Racing / Breeder's Cup: Arcangues averts clean sweep for Americans: Fabre's Classic victory spares European blushes at the world's richest meeting but the British challenge again falls short

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The Independent Online
AN EVIL TRUTH was exposed under the sun at Santa Anita on Saturday as Britain suffered its second successive whitewash in the Breeders' Cup. After a barren Gulfstream Park 12 months ago and 10 years of the series, it is now clear that British travellers will never win on a regular basis.

Racing in the United States is too far away and too different for British horses; in fact, in California at the weekend, it was too distant for many of the American horses.

Home advantage is precious in any sport, but never more so than at Santa Anita for Breeders' Cup X. Andre Fabre's Arcangues, Europe's only winner, in the Classic, was the day's long-distance winner, but it must be noted that the East Coast horses had also had to travel 3,000 miles to compete. Of the home-based entries only Lure, whose pulsating victory in the Mile will probably make him Horse Of The Year here, interrupted California's run of success.

To see Britain's horses performingly scratchily on an alien track was almost pitiful. Preparation for these torrid races around an Elastoplast- shaped circuit usually stretches to little more than either a jog at Lingfield's all- weather or meaningless half- speed exercises around the course proper. And then we expect them to be competitive.

Barathea, Britain's best placed horse when fifth in the Mile, showed his naivete, and that of others, when he failed to negotiate the initial turn of his race. 'He just didn't make the first bend, I guess he didn't know how to,' Gary Stevens, the colt's American jockey, reported.

'He came out and when there was contact with the horses on the outside it just turned him out worse. He pretty much started it on his own and sent several horses out into the middle of the track. He ran a great race considering it all.'

Good horses, like Sayyedati and Opera House, came and went with barely a ripple, to show this game was a lot different from the one back home. If British representatives are to succeed in this series, they will have to acclimatise over a longer period than they do now.

As the mighty stables of John Gosden, Luca Cumani and Michael Stoute were turned over, such success as Britain could claim rested tangentially with Haslemere-born Neil Drysdale, who won the Distaff with Hollywood Wildcat, and Derek Meredith.

Meredith, the winning trainer in the Sprint with Cardmania, may prepare only nine horses at Santa Anita, but he recognises the Breeders' Cup malaise affecting his countrymen. 'They should come earlier and let themselves and their horses get used to the conditions and the hype,' he said. 'And they have to get used to the dirt. They can train on the dirt at Newmarket but it's not the same. They have to get used to being hit in the face with the dirt here.'

Coming over early, however, is an expensive gamble. 'The problem is you just never know how horses are going to adapt to American conditions,' John Gosden, the trainer of Mile also-rans Wolfhound and Catrail, said. 'There are horses who come here rated 75 and turn out to be nearly champions and others who come over on 130 and can't win a race.'

Meredith's is a story that makes Americans believe the dream is possible. The son of a Birmingham boxing trainer who used to waft the towel over Johnny Prescott, the former British heavyweight champion, his main recollection of early days in racing is cycling to Newmarket in the pouring rain as a stable lad to Arthur 'Fiddler' Goodwill.

The Brummie tones may have given way to Californian, but Meredith will be the man he has always been. Asked if he could now afford another groom for his nine-horse string, he said: 'No, I'll just be able to keep the one I've got.'

Cardmania, who, like the Turf winner, Kotashaan, was formerly trained in France by Criquette Head, was the first winner on the card for the man they call 'Eddie D', Eddie Delahoussaye.

Top riders in America are a lovely sight. While Britain's grassland courses need a more hydraulic technique, these men major on streamlining, their hugging forms a beauty to watch. But it still goes wrong sometimes.

Though he won the Distaff on Hollywood Wildcat, Delahoussaye lost a piece of equipment along the way. 'As a professional rider I'm kind of embarrassed to say it, but I lost my whip,' he said. 'It was a great race, an outstanding race, but if I'd got beat I'd never have forgiven myself.'

Jockeys' comments in America are more entertaining than those of their European counterparts, none more so than after the Classic won by Arcangues. 'I don't even know how to pronounce the horse's name,' Jerry Bailey, the winning rider, said.

Gary Stevens, on the runner- up, Bertrando, did not find it hard to articulate his disappointment, nor did the horse's trainer, Bobbie Frankel. 'I'm really kind of in shock,' he said. 'He ran great and I'm surprised anybody was able to catch him. When Gary got off the horse he said 'where did that sonofabitch come from?'

The seven Breeders' Cup races peel off every 30 minutes without the build-up of a big event in Britain, but are still the pinnacle for participants. 'I've always been very jubilant after a Stakes win but I was shaking so much coming to the wire in this one,' Kent Desormeaux, Kotashaan's partner, said. 'I was just praying I would get there first.'

In the next 12 months, Britain's trainers will have to pray and act in equal measures to avoid repeating the embarrassment of Breeders Cup X. They cannot be expected to win many races at Churchill Downs, but they must take the challenge more seriously than they do at present.

(Photograph omitted)

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