Racing: California dreams disappear in the dirt

Click to follow
Despite failing to win a race at Breeders' Cup XIV, the British can use Saturday's experience at Hollywood Park to good effect says Richard Edmondson in Los Angeles. The lesson they can learn is that when the series is held on the West Coast the best advice is not to bother going.

The British colonial instinct means that there are very few Breeders' Cups at which we cannot build a bridge to the winner. Our three horses on Saturday may have been beaten at Hollywood Park's Track of the Lakes and Flowers, but there was still the fragrance of success via the achievements of Jonathan Pease and Pat Byrne. They are, however, hardly peas in a pod.

Pease is an Old Etonian, while Byrne is more au fait with the Old Kent Road. The former, who trains in Chantilly, is no stranger to Breeders' Cup success, having won the Turf three years ago with Tikkanen. He now also has Spinning World's Mile to paste into the scrapbook.

Pat Byrne would never have been a trainer had he not emigrated to the New World 20 years ago. Romford-born boys who move to the East End are not well-known for receiving the patronage you need to launch a stable in Britain.

Byrne requires little help now after sending out the winners of both juvenile races on Saturday. He can look forward to the exploits of Countess Diana and the Kentucky Derby favourite, Favorite Trick, next season, and beyond that there will surely be other owners and horses drawn by the signpost of Breeders' Cup XIV.

Beyond the expatriates it was hard to get excited about the European challenge in Los Angeles. Kieren Fallon managed a second on Germany's Borgia in the Turf, while Decorated Hero ran the best race of his career in the Mile but still finished only third. The message seems to be that the Brits are getting a tad disheartened, as well as impoverished, by sending their horses out to a California Breeders' Cup.

This was the fifth occasion that the Series has visited the Golden State, the third at Hollywood Park, and each time our runners have been humiliated. That there were just three runners on Saturday is indicative that there are now more accessible valuable prizes closer to home.

Decorated Hero's third in the Mile can be given greater credit when you analyse what has gone before. From the other 28 efforts our runners have produced in California his postion equalled the previous best, Sonic Lady's third in Hollywood Park's Mile of 1987. The gelding's performance also pointed the way ahead for British trainers. John Gosden is in the record book as the first Englishman to send out a Breeders' Cup winner (Royal Heroine in the inaugural series here in 1984 while he was operating in California), and he knows what it takes to be competitive. Gosden's Decorated Hero would be perhaps one of the worst horses dispatched across the Atlantic yet he fared better than most.

While on calibre grounds alone (the sole consideration for the majority of trainers) it would have been California dreaming to consider Decorated Hero for the Breeders' Cup, there were other factors at play. A look at his record demonstrates that when the gelding runs on a straight course he is very ordinary indeed. Around turns, however, he has been virtually impossible to keep out of the first two. He had the right credentials.

The other main lesson to be learned from the weekend is to forget the Sprint, the contest most incompatible with British racing. This is the event where our brave boys always miss the kick, get sand sprayed in their faces as if they are following the gritter down an icy motorway, and then get sent around a bend tighter than they have faced in their lives.

Royal Applause is not a bad horse, but he certainly looked like one on Saturday. He ran like an immature juvenile making his debut on the race- track, which, in a sense, he was.

The middle distances are more our bag and Spinning World, who has looked increasingly potent in Europe this year, was quite beautiful. His jockey, Cash Asmussen, rather enjoyed interrupting a Cup sequence of 0 for 22. Cash may not be the most rumbustious jockey in the saddle (he could sit on a box of eggs without breaking the contents), but then neither is he a man whose body convulses with nerves on the grandest of stages. Spinning World was clearly the best horse in the Mile, but Asmussen's presentation of his superiority was faultless.

The Breeders' Cup executive like to think of their event as some sort of equine Armageddon, the definitive battle to establish the best horses in the world. This, of course, is nonsense.

There were better runners either in the infirmary or on vacation for the middle-distance events. There was no Peintre Celebre or Pilsudski from Europe, no Silver Charm, Free House, Gentlemen, Siphon, Sandpit or Formal Gold from the domestic divisions. Yet we were left in no doubt that we had been allowed to watch a unique occasion in the calendar at Inglewood.

You can learn a lot about America at the Breeders' Cup. There is the jarring moment (to most Europeans) when the whole arena stands and stays silent for the national anthem before racing. And then there is the slickness of the whole operation. Visitors are pampered and spoiled (the apex this week was an immense party on the film sets of Paramount Studios) and even if they leave empty-handed, there is little to cuss about.

The trainers and jockeys climb in on the great social act by actually talking to people. The public is king. When they talk about replicating this polished function in Europe you have to produce a handkerchief to camouflage your features.

While the racing may not be the Superbowl that its architects would like it to be, the aura they create makes for a substantial event. Certainly our jockeys relish nothing more than creeping into this den. "I've ridden in a lot of big races, and at Royal Ascot, but nothing compares with this," Kieren Fallon said after finishing second on Borgia.

"I can't remember the last time I was nervous before a race but today I was tight inside. For one moment, when I got the split on the rail, I thought I was going to win and that would have been the greatest moment of my life. You couldn't beat coming here and beating the top jockeys in the world in their own back yard." We must try it more often but we probably won't from now on.

Comments