Europe craves Woodbine's riches

Sue Montgomery says there can be no excuses in Saturday's Breeders' Cup fiesta
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The Independent Online
A nine-strong party of equine athletes take off from Stansted tomorrow on the annual transatlantic gold rush that is the Breeders' Cup. This year the dollar-chasing takes place in Canada for the first time; $11m are up for grabs at Woodbine, Toronto, on Saturday.

Britain's raiders, plus three from France are involved in four of the seven races, the Sprint, the Mile, the Turf and the Classic. The record of the Europeans has been patchy, with 14 victories (only three from Britain) and 23 places from 193 runners. Unfamiliar conditions - heat and humidity and tight American tracks - are usually cited as reasons for failure, but no such excuses will apply at Woodbine, a sweeping, European- style track, in the cool Ontario autumn.

Unsurprisingly, the best European results over the years have come in the two races run on grass, the Mile (six wins) and the Turf (five), and this year Britain supplies the ante-post favourites in both. But some of the most dramatic moments have come in the Sprint on dirt; Lochsong's flop, Dayjur's near miss, and Sheikh Albadou's runaway long-odds victory for the late Alex Scott.

The sole European representative in the $1m six-furlong dash this year is Iktamal, representing a couple of Breeders' Cup rookies in Ed Dunlop, Scott's successor at Gainsborough Stables in Newmarket, and Willie Ryan, who partnered the colt to victory in the Haydock Sprint Cup.

So often handed the No 12 shirt when the big moment comes, Ryan has retained the ride on Maktoum Al Maktoum's four-year-old, and is thrilled. He said: "I've never ridden in North America, in fact I don't think I've ever been west of Dublin. This is going to be a real gas, and whatever happens I'll enjoy every minute."

Ryan, 32, reckons Iktamal, who has been practising on the all-weather track at Lingfield, has a sporting chance. He said: "He went very well on the artificial surface. He's a big tough horse and won't mind any barging. He may not be as quick from the gate as the American sprinters, but I'm told a lot of them are better over five furlongs, so the six will be in our favour, as he always does his best work at the end."

Britain's best chance is perceived as being in the Mile, where Mark Of Esteem will bid to make it three in a row for the overseas challengers, backed up by his Godolphin stablemate Charnwood Forest. In the $2m Turf five of the 14 runners hail from Newmarket, led by the Michael Stoute pair Singspiel, a winner over the course and distance three weeks ago, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runner-up Pilsudski.

Wall Street (Godolphin) and the St Leger principals Shantou (John Gosden) and Dushyantor (Henry Cecil) will be joined by France's Swain and Luna Wells. The climax is the $4m Classic, in which Cigar is odds-on to redeem his slightly tarnished reputation.