The Breeders’ Cup has not, as yet, been kind to Oisin Murphy, who has had half a dozen rides at the meeting and has yet to finish any higher than sixth. It has been even less forthcoming to 2,000 Guineas winners. There have been agonising near-misses, most memorably when Rock Of Gibraltar came up a stride or two short in 2002, and the desperate end to George Washington’s career when he suffered a fatal injury on the dirt at Monmouth Park but the 2,000 Guineas remains the only English Classic without a winner on the Breeders’ Cup’s roll of honour too.
So both horse and rider will be looking to break unfortunate streaks when Kameko makes the ninth and final start of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland on Saturday. Andrew Balding’s colt is the likely favourite at around 4-1, a point in front of Chad Brown’s Uni, the winner of the race at Santa Anita 12 months ago, and win or lose, he will be settling into his new life as a stallion, at Tweenhills Stud in Gloucestershire, by Monday morning.
“He will be coming straight to Tweenhills from the airport when he lands,” David Redvers, racing manager for the Qatar Racing, which owns Kameko, said this week, “so he’ll be coming to do the job he’s earned.” How much breeders will be charged for Kameko’s services, however, has yet to be decided, and a win on Saturday could potentially make a seven-figure difference to his – or, rather, Qatar Racing’s – earnings over his stallion career.
It would be harsh to suggest that Kameko will have left something out on the track if he doesn’t landed the Mile, since he has recorded Group One wins at both two and three, including a Newmarket Classic. And yet, there is still an air of unfinished business about him, thanks to an ambitious but so far largely unrewarded campaign after Kameko’s Guineas success.
His owners took a big chance on his stamina and ran him in what proved to be the strangest Derby that anyone can recall. Kameko was a very creditable fourth.
He then had no luck at all back at a mile in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, again finishing fourth but with plenty of running left. Then he made a big move on Ghaiyyath in the International Stakes to look like a serious danger two out, before the effort told and his stamina ran out. Fourth yet again. But there was much to admire in his prep race for the Breeders’ Cup, as Kameko gave weight to older horses in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket and and still prevailed by half a length.
Murphy, meanwhile, will go to post with his status as Britain’s champion jockey confirmed for another year, but only disappointment on his Breeders’ Cup record so far. In fact, he is still waiting for his first winner in America, though he has an outside chance to get on the board via The Lir Jet, his mount in the Juvenile Turf on Friday evening.
But Kameko is his first Breeders’ Cup favourite, and the colt’s chance has been improved by a draw in stall two, with Ryan Moore and Circus Maximus – often a front-runner – on his inside against the rail. Other potential front-runners – notably Halladay, in 10, and Factor This (13) – are drawn much wider.
If Circus Maximus breaks well, as he generally does, Murphy should be able to get into his slipstream around the first turn and sit a little closer to the pace than he might in a similar race in Europe. Positioning is immensely important in races around a tight American mile – as Rock Of Gibraltar’s gallant failure 18 years ago proved – but Murphy has been given a real chance to sit where he wants to be and pick his moment to strike.
But it was still typical of Murphy to suggest on Thursday, probably with a smile, that “all the hard work is done now,” even though Kameko did look in exceptional condition as he worked down the Keeneland straight. For Kameko’s jockey, the hard work is just about to begin, in a headlong two-minute dash that could finally see a 2,000 Guineas winner walking into the top enclosure after a race at the Breeders’ Cup.