across the two days.

On the juvenile programme, Aidan O'Brien and Charlie Appleby had traded a winner apiece before a desperate duel between their respective representatives in a “decider” was settled in favour of Ballydoyle. And their contention on Saturday was virtually a mirror image, O'Brien resuming with Tuesday (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the GI Filly and Mare Turf before Appleby responded with Modern Games (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the GI Mile and finally Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the GI Turf, where he was inevitably pursued home by a colt from Ballydoyle.

These winners limited Appleby's wilful impairment of his apparent invincibility on this side of the water: he had necessarily eroded his Breeders' Cup strike-rate by saddling two runners in two races. As a result, he must settle for having advanced to nine winners from 18 career starters at the meeting. Good grief, you would think the man might have the basic common sense at least to ensure a dead-heat when he runs more than one in a race.

Appleby has an exceptionally astute sense of the kind of animal that thrives on the hectic racing environment over here: tough, nimble horses that know how to hustle. Modern Games is a luminous example, as attested by three Grade I wins in three North American starts, though he also contributed to Appleby's remarkable sweep of three different mile Classics in Europe this spring. But this horse will probably never shake off his principal eligibility as a quiz answer, after contriving to win at Del Mar last year as a “ghost” for wagering purposes.

Evidently the intention is to keep Modern Games in training, alongside the gelded Rebel's Romance who has really blossomed with maturity after a staccato start to his career. For James Doyle, his success bookends a campaign in which he similarly benefited from William Buick's selection of another runner in the G1 2000 Guineas.

Ballydoyle's latest winner, meanwhile, proved yet another example of the way O'Brien manages to make the very process of proving a horse a stimulus to its ongoing development. This was Tuesday's eighth consecutive Group 1 start since breaking her maiden at Naas on Mar. 27. She was placed for the second time in a mile Classic just 12 days before winning one over a mile and a half. She ran against colts in the G1 Irish Derby, and bumped into the subsequent Arc winner at York. Yet all these months after drawing the cork, she performed here with more effervescence than ever.

The system, by this stage, is honed to a nearly metronomic degree. The maiden Tuesday won at Naas, for instance, had also been chosen to launch her sister Empress Josephine (Ire) towards her own Classic success last year. Their dam Lillie Langtry disappointed as hot favourite for the GI Juvenile Fillies Turf of 2009, at Santa Anita, but she came up with no less a filly than Minding (Ire) as her second foal; and their trainer, who has over the years had his ups and downs here, will have stifled any lingering scepticism at the wagering windows with three winners and a second from six starters overall. It must be said that the cause was especially well served by Ryan Moore, who really is riding at the peak of his powers.

So that left the GI Turf Sprint as the one and only race in which the speed of the indigenous opposition proved too much for the invaders, at least round a single turn. Even then, Emaraaty Ana (GB) (Shamardal) excelled for Yorkshire in getting within a neck of shock winner Caravel.

To those of us who considered Mizzen Mast a neglected stallion, this was a welcome reminder of the value he had long provided as a conduit to the splendid versatility of his own sire. Pensioned last year at the age of 23, his legacy has been sadly confined by a preponderance of geldings and females among his best stock–as, for instance, when two ladies gave him a famous double at the 2012 Breeders' Cup (Mizdirection in this race, and Flotilla {Fr}). Mizzen Mast did not always throw the most commercial conformation, but you can't put a price on the genetic nostalgia offered by a son of Cozzene out of a Graustark mare.

Someday, no doubt, the name of Flightline will have no less resonance in the Stud Book. But while even he must start with a blank state, as and when he enters stud, Saturday gilded the epoch-making heritage of two of the European breed's great modern bulwarks. Both Appleby's winners were sons of Dubawi, now in the evening of his career, while Tuesday is by the lamented Galileo.

It's striking that O'Brien and Appleby both use very similar language when trying to explain how Galileo and Dubawi have assisted their respective careers. The way they handle their stock will certainly have evolved with their growing familiarity, but both trainers stress how that elusive concept, class, is essentially a function of mental commitment, naturally alongside the physical capacity to support it.

And that's exactly where breeders need to be on the same page as trainers. They need to make sure that they prioritise constitution in their matings, because that is the foundation of brilliance. Flightline, notoriously, has only run six times–but what sets him apart is that you can throw anything at him and he will come right back and ask if that's all you have.

That is always said to be the classic trademark of his sire Tapit, while Flightline's second dam is by that doughty influence Dynaformer out of the Phipps matron Finder's Fee (Storm Cat)–who herself went seven-for-27 through three seasons.

If Flightline is to match his first career in his second, these are the seams he will be drawing on: much like Dubawi, and Galileo, and now the latter's son Frankel (GB). So when all these horsemen leave town, dispersing to far-flung coasts and continents and cultures, let them think about the type of animals they want to bring into the world. If their foals are born to run, and not just to stand on the dais in the adjacent pavilion, then it will be called the Breeders' Cup for a reason.

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