Britain's raiding party for Saturday's Breeders' Cup day in New York was reduced by one, and a highly significant one, yesterday. Motivator, the Derby winner and a leading candidate for the $2m Turf, was found to be lame after his final workout before leaving for America and will not race again.
The colt, trained by Michael Bell in Newmarket for the Royal Ascot Racing Club, has sustained a slight injury to his off-hind leg. "Very, very disappointing," Bell said. "He had worked very well, and we were so close to another holy grail.
"He was fine when he pulled up, and walked back to the yard. But in his box, we noticed he was a bit sore. The injury is only minor and should respond to rest and recuperation."
In three runs since Epsom, Motivator, who had looked so commanding that first Saturday in June, suffered two narrow defeats by Oratorio, followed by a fifth place in the Arc. He will now retire to the Queen's Royal Stud at Sandringham.
"If there is a bright side," added Bell, "it is the thought that if this had happened in the heat of the race, it would have been infinitely more serious and he might not have been coming home.
"In retrospect, the Derby may have flattered him and he may not have been the superstar we thought. But that day at Epsom, he was awesome."
When Papyrus, the Derby winner of 1923, went to New York for a £20,000 match-race with the American champion Zev, contemporary comment was damning. The venture had "too strong a resemblance to a prize fight", according to Edward Moorhouse, editor of the Bloodstock Breeders' Review, a man who also expressed the opinion "that it is the forerunner of similar enterprises is open to doubt".
So, no prescience there, then. On Saturday, 20 horses from these parts will be contenders at the 22nd Breeders' Cup fixture, an eight-race card offering purses of $14m. The feast of racing is a moveable one, and this year it is at Belmont Park, where Papyrus, all those years ago, was humbled by Zev.
Not many Derby winners have crossed the pond as three-year-olds; 45 years after Papyrus, Sir Ivor won the Washington International. The next three all took part at the Breeders' Cup: Dr Devious, fourth in the 1992 Turf; Galileo, sixth in the 2001 Classic; and High Chaparral, winner of the Turf three years ago.
Papyrus, bless him, was on a hiding to nothing. He had a seven-day sea voyage, albeit in luxury accommodation on the liner Aquitania, to cope with; was racing on dirt for the first time, on a track reduced to a mudbath by torrential rain; and his obdurate connections refused, against all advice, to equip him with racing plates with studs to help him grip.
Even in the modern era, with just a seven-hour flight to cope with, playing away is hard and European runners (Ryder Cup-style, the British, Irish and French start bonding in the face of American opposition) have notched just 28 victories in 153 previous Breeders' Cup races. Eleven of those have come in the 12-furlong Turf, including five of the past six and two of the previous three at Belmont Park, which is, with its wide turns and temperate climate, perceived as almost familiar territory.
Europe fields five on Saturday: Bago, Shirocco, Ace, Alkaased and the favourite, Azamour, winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in June. Bago, third in the King George and the Arc, should not be inconvenienced by the forecast easy ground.
One of four defending champions is Ouija Board in the Filly and Mare Turf, but although Ed Dunlop's darling is of stellar class her road here has been troubled. The very tough Mona Lisa makes some appeal but the answer may be Wonder Again, on her favourite track and ground.
The third of the races on grass, the Mile, has provided nine European wins, but this year looks between two of the home side, the mighty Leroidesanimaux, who is on a nine-timer and won his last race by nine lengths, and last year's winner, Singletary. If there is to be a surprise, it could come from Host.
The finale is the Classic, a 10- furlong dirt contest which has been prised away from the locals only once in 21 years, by Arcangues, although Ibn Bey, Swain, Giant's Causeway and Sakhee have all hit the post. Some of the best US names, Ghostzapper, Roses In May and Afleet Alex, are injured, leaving Rock Hard Ten, who made an impressive comeback after a summer break, the home side's best.
But it could just be Europe's year, with two high-class challengers in Aidan O'Brien's Oratorio and Luca Cumani's Starcraft, both hardy streetfighters trying the surface for the first time. If Starcraft, the powerful, professional heavyweight, adapts, he will go close. A New Zealand-bred, Australian-owned, Italian-trained, British-based globetrotter punching for $4m? Prizefighting indeed. Moorhouse will be spinning in his grave.
Stats Amazing: Breeders' Cup numbers game
BRITONS ABROAD: Ten British-trained horses have won Breeders' Cup races: Pebbles (Turf 1985), Sheikh Albadou (Sprint 1991), Barathea (Mile 1994), Pilsudski (Turf 1996), Daylami (Turf 1999), Kalanisi (Turf 2000), Fantastic Light (Turf 2001), Islington (Fillies & Mares' 2003), Wilko (Juvenile 2004) and Ouija Board (Fillies & Mares' 2004).
RIDER OF THE STORM: Frankie Dettori, with four winners, has the best record among European jockeys. He has six rides this year: Sundrop (F&M), Stellar Jayne (Distaff), Alkaased (Turf), Majors Cast (Mile), Jack Sullivan (Classic).
ODDS AGAINST: Arcangues, a 133-1 shot trained by André Fabre to win the 1993 Classic, is the longest-priced winner.
TWO TOGETHER: The only dead-heat in Breeders' Cup history came last year, when High Chaparral and Johar shared the spoils in the Turf.
BLANK LOOK: There have been three European whitewash years: 1989, 1992 and 1998, when the raiders' only place was Swain's third in the Classic.
EURO ZONE: The largest European presence was 26 at Churchill Downs in 1994, when Tikkanen (Turf) and Barathea (Mile) scored.
BETS OF THE DAY
My Will (Aintree, 3.20) is not the best of last term's novices, but not far adrift. Game, and a good jumper, the trip and ground suit.
Sobers (Aintree, 5.05). A bumper? The answer must be a cricketer. Sobers, nicely bred for the job, could bowl 'em all over.