Brian Lynch grabbed a stuffed hay net, slung it over his right shoulder and continued what’s been an ongoing process for horsemen stabled on the grounds at Keeneland Race Course leading up to this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Shipping in, unpacking, training, racing, packing up again, moving barns, unpacking, settling and so on.
Grand Arch, who Lynch saddled to victory in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile and one of the top contenders for Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile, moved Monday morning and wasn’t fazed in the slightest. He breezed an easy half-mile Sunday in :50.80 on the good turf, so the barn change was about the only thing on the Arch gelding’s agenda less than a week out from the Breeders’ Cup.
“It was a soft-style turf course yesterday and I went ahead because I didn’t want to delay another day of work,” Lynch said. “We did the best we could over what it was. He looked comfortable enough on it.”
Grand Arch looking comfortable on the Keeneland turf course is not surprising. He’s won three of six starts in Lexington, with three seconds. The most recent win came Oct. 3 on a yielding course in the Shadwell Turf Mile, where he defeated The Pizza Man by a head with fellow Mile entrant Tourist another neck back in third.
Grand Arch was second to Wise Dan in last year’s Shadwell Turf Mile and his other two victories at Keeneland came in allowance races – in April 2013 via disqualification and this past April.
“He definitely likes the course and I’m sure he’s going to bring his A game,” Lynch said of Jim and Susan Hill’s gelding, who drew post No. 1 in the field of 12 for the Mile. “But I’m sure the Europeans are bringing their A game, too.”
Shortly after Grand Arch’s victory in this year’s Shadwell Turf Mile Lynch went back to oversee the main portion of his stable at Belmont Park. He returned last week to finish the final preparations on Grand Arch and Any Given Royal, who runs in an allowance race on Thursday’s Prelude to the Cup program at Keeneland.
Lynch said he liked what he saw when he returned and that the time away could be a benefit.
“Sometimes it does you good if you haven’t seen them in a while because you pick up on things,” Lynch said. “I love his body weight, I love the condition he’s carrying going into the race. What few days I saw him train before we breezed him I noticed that he still trains with good energy. The energy level is there and I like the way he’s moving. His attitude is there.”
Grand Arch came into last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile in solid form, despite a record of 1-for-6 before the race. In addition to his second to Wise Dan, Grand Arch won the Grade 2 King Edward Stakes at Woodbine and was an unlucky second to Seek Again in the Grade 2 Fourstardave at Saratoga.
The trip to Santa Anita for last year’s Mile wound up a complete disaster. He got hot and wound up in the paddock before the race, pulled jockey John Velazquez after the break, steadied before a quarter-mile was run and eventually finished 11th. Karakontie, who is back from France to defend his title in the Mile, beat Grand Arch by 8 lengths.
Lynch hopes the more familiar setting for Grand Arch – despite moving from the main stable area to Rice Road – will help the gelding improve on that effort.
“I really felt last year he was the model of consistency all year and then he never got to run his race out at the Breeders’ Cup,” Lynch said. “That was disappointing because you want them to shine on these big days. He was a really consistent sheet-number horse last year, but that day he got a bit stirred up in the paddock and he just didn’t bring his A game.
“He hadn’t done anything like that before. This year we get to ride him through the paddock every day and we’ve done the due diligence with him. Hopefully we’ve knocked all the cobwebs out as far getting him settled in and everything. Now we hope he accepts the tack, gets to the gates in good order and then it’s up to him. One thing we do know is that he loves this course, so that’s definitely in our team’s favor.”