Part of what makes the Breeders' Cup World Championships so intriguing is the third word in its title: world.
Although foreign participation in the two-day race event varies from year to year, the Breeders' Cup always gives American race fans a chance to see some very nice horses that are campaigned elsewhere the rest of the year. Some of them, like Goldikova and Ouija Board, return year after year and end up with a large American fan base.
This year, there are several runners I will definitely be keeping an eye on. After getting to see top-class racing in Europe throughout the month of October, I am even more curious than normal how that form will translate on American soil.
I am sure that I am far from alone in this, but the foreign invader I am most fascinated by is Excelebration. The last I saw him, he came flying home to win by 3 lengths in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Oct. 20 during British Champions Day at Ascot.
Although that score alone would be enough to catch anyone's eye heading into the Breeders' Cup Mile, it is Excelebration's other claim to fame that will also draw attention. Excelebration has run against Frankel five times, finishing second four times and third once to that undefeated rival.
In fact, my favorite quote from British Champions Day may have come over the PA system before a saddle was ever put on Frankel's back that afternoon. I had no choice but to laugh when I heard the following: "Excelebration has finally found a way to beat Frankel by running 35 minutes before him!"
The last time they faced each other, Frankel finished 11 lengths in front of Excelebration in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot this summer. Can you blame Excelebration's connections for avoiding Frankel after that?
Given that many stateside wanted Frankel to face off with Mile favorite Wise Dan but never got their wish, this is the next best thing. Of course, I have always been leery of the whole "Horse A beat Horse B who beat Horse C, so clearly Horse A could beat Horse C" argument when you have only one race to work with. To say Santa Anita's turf course is vastly different from a European turf course is an understatement. Still, watching Excelebration and Wise Dan in the Mile should be good fun.
Aidan O'Brien trains Excelebration for Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor, and historically this group has been a big supporter of the Breeders' Cup. One of the best moments in Breeders' Cup history came in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic when Tiznow barely held off invader Giant's Causeway. If you have never seen this race, take a minute to watch it. Although born in the United States, Giant's Causeway was campaigned in Europe. The Classic was his first and only start on dirt. His stretch duel with Tiznow is what makes the Breeders' Cup the Breeders' Cup.
St Nicholas Abbey is back for more but will face stiff competition in the form of American hopeful Point of Entry, who is coming off of three consecutive G1 wins.
Last year O'Brien and the Coolmore group sent over two winners in Wrote, who took the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, and St Nicholas Abbey, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf. Not only did St Nicholas Abbey win, but the fact O'Brien's son Joseph was aboard led to one of the best storylines of the 2011 Breeders' Cup. The 18-year-old became the youngest jockey to win a Breeders' Cup race.
This year, St Nicholas Abbey is back for more but will face stiff competition in the form of American hopeful Point of Entry, who is coming off of three consecutive Grade 1 wins. O'Brien has trained a horse to win back-to-back Turfs before in High Chaparral, who also raced for Tabor. High Chaparral won in 2002 and 2003, and is perhaps best remembered for the fact he actually hit the wire with Johar in 2003 at Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup's first-ever dead heat.
Another race that always draws classy competition from across the pond is the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and this year is no different. Several high-class fillies will be lining up against the best the United States has to offer.
England's The Fugue has a reputation that precedes her, which led to her being named the morning line favorite. Trained by John Gosden, the Dansili filly won this year's Group 1 Nassau Stakes and barely lost the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks.
Another European invader I am most interested in is Ridasiyna, who won Group 1 Prix de l'Opera on the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe undercard Oct. 7. She won with ease that day and her performance made me a fan. Of course, I always tend to like horses I get to see in person, so take that for what it is worth.
It would also be foolish to forget Nahrain, the English-bred filly who finished second by less than a length to long shot Perfect Shirl in last year's edition of the race. In her favor is the fact that she took the Flower Bowl Invitational here in the U.S. in her last start, but earlier in the year she did lose to both The Fugue and fellow Filly & Mare Turf contender Up while racing in Europe.
If you find yourself at a loss when it comes to the juvenile turf races, it never hurts to look at the European contenders. Turf racing is what they do, and the baby races are always such a toss-up. In fact, in the first edition of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, guess who finished eighth, running the worst race of his 29-start career? Multiple champion Gio Ponti. To say the ground was yielding that day is a massive understatement, and that surely played a part, but the point is, you never know who will emerge from the 2-year-old races.
And if you are hoping to find a European runner on dirt, this year your best bet comes in the Marathon. Although his form has tailed off considerably in his past few starts, 6-year-old Fame and Glory is a multimillionaire and champion in Europe. This is likely his final race.
Irish champion Sense of Purpose is another looking to regain some form in the Marathon. The race might not be on turf, but it is long, and in general, that is something the Euros tend to do better than American runners since they are more likely to be bred for it.
In all, 26 European horses have crossed the pond to compete in the Breeders' Cup World Championships. Unfortunately, no foreigner has opted to run in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.