Racing: Cumani hints that Falbrav will pursue Classic glory

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The Independent Online

By the time the muffins, eggs Benedict, waffles, syrup and grits are going down in the Santa Anita environs next Tuesday morning we will know the answer to racing's current biggest question. We will discover whether Falbrav, perhaps Europe's champion racehorse this season, will be taking on his American contemporaries in either the Turf or Classic at Breeders' Cup XX in Los Angeles.

The official deadline is just before draw time on Wednesday, but Luca Cumani has asked Falbrav's owners for a decision around 24 hours earlier so that he can regulate the horse's training regime.

The provisional fields for all eight Breeders' Cup races, which will be held a week tomorrow under the rather grand title of the world throughbred championships, were announced yesterday.

There are a possible 17 European runners, comprising 10 Irish (seven from Aidan O'Brien and three from Dermot Weld), five from England (if you include two Godolphins) and two from France. Many are the Big Berthas of the turf on this side of the Atlantic and will take with them the usual well of anticipation.

In the Breeders' this usually transpires to be false hope and no more so than at Santa Anita, the most notable cemetry for European and, in particular, British aspiration.

Lessons have been learned and there is no travelling representation in either the Distaff, Juvenile Fillies or Sprint. The concentration comes in the Mile, in which Oasis Dream, Refuse To Bend and Six Perfections form a particularly sharp trident, while the Turf over a mile and a half has attracted High Chaparral, Sulamani and possibly Falbrav.

There are throbbing anomalies to overcome, however. Even though Europe are going for five straight wins in the Turf, their record in California (in which Hollywood Park is also on the rota) is just one from five. Most harrowing of all is the thought that British horses have never won a race at the two previous Santa Anita Breeders' Cups. It only looks easy from a distance.

"Let's not forget this is a big, big task," Cumani reminded us here yesterday. "Of all the Breeders' Cup venues, Santa Anita has been the worst for us Brits, if I may call myself a Brit. We fly farther than we have to when we go to the east coast, there are more changes of time zones, which affects horses, and the climate changes. We're up against it."

Cumani says he is ambivalent about the owners' choice of target for Falbrav, but extrapolation of his words suggests he believes the Turf to be a no-win contest and the Classic a chance to be anointed in the pantheon. Put like that, there does not seem to be a dichotomy.

"This is not an afterthought because we have been thinking Breeders' Cup from the spring," the trainer said. "If anything I think he's improved throughout the season. To my mind he's still improving at the moment. He looks better, stronger and he's working better than he has all year.

"There is no doubt that a mile and a half is a little bit of a trip for him, but if you have to try it then there is no better place than Santa Anita. The first four furlongs are on a slight downhill and the rest is a mile on a tight and sharp oval. The distance might be a mile and a half but it doesn't really ride like that.

"There's no way of knowing how he goes on the dirt [in the Classic] until we try. It would be just an act of faith in the horse. If you want to go in the Classic, get him there, shut your eyes and hope.

"But one thing that can be said. If you play safe and he wins the Turf then he probably hasn't done any more than we expected him to do. If you gamble and happen to win the Classic then you go down in history as one of the greats. It's basically whether you want the horse to go down in history as one of the greats or just one of the very good ones."

It will be a nostalgic return to Santa Anita for Oasis Dream's trainer, John Gosden, who had his first ever winner on this oval. There was no alternative for Gosden, even though Oasis Dream has proved himself Europe's pre-eminent sprinter this season. A week tomorrow though he will be lining up in the Mile, perhaps the most fraught of all Breeders' Cup races. The short run to the first bend will make the initial stages little more than a scrum.

"The whole thing is like running round the inside of a barrel," Gosden said, "and the start will be vital. Their horses are used to it, their jockeys are used to it. They all ride acey- deucey, switch on to that left lead and they've got three lengths on you down that back straight before you know it.

"Richard [Hughes, the jockey] is going out a week early to acclimatise and Bobby Frankel is going to give him a couple of rides on turf, even if they're 50-1 shots."


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