Finishing fast but too late, there’s a capital crime in the eyes of most punters. So the Breeders’ Cup is a reputational elephant trap for European jockeys, whose mounts rarely break on level terms with the US runners and so immediately find themselves with ground to make up, while the fast surface and tight bends make the task even harder.
The action at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday threw up fresh examples but this is a conversation we’ve been having for decades. Think of Brief Truce, who tracked the pace on his way to winning at Royal Ascot in 1992 but was right out the back in the Breeders’ Cup Mile a few months later before powering home into third behind the US-trained, all-the-way winner, Lure. His frustrated trainer was Dermot Weld, who finally got his first Breeders’ Cup winner with Tarnawa this weekend.
While Weld and a few other Europeans left Keeneland with trophies, Ryan Moore had a tough time of it, as Twitter users cannot fail to have noticed. Six promising rides yielded four second places and a “nearest finish” fourth as well as an unequivocal flop from Peaceful.
Four of those mounts were still battling their way forwards when the line came, leading to the online invective being directed at Moore. Was it fair? I’d say not, with the debatable exception of the ride on Mother Earth, who broke fairly well but was then steadied towards the rear even though the favourite was already in front and stayed there.
Meanwhile, Pierre-Charles Boudot’s standing was enhanced by two wins from just three rides, including the wildly unlikely Mile success on Order Of Australia. Boudot is a fine jockey but so often outcome dictates analysis; to my eyes, Moore delivered better rides than Boudot in both the Mile and the Turf, in that they were more carefully controlled and adopted higher-percentage tactics.
Order Of Australia missed the start, was rushed by Boudot up to the front from a wide draw and then naturally failed to settle. How often does a start like that end with victory? But it worked this time, while Moore and Circus Maximus were held up in traffic at a crucial stage after a ground-saving rail run.
It’s not that many years since Moore was generally regarded as the best in the world but it’s hard to sustain that level of form. His British strike-rate is 16% these days where it used to be over 20% year after year.
He is hardly to be blamed for those not-infrequent occasions when he ends up on the wrong Ballydoyle runner, as with Arizona in the Guineas. Aidan O’Brien has been winning top-class races with second or third-string runners for a very long time and that will continue if, as so many seem to expect, Colin Keane takes over as his principal jockey next year.
Meanwhile, Moore has his racing brain and vast experience of top-class racing around the world. He has lots still to offer and O’Brien will surely be making plenty of use of him again next season.