Terrific horse, great trainer, superstar jockey. It would seem that Breeders' Cup Turf starter Golden Horn has everything going for him and is one of the most likely winners on either day's card. But before you go all-in ...
Golden Horn is coming off a win in the Arc de Triomphe; on the surface, a positive. The Arc is among the biggest races in the world and is the most coveted prize in French racing. It has been won by many of the greatest horses ever, and a win there cements your place in the sport's history.
But Arc winners have had a miserable time in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Though the sample size is small, it is telling. Five Arc winners have attempted the Arc-Turf double, and not one has won. Only one, Trempolino (1987) finished in the money as he crossed the wire second behind Theatrical. A sixth Arc winner, Sahkee, opted for the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he finished second.
Some, at least on paper, looked invincible. In 1986, Dancing Brave was being hailed as one of the greatest horses ever produced in the United Kingdom. "We thought he could walk on water," his trainer, Guy Harwood, said. In the Turf, Dancing Brave finished fifth as the odds-on favorite.
Since then, Trempolino finished second, while Saumarez (1990), Subotica (1992) and Dylan Thomas (2007) all finished fifth.
The struggles of Arc winners in the Breeders' Cup could be nothing more than a coincidence. Or it could be a matter that the Arc is the main season-ending goal for most top European horses, and the Breeders' Cup Turf is an afterthought. If they win the grueling Arc after a long campaign geared to get them to peak on that particular afternoon at Longchamp in Paris, what will they have left in the tank when it is over?
Trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, Golden Horn has had a season typical of Arc winners. He started in April in a small stakes and then went on a tear. Coming into the Arc, he had won five of six starts on the year, including the Epsom Derby. In the Arc, he defeated a stellar field that included 2013 and 2014 winner Treve and Flintshire, an easy winner of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer this year at Saratoga and last year's Turf runner-up. Golden Horn is the 1-2 favorite for the Turf, according to Betfair.
The Arc field is a lot tougher than the Turf field, and Golden Horn should have no problem winning if he maintains a top level of form. But will he?
That he's trained by Gosden is a plus as he, perhaps, understands American racing better than any other European trainer. He trained here from 1979 through 1988 and actually won a race on the inaugural Breeders' Cup card with Royal Heroine in the 1984 Mile. It is one of four Breeders' Cup races he has won.
The irony of the Arc-Breeders' Cup Turf challenge is that plenty of Arc horses have won the Turf. They just haven't been Arc winners. There have been 50 horses to come out of the Arc who started in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Eight have won, a solid win rate of 16 percent. The list includes High Chaparral, a two-time Turf winner. For the most part, they follow the same pattern. They ran well in the Arc but came up a little bit short. The eight Turf winners have finished fifth, fourth, fourth, third, second, ninth, second and fourth in the Arc -- which makes sense. While most ran OK in the Arc, they didn't put in a max effort that left them unable to perform at their best in the Breeders' Cup.
None of this means Golden Horn has to lose the Turf. But he'll be an odds-on favorite, and history says you have to bet against him. With it rather obvious that European turf horses are better than American turf horses, a better betting option may be Found or even Postponed, perhaps the two other European starters in the race.
Found finished ninth in the Arc and finished that up with a second-place finish in the Champion Stakes at Ascot. The Turf will be his third start in 27 days, but trainer Aidan O'Brien isn't afraid to run his horses back in short order if they are in good form. And O'Brien has won this race four times, including with three Arc starters. Trained by Roger Varian, Postponed has a major Group 1 win on his scorecard (a victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes), and he followed that up with a win in the Group 2 Prix Foy. If you are looking for an improving European horse that will come into the race fresh and whose trainer has probably made this a main goal for the year, he's your play.