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Breeders’ Cup report

Magician was well-named. His victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita last night was a lesson in the art of conjuring that is rarely seen on a racetrack.

First there was the training performance by Aidan O’Brien. Magician may have won the Dee Stakes over 10 furlongs at Chester in May, but he had dropped down in trip to land the Irish 2000 Guineas over a mile. Not only that, but the last time we saw him in public, he was finishing ninth of nine in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. That was in June. That was his last race.

To take him from there to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita in California, four and a half months later, without a run in between, over a mile and a half, a trip over which he had never been tried, required an extraordinary mix of confidence, understanding, horsemanship and patience. This was one of the great training performances.

Then there was the ride from Ryan Moore. Cool as you like, out the back off a relatively sedate pace. Still no better than seventh as they passed the furlong pole, Moore delivered his horse with a perfectly-timed power-packed finish to get up and mug The Fugue deep inside the final furlong.

“He’s a very talented horse,” said the rider. “I rode him at the start of the year, he was a little bit babyish, a little immature. He has an awful lot of class.”

“Ryan gave him a wonderful ride,” said O’Brien, who was saddling his fourth Breeders’ Cup Turf winner. “A big well done to everyone who is involved with him at home. And to the lads for letting him move up in trip. I was afraid a mile and a half might be too far. He is a horse who has always shown a lot of speed. I’m delighted to be here.”

It was almost a day of days for O’Brien, as Declaration Of War ran a cracker to finish a close-up third in the Classic. The War Front colt, making his debut on dirt, enjoyed the perfect run through the race and, when Joseph O’Brien asked him to pick up in the home straight, it looked for a few strides as though his trademark finishing surge could take him home. However, he just couldn’t get past Mucho Macho Man and veteran rider Gary Stevens, who went one better than last year, thereby providing Stevens with his 10th Breeders’ Cup win but his first ever Classic.

Magician’s win was a second victory on the night for Ryan Moore, who had earlier won the Filly & Mare Turf on Dank. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained filly picked up nicely to hit the front at the top of the home straight and kept on well to win well.

“The one draw meant that we had to be positive,” said Stoute, who last won the Filly & Mare Turf 10 years ago, also at Santa Anita, with the Ballymacoll Stud filly Islington. “She was just a little fresh early on. Ryan knew that he had to avoid getting shut in. But she was great.”

Victories for Magician and Dank brought the total number of European winners for the meeting to five, following victories for London Bridge (Marathon), Outstrip (Juvenile Turf) and Chriselliam (Juvenile Fillies’ Turf) on Friday, the last-named providing rider Richard Hughes with his first win in a Breeders’ Cup contest.

The potency of the raiding party was at odds with the numerical strength of their challenge. Just 16 horses made the trip from Europe this year, which was in stark contrast to the 30-strong party that travelled to Santa Anita in 2009, and the 24 that travelled in 2008. Indeed, this year’s European Breeders’ Cup challenge was the smallest in numerical terms since just a dozen competed at Monmouth Park in 2007. Proof then, perhaps, that the challenge is becoming more refined.

There was drama in the opening Breeders’ Cup race of the evening, the Juvenile Fillies’, not only because the ‘winner’ She’s A Tiger was disqualified, with victory awarded to outsider Ria Antonia, but also because the Bob Baffert-trained filly Secret Compass broke down on the far turn and, regrettably, had to be euthanised. Her rider John Velazquez was taken to hospital directly afterwards and had to give up his remaining seven rides, including the ride on warm favourite Wise Dan in the Mile.

Jose Lezcano proved to be a capable deputy for Valezquez on Wise Dan. Unfazed by a slight tumble on exiting the stalls, the rider asked Wise Dan for his effort as they rounded the home turn, and Charles LoPresti’s horse galloped on resolutely up the home straight to get up and win by three parts of a length.

Bob Baffert gained consolation for the loss of Secret Compass when he sent out New Year’s Day to land the Juvenile, providing rider Martin Garcia with his inaugural Breeders’ Cup win, and claiming his place at the top of the betting for next year’s Kentucky Derby. And it got even better for Baffert and Garcia later on in the day when they teamed up with Secret Circle, who justified favouritism in the Sprint.

The Filly & Mare Sprint was won by the favourite, the Buff Bradley-trained Groupie Doll, while the Turf Sprint also went to the favourite, the Mike Puype-trained Mizdirection, both fillies, like Wise Dan, recording back-to-back victories in their respective Breeders’ Cup races.

© The Sunday Times, 3rd November 2013