Audarya wins at Keeneland
Audarya wins at Keeneland Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The iconic Bob Baffert may have won yet another Breeders’ Cup Classic with a horse called Authentic while Louisville local Brad Cox strung together a record-tying four wins at this year’s Thoroughbred Championships in Keeneland, Kentucky, but it was a group of diehard European handlers who actually stole the show.

Legendary Irish trainers Aidan O’Brien and Dermot Weld were joined by veteran Newmarket handler James Fanshawe, Kevin Ryan and Yorkshire’s David Manning to make a huge statement for European racing on the world’s biggest stage and against the world’s best thoroughbred horses on Saturday.

Where do we start describing this extraordinary story, a tale of incredibly determined horsemen and the enduring passion that they possess for their sport even in these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic and the critical protocols that compromise horse movement?

As is often said, nothing in the world can stop someone from chasing his dream, not even a mysterious virus, as Fanshawe showed when he travelled all the way to America to seal a titanic maiden Breeder’s Cup win with Audarya in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (Grade 1).

Often joked about as the mad professor because of his looks, Fanshawe is nonetheless highly respected for his brilliant racing IQ.

“I can’t believe it was his reaction after Audarya upset the favourite Rushing Fall to win by an excruciating neck,” he said. “It’s a great achievement for me to win here and I’m very happy for the owner and trainer, but I want to say sorry to Ioritz, who is the rider of this filly, but he has COVID.”

Fanshawe was following up on the Kevin Ryan-trained Glass Slipper who delivered the first salvo for the Europeans when taking out the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (Grade 1).

Then after the unstoppable big-race kind Aidan O’Brien saddled the first three home in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (Grade 1) with Order of Australia, Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez, it was the turn of the grand old man of Irish racing, Dermot Weld to add his name to the winners list when Colin Keane and Tarnawa won the Breeders’ Cup Turf (Grade 1).

Weld was back in Ireland, but his son Mark was present at Keeneland and he said: “We’re absolutely over the moon and it doesn’t get any bigger than this. I’m sad my dad is not here, but COVID has put paid to that.

“This is a remarkable filly and we’ve been on a wonderful journey with her. She’s like a jet; she sees the runway and off she goes. Dad has a done a remarkable job and deserves so much credit.”

Meanwhile, to give credit where it’s due we have to salute another great training performance that only Baffert is capable of, leaving the rest to jockey John Velazquez who put the icing on the cake of another thrilling Breeders’ Cup in the best possible fashion.

Unraced at two, but the winner of four of his six starts coming into the Classic including Grade 1 wins in the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, Authentic proved himself to be a superstar with a win to follow up on Baffert’s other Classics with Bayern, American Pharoah and Arrogate.

“I’m proud of my horses and what a way to end the year after what we’ve gone through. I love this sport and it’s a great day,: said the Hall of Famer. “That was awesome. I tell you what, I needed that, didn’t I?”