Racing: Home side fear Rock and Europe's team of heroes

Breeders' Cup: Americans face another formidable overseas challenge for Saturday's global championship at Chicago's Arlington Park
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The Independent Online

It is, for the Americans, their racing Alamo and never before has Uncle Sam had to contend with such strong opposition from overseas. It seems appropriate then that when the 20th Breeders' Cup is held for the first time at Arlington Park on Saturday, it should be just outside the windy city of Chicago.

It is, for the Americans, their racing Alamo and never before has Uncle Sam had to contend with such strong opposition from overseas. It seems appropriate then that when the 20th Breeders' Cup is held for the first time at Arlington Park on Saturday, it should be just outside the windy city of Chicago.

The Americans love the Breeders' Cup, racing's annual autumn global championships. It gives them the opportunity to show how a major international sporting event should be conducted. It gives them the chance to whup anyone who tries to take them on in their own backyard.

For many years, from the east to the west coast tracks of Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, with industrial Louisville and holiday town Gulfstream Park in Florida along the way, the domestic forces held sway. Around 12 months ago, though, there was an incursion. The European forces cut a swathe at Belmont Park in New York.

That fall day there were victories for Banks Hill from France and Ireland's Johannesburg while Fantastic Light won his race for Godolphin and the same team's Sakhee all but beat the home hero Tiznow in the crowning spectacle, the Breeders' Cup Classic. It was a glorious day for the travellers.

The results also watered the idea that the Breeders' Cup series might one day have to move to Europe. "Frankly we think we were just plain fortunate last year with the event at Belmont Park and the extraordinarily high quality raiding party which went away with a lot of the gold and most of the hardware," D. G. Van Clief, the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd, told The Independent. "I admit that got us all thinking again about the pros and cons about the event going to Europe some day.

"This is an event which moves from venue to venue and we think that has been an important part of the appeal. We have resisted the argument that it should be stabilised in one venue. The Breeders' Cup is designed to promote racing as a sport and we think we can do a better job of that moving it from marketplace to marketplace. That leaves the door open for moving it further afield than has been our habit."

Further European success would introduce more tinder on this spark of an idea that the Breeders' Cup should move outside north America for the first time. Some fairly serious foreign flotsam will be washing up on the shores of Lake Michigan for Saturday's sports.

In the Turf event, Aidan O'Brien's High Chaparral looks fairly safe, and, even if he falls, there is Golan for Michael Stoute waiting to pick up the shield. Stoute's Islington is a potent force in the Filly & Mare Turf, while O'Brien's Hold That Tiger is second favourite for the Juvenile. Then we must consider the juggernaut that is Rock Of Gibraltar. We may find out this morning when the draw is made whether he will augment Ballydoyle's challenge in the Mile, in which Landseer is already a consideration, or the Classic, the early preserve of Hawk Wing.

O'Brien said yesterday: "We're not going to make up our minds on Rock Of Gibraltar until we have to. I want to monitor Hawk Wing to see if he's okay for the Classic. If he wasn't okay then Rock Of Gibraltar could go in the Classic instead."

It is a less a battery than the exportation of the National Grid and it is being sent to a track that knows how to accommodate European winners. In August of 1983 Pat Eddery and Luca Cumani's Tolomeo won the Arlington Million in the Chicago suburbs, holding on by a neck at 36-1 to deny the home favourite John Henry in what was then the world's richest race.

Two years later, the black with white cap colours of Lord Derby were successful wrapped around Tony Ives and above a behemoth gelding called Teleprompter. He finished three-quarters of a length in front of the favourite, Greinton, and, until Pebbles and the Breeders' Cup Turf came along, he was Britain's leading money earner. Arlington is a track where they recognise their heroes.

At the top of the paddock, immortalised in bronze, is a statue of Bill Shoemaker, riding old John Henry. He won the Million in 1981, regained it in 1984, beating Royal Heroine at the age of nine, before retiring with the prizemoney record to his name. "This is the toughest little dude I've ever seen," was Shoemaker's testament. Europe too will need its tough dudes if it is to continue the belief that, at long last, American racing is there for the taking. It may be symbolic that its challenge this Saturday is being led by the Rock.

* Today's Flat meeting at Newcastle was abandoned yesterday due to waterlogging.

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