Racing: 'Freakish' rain greets Europeans at Belmont

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The tail of Florida-bashing Hurricane Wilma has manifested itself in New York as howling wind and torrential rain, conditions which yesterday forced the temporary closure of the turf track at Belmont Park, venue for Saturday's 22nd Breeders' Cup meeting.

Even John Gosden, who spent eight years in the States at the start of his training career, raised his eyebrows at the conditions. "It's autumn, it's New York and these things can happen," he said, "but the amount of rain they have had here has been freakish."

Fifteen hours of it, to be precise, to add to the 18 inches that had fallen in the past fortnight. With the turf track closed, and the main dirt track riding sloppy, Gosden and others, thwarted in their desire for proper match-practice, had to alter their training schedules.

The European teams tend to regard Belmont Park, host for this $14m (£7.8m) moveable feast of sport for the fourth time, as a home from home, with six previous Cup victories and 10 places at the venue.

Gosden fields Leo in the Juvenile and Karen's Caper in the Filly & Mare Turf, and diverted them both to the puddle-dotted exercise track on their first morning out. "They just cantered a mile and a half, rather than do any real work," he said. "What they do from now on depends on the weather. It is disappointing it has rained so hard."

Leo, winner of the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket last month on his sixth outing, will, alongside Aidan O'Brien-trained Ivan Denisovich, be attempting to post the fourth European success in the mile and half-a-furlong dirt race for two-year-old colts, after Arazi, Johannesburg and, last year in Texas, Wilko. The son of Pivotal has not yet raced on anything but grass.

"We'd prefer not sloppy going," said Gosden, who sent Royal Heroine out to win at the first Breeders' Cup meeting in 1984 during his time in the States but has drawn a blank with 14 subsequent starters. "But he is an athletic horse with a good action so I am hopeful he'll cope. He's tough, with plenty of experience and he stays the trip well, and there aren't many in the race you could be sure will see out the mile and sixteenth."

Gosden has yet to name a jockey for Leo, but Karen's Caper will be reunited with Robby Alborado, in the saddle when she was beaten a nose in a Group One at Keeneland on her American debut 11 days ago. "She was a bit unlucky there," added Gosden, "and it was her first time at a two-turn mile and eighth. Hopefully things will dry out soon and we will be able to breeze her on the turf."

The track at Belmont is noted for its quick-drying nature and the strong winds will help. Luca Cumani, with Alkaased due to run in the Turf and another dirt debutant, Starcraft, in the Classic, has become almost English in his preoccupation with the weather and its forecast improvement. He has warned that Alkaased may not run if the ground is against him.

"I am very pleased with the horses," he said. "But I am not so pleased with the weather. The rain doesn't matter so much for Starcraft as it is all new to him and whether the dirt is fast or sloppy we don't know how he is going to handle it. But Alkaased does not act on soft ground and if it comes up testing on the day there must be a chance that he won't run."

All the Europeans are safely in situ bar the Ballydoyle squad, en route overnight. But arrival is no guarantee of participation, as Malton-based Brian Ellison has grimly found out.

Ellison's charge Carte Diamond, in Australia for the Melbourne Cup, has been ruled out of Tuesday's Flemington showpiece after being injured in a freak accident. The colt unshipped his rider during a routine exercise spin yesterday, ran loose and badly gashed his hindquarters on a metal stake. "It's bad news but I'm more disappointed for the horse," Ellison said.

l Yesterday's race meeting at Catterick fell to the wet weather and today's fixture at Nottingham has been abandoned after heavy rain caused "patches of false ground".

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Zeta's River

(Cheltenham 3.45)

NB: Transit

(Cheltenham 3.15)