Racing / Breeders' Cup 1992: Sheikh draws perfect pitch: European runners find safety in numbers as big race stalls are allocated, Paul Hayward reports from Gulfstream Park

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FOR once the draw was kind to European runners in the Breeders' Cup. A good deal kinder than the hate mail which one of Arazi's owners, Allen Paulson, revealed he has been receiving since the horse failed to win the Kentucky Derby.

A daunting truth of at least four of the Breeders' Cup races is that victory is rendered doubly difficult by having to start either from the inside rail (stall one) or the wide outside in a field of 14 horses. After the annual bingo session yesterday only Elbio, placed one in the Sprint, Firm Pledge (one in the Juvenile), and Brief Truce (12 in the Mile) can be said to have been significantly disadvantaged.

Sheikh Alabdou and Mr Brooks are drawn seven and three respectively in the Sprint. Love Of Silver is five in the Juvenile Fillies'. Culture Vulture and Marling are six and nine in the Distaff, and Arazi, Exit To Nowhere and Selkirk are three, five and seven in the Mile, arguably the sharpest of all journeys round Gulfstream because the turf track is on the inside of the dirt.

Opinions differ about the effect of the starting positions in the dollars 3m Classic, but even if a wide berth produces problems it will not be the three European runners who face the scrimmaging. Jolypha is in stall nine, Zoman in eight and Rodrigo De Triano, who surges from off the pace, is well situated in box 11.

Pleasant Tap, the likely favourite for the Classic, is two wide of Rodrigo in No. 13, but that is not troubling his British-born trainer, Chris Speckert, who said: 'That's fine. He's so bloody good he can play with horses.' Paseana, who is 3-1 favourite on the American Morning Line for the Distaff, has the worst available draw in slot 14.

Eighteen of the 92 runners on Saturday are European-trained, and British bookmakers say the prominence of overseas runners in the betting lists reflect weaknesses in the home side. Sheikh Albadou is 11-4 favourite for the Sprint and Arazi and Selkirk head the betting for the Mile, while Rodrigo De Triano trails only Pleasant Tap in the Classic and Subotica has only the strongly-fancied Sky Classic to pass in the Turf. In betting terms, anyway.

The possibility that Arazi will remain in training next year was advanced during the morning rounds by Paulson, who has promised his jockey, Pat Valenzuela, a Rolls Royce if he wins on each of the aeronautical tycoon's four runners on Saturday. Given the competitiveness of the seven Breeders' Cup races, American Rolls Royce dealers will not be on full alert for a call from Paulson, though Arazi is 'tres bien', mentally and physically according to Francois Boutin, who trains him.

Paulson and Sheikh Mohammed, the other part-owner, will meet after the Mile to decide whether Arazi should race as a four-year-old or retire to the Sheikh's Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket. 'I'd favour another year's racing, but they have the right to send him to the breeding shed if they wish', Paulson said.

Valenzuela - and definitely not Steve Cauthen - will be on Arazi's back for the Mile. The winner in this diplomatic struggle over riding arrangements plans to discuss the race with Cauthen on Saturday morning, not that Valenzuela needs any encouragement in the confidence stakes.

Wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo 'No Fear', Valenzuela said here: 'I'll never come across another one like him.' He also expressed enthusiasm for driving round his home town of Arcadia, California, in the favoured conveyance of the mega-rich. 'You think I'm not going to be rubbing that saddle on Saturday?' he said.

Sheikh Albadou, who is attempting to win his second consecutive Sprint, looked magnificent at exercise yesterday, but if awards had been handed out for composure they would have gone to Peter Chapple-Hyam's three challengers - Rodrigo De Triano, Dr Devious and Corrupt - who will all be ridden by Michael Roberts.

The ease with which Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano have adapted to the conditions is the most obvious manifestation of Chapple-Hyam's skill as a horse mentor. Both have a sheen on their coats and neither looks over- stressed or fretful joining the morning rush to work on Gulfstream's two tracks. The three cantered in single file yesterday morning and functioned throughout as a team.

'They're a lot more relaxed than I am,' Chapple-Hyam said as Dr Devious, fresh from a lovingly- administered washdown, insisted on rolling in the sand until everything bar his eyeballs was covered. Such bucolic scenes will be a long way distant when the stalls crash open on Saturday.

(Photograph omitted)