Having floored Golden Horn in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last year, Found is back to defend her crown at Santa Anita on Saturday.
With a reputation as something of a ‘nearly’ horse in Europe, she smashed that belief when running out a hugely impressive winner of the continent’s most prestigious race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Aidan O’Brien saddled the first three home at Chantilly – the highlight of what has been a truly remarkable season for the Ballydoyle handler – and is also responsible for Arc runner-up and King George winner Highland Reel in the Turf.
There is no doubt which of the pair he favours, though, and his admiration for Found has reached new levels of late, despite her defeat in the Champion Stakes to Almanzor.
Last week it appeared Found was going to run in the Classic on dirt, but connections had a late change of heart.
“She is a remarkable filly and without doubt the toughest that I have ever trained,” O’Brien said.
“When you watch her winning the Arc, you can see her strain ever sinew in her body and she has a relentless will to win.
“It was also handy for us that the Ascot race (Champion Stakes) was slowly run and ended up being a sprint up the straight.
“It was not gruelling for her by any means and she came out of it particularly well.
“She’s tactically quick, stays well and is the most genuine mare we’ve ever had.
“She’s a great mare. She doesn’t hold back anything and that is very unusual.”
He went on: “Highland Reel is a very solid horse, he gets a mile and a half well and handles fast ground.
“He’s straightforward and, tactically, he’s a great horse. Every race he runs to a very high mark and you are never sure when he’s going to put in a massive one again.
“He ran a great race in the Arc (second), really.
“They are two exceptional horses and obviously it increases our chances of winning it having the two of them.”
David O’Meara’s Mondialiste would not be given much chance of beating the O’Brien duo at home, but he becomes a different animal abroad, having won the Woodbine Mile and the Arlington Million.
He also chased home Tepin in the Mile last year.
“Mondialiste likes the American style of racing with its fast ground and turning tracks,” said O’Meara.
“We’ve run him a couple of times over the straight mile at Ascot and he hasn’t really enjoyed it.
“He ran OK in Kentucky last time, when he was beaten less than two lengths despite them going really steady in the early stages, which didn’t suit the hold-up horses.
“When he won the Arlington Million back in August he clocked the third-fastest time in the last 10 years, so the ground was pretty quick and a similar surface at Santa Anita will hold no fears for him.
“It’s a very fast mile and a half at Santa Anita, beginning in a chute which is part of the sprint course, so I think that (Turf) will suit him fine.”
Sir Michael Stoute has won the Turf four times, with Pilsudski, Kalanisi and twice with Conduit, but feels his runner Ulysses is not quite in their class just yet.
“He’s got a bit to find, I’ve taken a gamble bringing him to this race, I just feel he’ll handle the track and he’s a fresh horse,” said Stoute.
“I’m just hopeful that he can run creditably.
“It wasn’t a shock he didn’t win the Winter Hill at Windsor, but I expected him to.
“I do think next year you’ll see a better horse and this experience will do him good. I’m hopeful he’ll perform creditably.
“He’s got to go out there and do it, I’m taking a bit of a gamble.
“I was hoping we could get rid of Found (in the Classic), but it’s usually a tough race.”
The leading American hope is Flintshire, formerly trained by Andre Fabre and second in two Arcs.
Chad Brown’s six-year-old was, however, surprisingly beaten by Ectot, another horse formerly trained in France, when they last met in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
Flintshire and Ectot will renew rivalry at Santa Anita, with the latter’s trainer Todd Pletcher optimistic of a bold show.
Pletcher said: “He’s done everything you would hope after the Turf Classic win. He’s come back and trained super.
“It’s a deep race, it’s going to be a new surface for him, and a little bit of a different dynamic, but I think he can show what he did in the Turf Classic.”