Racing: Chaparral defies heat to claim high ground for Europe

Breeders' Cup: Dead-heat for Irish-trained colt plus outright victories for British and French fillies confound fears of whitewash for visitors
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The Independent Online

The dust is still settling, quite literally, on a Los Angeles ablaze on the hillsides and ignited by a compelling Breeders' Cup here on Saturday. Already the appetite is for more, however, and the sights are being stretched to Lone Star Park in 12 months' time. The Texas course has been set a formidable benchmark.

For there was no lone star in Arcadia on Saturday. And when it becomes difficult to establish which was the highlight then you know you have a sporting event. The Americans have their own heroes. There is Julie Krone adding to the legend with a first win for a woman at the series. There is also Dick Mandella, who may not get the trumpets raised in Europe, but who is now nevertheless the toast of the profession in his homeland.

To win four races on any card is an achievement, but to scoop half the offerings at the pinnacle is outrageous. Which calls for a similar reaction. 'King Richard' is the new popular nickname for Mandella.

Yet the 20th series of the world thoroughbred championships is surely all about Europe, their personnel and their horses. California has been used to its prospectors before, but this was the first time either a British or Irish winner had been registered in six Cup runnings in the Golden State.

Along the way there has been much mischief from American commentators, who have been disparaging about the Euro runners and downright rude about the jockeys. But Saturday was the time for Kieren Fallon and Mick Kinane, variously moron and pinhead among the domestic sages, to bite back. Britain's champion has never looked more flushed after a success, in this case Islington's in the Filly & Mare Turf. The criticism has stung Fallon, not least because he has much experience of riding the racetrack.

On Islington and in the straight he was an ogre. Fallon would have ridden uphill through lava rather than let Edgar Prado on Ireland's L'Ancresse by him. The Irishman cut a distinct comparison to his Peruvian-born colleague. As he worked away violently, Prado was close to motionless, flat over L'Ancresse's withers. It would have been no surprise to find an arrow in his back.

"She got hot and so did I," Fallon reported. "It got to both of us. Things happened for me in here and it was just a great run. My filly was very relaxed all the way. From the time she left the gate she was totally switched."

So too was her partner, a visitor to these parts for years, since the time he was exported here by Jack Ramsden after a racecourse altercation with Stuart Webster. "I came out in '96," Fallon added. "Firstly I was with Rodney Rash and then Bobby Frankel, learning the timing and how to really ride these tracks. I was so lucky to have been educated here." Satisfaction too spread itself across the perspiring features of Sir Michael Stoute. The Newmarket trainer may be the big beast of his domain, but still had a point to prove in California, where he is usually among the hunted. There are now not many boxes left to tick. "It feels great," he said. "I was third with Sonic Lady in 1987 so it feels nice to win. The key is to come really fresh. It used to be a sort of afterthought. You have to plan for it. I was always happy with her position. It was a little tight on the turn, but, as soon as we straightened for home, I knew she would win. She is a wonderful filly. There are not many better. We'll see how she is now. She has got an invitation to the Japan Cup and we will have to determine whether she goes to Ballymacoll [Stud Farm] or Ballymacoll via Japan."

There was sweet vindication also for Michael Kinane, who has endured an uncomfortable season even in his regular seat as Ballydoyle stable jockey. The legend in Ireland can never be broken, but Kinane's reputation is rather less exalted over here.

A concession will now have to be made though that he knows how to galvanise a horse. The Turf was the single most dramatic movement of Saturday's play, the result not in doubt to the line, but rather later as the key figures milled around for 10 minutes waiting for the result of a photo-finish.

What had gone before was great theatre. For several strides in the straight, it looked like the athletic form of Falbrav had danced conclusively away from his rivals. That, however, was to disregard the driving force of Kinane and High Chaparral.

Falbrav's defiance lasted to all but the last 20 yards and he hurt himself to finish a head off the lead. High Chaparral was joined on the line by Johar. It was a dead-heat in the searing heat. "I knew it was very close and the longer it went on the more I became happy with the idea of a dead-heat," Kinane said. "Half a loaf is better than none. I've never been involved in a wait like that, not out in that sort of sun and intensity. It felt like forever."

High Chaparral goes now to the Coolmore Stud, Others are departing too, and already there appears to be a void in the older horse division. It is unlikely that Lone Star Park will be visited by such a formidable battery of horses.

"I thought we brought a very strong European team this year," Kinane added. "You're not going to get such a strong contention every year, but the Breeders' Cup is a very, very special event and we love to come and try. I'm sure that's going to continue."

Santa Anita was also a sweaty sanctuary for Aidan O'Brien, whose campaign has suffered by comparison with others. Relative disappointment has not soured the man, however, and O'Brien remains the object lesson in how to deal with celebrity. He also knows how to cope with his own emotions. As the foot-stamping continued during the photo-finish deliberations he could be spotted among the throng wishing everyone well.

"The plan was down the back to get out and let him stretch," the trainer said. "Mick just got locked in and he couldn't get open until very late. We felt he did amazingly well to get back into the position he got to."

Aidan O'Brien will soon have to get himself into the position of plotting for the next Breeders' Cup in Texas. As he chaperoned his young family around Univeral Studios yesterday, he too will be planning to bring the improbable to life.