Petrushka the leader of team Europe

Sue Montgomery says Stoute's filly heads raiders in the Breeders' Cup

One of the defining moments in the short history of the Breeders' Cup came early in the series, on an electric November night in New York back in 1985. Pebbles achieved immortality as, in the words of the Aqueduct commentator, "England's superfilly" by becoming the first British-trained winner at the fixture, in the Turf. It was only the second running of the Breeders' Cup, the richest card in the sport, and it looked like the pickings across the pond might be easy.

One of the defining moments in the short history of the Breeders' Cup came early in the series, on an electric November night in New York back in 1985. Pebbles achieved immortality as, in the words of the Aqueduct commentator, "England's superfilly" by becoming the first British-trained winner at the fixture, in the Turf. It was only the second running of the Breeders' Cup, the richest card in the sport, and it looked like the pickings across the pond might be easy.

Fifteen years on, realism has set in. A total of 108 horses have made the journey to North America from these shores for a crack at the megabucks - this year the prize fund is $13m split between eight races - but since Pebbles only four have returned victorious. French-trained horses have done rather better, with 10 triumphs; the Irish, from a small representation, have bagged two. In times of crisis they become ours; this annual transatlantic rivalry has become the nearest thing racing has to the Ryder Cup.

Team Europe send a 16-strong squad to Saturday night's extravaganza at Churchill Downs. The 17th in the Breeders' Cup series, a moveable feast, will be the fifth to be enacted at the Kentucky track, which is relatively raider-friendly. Two of Britain's successes, Sheikh Albadou in the 1991 Sprint and Barathea inthe 1994 Mile, have comethere and it is the only venue which has produced a European treble, when Arazi in the Juvenile and Miss Alleged in the Turf joined Sheikh Albadou in glory.

But it is still (with the Tote) even money a zero score for the Brits, despite the fact that three of them - Arkadian Hero, Kalanisi and Petrushka - are ante-post favourites for their respective races. Winning away from home, in any sport, is not just a matter of talent but of adapting to local conditions. Churchill Downs is, like all US tracks, a left-handed oval, with the grass course, a sharp seven-furlongs round, set inside the dirt circuit. The landmark 105-year-old twin spires of the grandstand hold contrasting memories for Frankie Dettori: a dream ride on Barathea and that infamous nightmare on Swain in the Classic two years ago.

"The track itself is, by American standards, pretty straightforward," said the Italian. "But you need a horse not just with class but one with enough speed to hold a position early, and there is the difference in the way the horses are trained. In Europe, we try to stretch them to their limit; we relax them at the beginning so that they have enough in reserve to finish strongly. In America it is the opposite; they are trained to go as fast as they can until they stop, and that is their distance. They are so much quicker than us from the start, just a completely different ball game."

Churchill Downs has two particular peculiarities. In the Mile, the first turn is only 180 yards from the start and a rails starting stall (the draw will be made on Wednesday) is vital to avoid an unseemly scrabble. And the home straight is less than two furlongs in length. "Turning in, you've got to be in touch, ideally within two lengths of the leaders," said Dettori. "At this level the good ones keep going and you'll run out of ground if you try to pick them off from too far back."

Unsurprisingly, the Europeans have the best record on the two races run on their familiar grass, the Mile and the 12-furlong Turf, with seven wins in each. Last year a third favourable option was added, the Filly & Mare Turf, and on Saturday the second running may just produce another superfilly.

For if Giant's Causeway has been the season's iron horse, then surely Petrushka is the iron lady. Her first run of the year was at Newmarket back in April and she comes to the fray off three straight Group One wins, in the Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks and Prix de l'Opera, apparently in better form than ever.

One of the keys is her laid-back temperament. "She is very relaxed, takes everything in her stride, yet she is competitive when she has to be," said her trainer Michael Stoute. "Attitude is half the battle with any horse and she has a lovely mind. She enjoys everything she does and does it without fuss. If you want a good piece of work, she'll give you a good piece of work."

Stoute stresses the part played in keepin g the pretty chestnut sweet by Wally Lowsby, who has ridden her at home all year and accompanied her to Churchill Downs six days ago. "Wally is hugely experienced and has been in this game longer than most of us," he said, "he was with Joe Lawson and Jack Jarvis, and did Pretendre."

Kalanisi, favourite for the Turf, is exactly the progressive type with which Stoute excels; Pilsudski, another of the ilk, gave the trainer his sole Breeders' Cup win in the 1996 Turf. Montjeu (possibly), Fantastic Light, Fruits Of Love and Mutamam make up a strong hand against the home side, headed by ex-Europeans Manndar and Ciro.

Arkadian Hero, trained, like Barathea, by Luca Cumani, is favourite for the Mile on the strength of his effort in Canada last month, when he lost eight lengths at the start and was beaten a nose. Indian Lodge, Dansili, Mutathir and Distant Music (at a generous 16-1) joins him to take on US star War Chant. Clive Brittain, responsible for Pebbles, sends out dual Group One winner Crimplene in the Distaff against the local Riboletta and Beautiful Pleasure. The sole definite two-year-old challenger from Europe is Noverre, a Godolphin colt surely testing the water for a possible Kentucky Derby run next year.

The clash in the Classic between Giant's Causeway, and Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus should provide a fitting finale. All eight races will be shown live on the Racing Channel, starting at 6 pm.

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