LOUISVILLE — Because of So You Think's Tuesday evening arrival on the Churchill Downs backstretch and the quarantine restrictions that came with it, few outside his own handlers were able to get a look at the horse until the multiple Group I winner took the track Friday morning.
It is fitting such a cloak of mystery has been maintained by the son of High Chaparral heading into Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Despite his multiple top-level wins and a reputation built over two continents, no horse in the 12-horse Classic is more of an unknown than the current star of trainer Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable.
The race already features the glamour girl (Havre de Grace), the comeback kid (Uncle Mo) and the sentimental choice (Flat Out), So You Think rounds out the cast as the resident X-factor, an invader from Europe with as many question marks as credentials.
The former pride of Australia, So You Think was widely considered the best horse in his land when he won four consecutive Group I races and ended his 2010 season with a third-place run in the Melbourne Cup. In a blockbuster deal that left his former trainer Bart Cummings heartbroken, Coolmore Stud principle John Magnier and his partners Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor purchased a majority interest in So You Think and transferred him to O'Brien's yard.
The 5-year-old has rattled off three Group I victories in Europe this season in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, Coral Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes but also suffered a wrenching neck defeat to Rewilding in the Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot.
Though he reportedly trained on the dirt in Australia, Saturday's Classic will be the first time So You Think has raced on a surface other than turf. He will also be making his third start in five weeks, having finished fourth in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 2 and second in the Group I Champion Stakes at Ascot on Oct. 15. But O'Brien insists this is a horse he can't get enough work into.
"He went to Ascot and it looked like a tough race but he never lost a kilo," said O'Brien, who is 0-for-11 in the Classic and has just one Breeders' Cup win since saddling High Chaparral to back-to-back Turf victories in 2002 and '03. "My biggest concern is trying to keep the weight off him. He's not a softie, he's got a great constitution. Hopefully he'll break and have a nice position and not get too much kickback."
There may be little O'Brien can do to anticipate how So You Think will handle the dirt, but there is a notion So You Think hasn't given his stable his best yet.
O'Brien will outfit his charge with blinkers on Saturday in an effort to improve his focus, something that has been in question the last few runs.
"I suppose the first time we saw it was (in the Irish Champion Stakes) where he waited, he was going too relaxed," O'Brien said. "It all points to maybe he's just gone very lazy. We put blinkers on him at home and (son) Joseph (O'Brien) felt he was much more attentive."
He won't be on the lead, but should So You Think break well under jockey Ryan Moore from post No. 5, O'Brien expects him to be in the thick of the pack during the Classic — likely in a similar stalking position Havre de Grace used to win the Grade I Woodward on Sept. 3.
Multiple Grade I winner Game On Dude looks to be the clear choice to set the early fractions, but reigning juvenile champion Uncle Mo and Pennsylvania Derby winner To Honor and Serve could both press him on the front end.
Such a speed scenario could play into the hands of a closer like Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out. For O'Brien's purposes, though, it could also give So You Think the kind of steady fractions he needs to build momentum.
"He's a very serious work horse but ... in his races he cruises, he joins them, but he hasn't been going away from them," O'Brien said. "Maybe the difference in our work at home (in training) is the pace is strong and consistent but ... what has been happening is the horses around him just aren't falling away in his races.
"On dirt, our experience of it is the pace is strong, it's fast, they have to cruise, and they keep going. It could be that we might start seeing what we see at home if he handles the surface."