Racing: More rain subdues Oxx's hopes for Azamour

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The Independent Online

The Irish trainer's Azamour, despite his aversion for soft ground, remains favourite for the Turf section of Breeders' Cup XXII around the big oval here on Saturday, but you would not have known from Oxx's demeanour.

"I am never optimistic and I am even less optimistic now," he said. "Coming to a Breeders' Cup is always an anxious time, an adventure, and things have to go for you so the ground is a disappointment. The horse is older and stronger and will probably handle it better than he did at the start of his three-year-old career. He's got speed, stamina, class and courage, but that doesn't mean he'll win the race. We run anyway. It's his last race."

Still, there are good portents swirling around in company with the dirty clouds. It was similar weather and ground here back in 1995 when Oxx sent out his only other Breeders' Cup runner, Ridgewood Pearl, who sloshed through the mush in the hands of Johnny Murtagh to take the Mile.

Michael Kinane will be the accomplice this time around, in the autumn of a season and a career which may have seen the Irishman if not at his pinnacle then certainly some way above the snow line.

The 46-year-old has won three Breeders' Cup races, all for Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle, from where he was relieved of duty following the 2003 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita just after becoming domestic champion for the 13th time. If that was the end then somebody forgot to tell Kinane. This has been another glittering season for Micky-Jo with Group Ones coming his way via Electrocutionist, Proclamation, Donna Blini and Azamour himself.

Now he teams up with the last-named for the final time. "We went to the wrong place this year," Kinane said yesterday. "We needed California. It would be nice for this horse to bow out on top. He has been a hell of a horse and I have enjoyed every minute with him. It would be a fitting tribute to him."

Also outside the quarantine unit of the No 62 barn yesterday, we learned that Luca Cumani's Alkaased would not run in the Turf because of a bad blood count, while the blood of Gerard Butler was coursing at the thought of an encounter with his principal mentor.

The Churn Stables trainer spent four years as assistant to D Wayne Lukas, the dominant Breeders' Cup trainer in purse money, starters and victories, of which there have been 17. It was the seminal time in his career and life. For it was during this period that Butler met his wife Susan, an exercise rider for D Wayne. They now have two children, one of them called Lukas.

"He was a very tough guy to work for," Butler said, "But he was a fair guy and all he wanted was your very best at all times. For every dollar you got he would want a dollar and five cents out of you." Now, it seems, the pair will be in opposition. Butler saddles Jack Sullivan in the Classic and he could come up against Lukas's AP Arrow, one of the reserves.

"I can still remember my last Breeders' Cup with him [Lukas] at Santa Anita in 1993 and not in a million years could I have imagined that we'd one day be locking horns in the Classic," Butler added. "There has not been a lot of my career for him to follow, and I know that he knows exactly what is going on all the time."

Jack Sullivan's raison d'être can be gauged from the name of his owners, the International Carnival Partnership. He delivered when fourth in the Dubai World Cup at the other end of the season and now takes in the other most valuable prize in world racing.

"It's a tough contest, but then it would be for $4m [£2.25m]," Butler said. "This has been on my mind for a long, long time now, and it is going to be a very exciting day for me, the owners and all the guys in the yard."

The bullet points to come out of yesterday's draw ceremony involved bullets to the prospects of Starcraft (Classic) and Ouija Board (Filly and Mare Turf). Both drew outside posts and now the challenge has been redoubled.

* Robert Walford will ride Kingscliff, last season's King George VI Chase runner-up, this season. Andrew Thornton will partner Robert Alner's other stable star, Sir Rembrandt. "I think Robert thought he'd gone to heaven when we told him," said Alner's wife Sally.

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