Racing: Dangers lurk in the Cup's lure: Big prices about British fancies should be viewed in the cool light of Day and Lukas. Richard Edmondson reports

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The Independent Online
Patience and selectivity, perhaps the greatest assets in the punter's armoury, will be sorely tested in the run-up to Breeders' Cup day at Churchill Downs tomorrow week.

Following Wednesday's announcement of the seven fields for the 11th running of the series, there are some fancy prices around for European horses. Some high-street office doors may have been knocked flat yesterday morning by punters eager to get on.

At first glance the offers must have looked tempting. Who could believe that Distant View, who delivered such a devastating display in the Sussex Stakes, would be 10-1 for the Mile? There will have been takers also for Lochsong, top- rated in the Sprint yet a 5-1 chance, and White Muzzle, the favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Only Royale, an unlucky seventh in the same race. Both are 20-1 shots for the Turf.

However, as Virgil pointed out, enemies bearing gifts should always be feared. Despite the big numbers being quoted by the Big Three, the word from America yesterday was that virtually all the European horses would be available at larger odds on the day.

Even the most prudent of backers have been caught out by the Breeders' Cup.

The late Alex Bird, perhaps the most celebrated punter in the history of the turf, snapped up the early price on Dancing Brave for Santa Anita eight years ago. He talked then as if the Las Vegas oddsmakers were as naive as babies at the kindergarten, but it was Bird himself who got his bottom slapped.

So amid the hopeful hysteria that emerges annually in late October, simple statistical truths must be observed. Britain is unlikely to capture a Breeders' Cup race (as it has done so only twice in 70 races so far), and if British runners do succeed, the best price will chug out the pari-mutuel machine at Louisville on the day.

Some of this has already hit home. Ladbrokes reported light betting on the British runners yesterday and cut the odds of just three European horses - Hernando, East Of The Moon and Dernier Empereur - all of them French.

The letter from America suggests it will be the home horses who will draw most support on the day. In the juvenile events the money will come for Flanders, for many the banker of the meeting, and Timber Country, both of whom represent the trainer and jockey partnership of D Wayne Lukas and Pat Day.

Lukas is enjoying something of a renaissance and can again see the sunshine following some dark moments in the aftermath of his last series winner, Steinlen five years ago. Day, the master of Churchill Downs, pulled himself out the quagmire much earlier, emerging as a born-again Christian in the 1980s after drugs, alcohol and partying (which in the States does not mean paper hats and jelly) threatened his career.

Day will compete in the Turf as the partner for Paradise Creek, who will be close to even money in the face of a 10-strong European challenge. This has the shape of a betting medium, with each-way opportunities against a horse who has won the Arlington Million and Washington International this year but has never raced over 12 furlongs.

In the Sprint, the wallets will open for Soviet Problem, who has won 14 of 17 starts including the Laurel Dash and who will challenge Lochsong from the gate. This may be a fertile avenue for a shock result, however, because while most Breeders' Cup venues have favoured the fast starters, Churchill Downs is renowned as a venue for late runners.

But early pace, and a good draw, will be vital in the Mile because of the short run to the first turn. Lure goes for an unprecedented hat-trick here and will be well fancied to do so even though there are judges who think he has slipped from the pedestal.

Nevertheless, Lure was still thought strong enough in July to be a consideration for the Sussex Stakes. He would have arrived in the backyard of Europe's best had he not failed to meet medical regulations. He, and all the strong American fancies, merit the strictest attention.

(Photograph omitted)