Lone Star Park may not actually be in the desert, but it will certainly have felt like it for the early European runners at Breeders' Cup XXI here in the heart of Texas yesterday.
Nebraska Tornado blew out in the Distaff, Mona Lisa too in the Juvenile Fillies and even the previously fertile territory of the Mile section became an arid land. The French triumvirate of Six Perfections, Diamond Green and Whipper, as well as Ireland's Antonius Pius, were run down by the relatively unfancied Singletary for the home side.
Antonius Pius, as has become his custom, was the most infuriating of the vanquished. He broke well and travelled strongly enough to test Jamie Spencer's arms as Soaring Free pulled the maximum field of 14 along. The inevitable scrummage occurred off the final bend as Singletary made his burst for the line. One horse pulled out of the pack to challenge and Antonius Pius appeared likely to fall on the leader like a wolf on the fold. At the vital moment though, came the vital mistake. The Irish colt ducked left and lost crucial momentum. It almost certainly cost him the race as Six Perfections ran on behind into third place.
The almost obligatory overnight showers had rendered the course fairly soft at daybreak, but as the temperature approached the mid-80s the ground became perfect. This was the first time on the Breeders' Cup rota that the wagons had arrived in Texas. Lone Star in Grand Prairie was the designated course, the tightest and least significant track to host the series. The clubhouse design was for just 12,000 visitors to the venue between Dallas and Fort Worth and yesterday's crowd was augmented by temporary accommodation which took the audience to well over 50,000.
The opening shot out of the European magazine came from Nebraska Tornado, who was named for the wrong state and, it proved, the wrong effect. France's filly - the first of 12 runners from Europe - was less than devastating in the opening race, the Distaff, over a mile and an eighth.
Tamweel made the running on the rail, in company with the favourite Ashado, but a pumped-up Nebraska Tornado soon provided the sandwich filling in the hands of Edgar Prado. She appeared to be going well down the back, but, in fact, it was too well. Going into the clubhouse turn, Andre Fabre's filly was beating a retreat. By the wire, there were seven in front.
"She handled the dirt beautifully, but we were always going a stride too fast," Edgar Prado, the jockey, said. "She was too keen and I knew we were in trouble from four furlongs out."
Victory, and with it the honour of winning the first Grade One contest ever run in these parts, went to Ashado, a winner also this season in America's most celebrated crucible, Churchill Downs. This success, allied to that in the Kentucky Oaks, nailed down the three-year-old filly of the season honours.
"I had a perfect trip," John Velazquez, the winning jockey, reported. "I tucked into position on the first turn and I just had to bide my time following the leaders. A hole opened up for me [in the straight] and when I asked her she was there for me."
Mona Lisa, the first of a famous five from O'Brien's Ballydoyle academy, was even more disappointing in the Juvenile Fillies. The first mount for Spencer had been a creditable fourth in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot, but she found this a much more alien exercise from the moment the stalls bell rang. Mona Lisa dribbled out of the gate as the home fillies spurted away and was at the very back and struggling for much of the journey.
Spencer was carried into the centre of the course as the exertion of merely keeping up told on his mount. Only Higher World prevented the partnership finishing last. "She missed the break and after that she was green and inexperienced," the jockey said. "It was only her third run and a big ask."
At the other end of the field, it was victory for Sweet Catomine, another favourite and another who will now be rewarded as the champion in her category in the Eclipse Awards.