Valiant Kinross Heads The Supporting Cast

Kinross (third from left) | Coady Photography


LEXINGTON, KY–It's pretty pointless rolling back to the clock, to so very different an era, to contrive a blasphemous conflation between “the 'F' word” and “the 'S' word.” But even if we leave the polemics over Flightline (Tapit) and Secretariat to run their trite course to futility, in one respect the 39th Breeders' Cup made it feel just like old times for the Europeans, as well.

True, a similar caveat should be applied to the notion that Godolphin and Ballydoyle here reprised the kind of rivalry that reached such intensity in the days when, for instance, Galileo (Ire) and Fantastic Light were tearing off gloves. This feels like a very different world, with Godolphin having evolved unrecognisably–whether in structure, purpose or personnel–from its early and middle phases. It feels like both camps have long grasped that this business is complicated enough, without loading emotive ancillary agendas into the equation.

And that welcome fading of past antipathies is pleasantly condensed in the two trainers whose outstanding returns over Friday and Saturday would have prompted most of us to discard any camouflage of modesty. As it was, Charlie Appleby and Aidan O'Brien reliably maintained the humble and respectful bearing to which both were born and raised. (It tells you everything that Appleby was cleaning his kids' school shoes when called on his return home.) Very possibly that bond between their natures goes a long way to explaining why they should also be united in success.

In going to such scrupulous lengths to deflect credit to their staff and patrons, they insist that an industry as labour-intensive as ours can only be dominated to this degree–with three winners apiece, from seven turf races overall–through teamwork. With Thoroughbreds, you can never cover absolutely all bases. But good luck if you go out to that pitching mound on your own.

Of course, no horse wins a race by nice manners. And those brought here from Europe's two mightiest stables were variously bred, selected and taught to be streetfighters. Appleby's 50% career clip at the Breeders' Cup certainly shows a nuanced sense of the blend of toughness and agility required to make hurtling round the inner circuit somewhat less of a crapshoot. Someday he will no longer be able to rely on such inborn virtues in the stock of the ageing Dubawi (Ire), much as O'Brien will meanwhile be increasingly obliged to regroup without Galileo (Ire), who posthumously extended his primacy in aggregate Breeders' Cup earnings through the success of his daughter Tuesday (Ire).

But let's indulge that aversion to vanity in Messrs. Appleby and O'Brien, and instead pay some heed also to some of those who made the same bold journey–only to return with a deflated sense of being overmatched by these superpowers not just in resources, but also in luck.

Principal laurels among these go to Kinross (GB) (Kingman {GB}). He ran a stormer in the GI Mile, beaten three-parts of a length after realising all the nightmares that loomed once he drew 13. Any hope of salvaging the situation early on was lost in heavy traffic, but he came bounding home once clear and switching gates with Modern Games (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) would probably have resulted in the pair also exchanging places on the podium.

His owners will doubtless reflect wistfully that it took castration for Kinross to get everything together over the past two seasons. But if they must duly miss out on stud earnings, they can comfort themselves that this was surely a persuasive reconnaissance for another crack at the race at Santa Anita next year. All things being equal, or certainly more equal than they were here, he has proved himself at home with the racing environment here and with shipping late in the year. However vexing this denouement, his trainer deserves huge credit for the way Kinross has thrived through the autumn.

Dramatised (Ire) (Showcasing {GB}) and Emaraaty Ana (GB) (Shamardal) both posted fine seconds round a single turn for Yorkshire, albeit the county's “royal” pair could not round off their remarkable seasons. Highfield Princess (Fr) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}) ran very creditably in fourth, but this proved a race too far for The Platinum Queen (Ire) (Cotai Glory {GB}).

“I'd say she'd just run out of juice,” reported her trainer Richard Fahey, boarding his flight home on Sunday. “She's had a tough campaign and didn't really fire. They went very quick, and she just didn't shine, but she's had a great season.”

On the face of it his other runner, Midnight Mile (Ire) (No Nay Never), seemed to run well when closing for fourth in the GI Juvenile Fillies Turf. But it's a testament to his regard for the filly that Fahey was candidly disappointed.

“I don't think we saw the best of her,” he remarked. “She was in season, and being a bit temperamental, and that's not her. She didn't want to race early and then came there when it was all over.”

Be that as it may, taken together her first three starts suggest abundant potential. And it's worth reiterating an incidental benefit, for younger horses, of the expansion of the turf program at this meeting. For the assortment of high achievers to have graduated from defeat in these races is quite extraordinary.

In 2017, Catholic Boy (More Than Ready) and Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy) finished fourth and first in the colts' race before switching to the dirt to run one-two in the GI Travers S. the following summer. Back in sixth, meanwhile, was subsequent G1 Derby winner Masar (Ire) (New Approach {Ire})–and the Epsom winner could again be found lurking down the field the following year, when Anthony Van Dyck (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) finished ninth. A little ahead of him was another future Classic winner in War Of Will (War Front). Next time, Sealiway (Fr) (Galiway {GB}) ran fifth before winning the G1 Champion S. as the finished article a year later. In the fillies' race, similarly, fourth place last year set up Cachet (Ire) (Aclaim {Ire}) for her Classic success in the spring.

So even those of us who deplore European horsemen's wholesale renunciation of the dirt track must acknowledge that these races, besides their own inherent value, are serving a valuable role in the education of elite prospects. The principle of learning from adversity is helpfully moderated: consider, for instance, the difference in attrition between a straight mile on testing ground at Doncaster and the kind of sprint finish that will typically ensue once they finally open up here–something they will only do after whizzing round all those bends, itself a highly educational experience.

It would perhaps be churlish, after a virtual monopoly on the turf, to urge the Europeans to do things differently. In the only grass race won by an indigenous runner, after all, the raiders finished second, third and fourth. But without reprising some familiar arguments about the short- and long-term rewards available on dirt, it does remain curious that two stables with such lavishly resourced Kentucky divisions should not at least roll the occasional dice. Maybe that's a situation to watch, however, with the likes of Justify and Quality Road now having a foot in the door at Ballydoyle.

But another personal bugbear does require briefly revisiting. For it really is imperative that the QIPCO British Champions' Day, as the interloper into the international schedule, always maintains the three-week interval with the Breeders' Cup. There have been times when they have left a bare fortnight, but this year there was opportunity enough for Modern Games and Kinross, who contested different races at Ascot, to reconvene and run first and third here.

Mind you, another year like this one and it will be the Americans urging Ascot to squeeze up the schedule again.

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