ARCADIA, Calif. — It wouldn't have the prestige the comes with his countless Group I and classic victories. But should Aidan O'Brien get the 6-year-old Starspangledbanner into the winner's circle after Saturday's 61/2-furlong Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, it would have to be considered one of the great feats of his training career.
A multiple Group I winner for O'Brien in 2010, Coolmore's Starspangledbanner was retired to stud for the 2011 season only to struggle with fertility issues.
Brought back into training this year, the Australian-bred son of Choisir has failed to win in four starts and was last against top company in the Group I Prix de la Foret on Oct. 7. In three of those starts, Starspangledbanner has caught soft ground and the 7 furlongs of the Prix de la Foret was probably a touch out of his stamina reach.
"I suppose the story with him the whole year was we always felt he could get 7 furlongs or a mile when we had him at the height of his powers but we always played it safe and never tried to expose him because we were very conscious he was going to stud," O'Brien said Wednesday during his first morning on the grounds at Santa Anita. "I suppose when he went to stud and came back, we knew we could experiment because there wasn't any pressure. But we learned very early that he hates soft ground and he probably wouldn't be able to (stretch out) here. After France, we learned he's a sprinter and he's a horse who wants to strongly run 6 furlongs."
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Getting Starspangledbanner back to form would be a feat, but O'Brien's top chances for victory this weekend probably lie with Mile contender Excelebration and defending Turf hero St. Nicholas Abbey.
Of the six losses Excelebration has suffered in his multiple Group I-winning career, five came at the hands of undefeated champion Frankel. Having gotten away from that monster in his last two outings, Excelebration has taken the Group I Prix Jacques Le Marois and won the Group I Queen Elizabeth II just two weeks ago at Ascot.
"With this horse his speed is probably his biggest weapon," O'Brien said. "I think he is plenty good on fast ground, he's a fast horse. He seems to be well and I think fast ground and a fast-run race shouldn't be a problem."
Nereid out ofFilly and Mare Turf
John Shirreffs was forced to declare Grade I winner Nereid from the $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf on Wednesday after the daughter of Rock Hard Ten kicked a wall.
"She is off in her right hind," Shirreffs said. "She had already come over (Tuesday from Hollywood Park). The injury is very minor but came at the worst possible time."
Last flightof contenders arrives
Grade I winners Fort Larned, Wise Dan, and Juvenile favorite Shanghai Bobby were among about a dozen horses to arrive at Santa Anita on Wednesday afternoon after having their travel plans delayed because of Hurricane Sandy.
The Tex Sutton charter departed from New York, left Louisville International Airport at 11:16 a.m. EDT and arrived in California at noon local time.