Racing: Dettori looks to the Stars

THE STINGING report of whips thwacking on flesh will resonate across Churchill Downs on Saturday and it may be that not all the noise comes from the racetrack here.

The sanctuary of the weighing room promises to be a far more volatile place than normal following the substitution of American jockeys for several of their top European rivals.

Our horses may be over here, but, it seems, our riders are not largely required and it is to be hoped the little men do not take it out on each other.

Richard Quinn was good enough to partner Leggera to second place in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on one plot of a foreign field but now loses his Turf mount to Jerry Bailey.

Kieren Fallon may be champion jockey in Britain, but his rating is not so high in American consciousness. He loses the seat on Royal Anthem in the Turf to Gary Stevens, but remains on Bolshoi in the Sprint.

The Breeders' Cup has had an abrasive edge between the two jockey camps since 1993 at Santa Anita, when Bailey observed in his victory speech after Arcangues' Classic that he recognised Walter Swinburn because "he was kinda flopping around out there".

Swinburn was happy to riposte after Bailey's last ride on Cigar in the Classic at Woodbine ended in defeat. "Frankie Dettori would have won three lengths on him," he said.

A great judge in this squabble is Steve Cauthen, a champion jockey in both countries. He cannot separate the cream from both nations, but considers the American volume to be larger. "There are more top-class jockeys in the States than Europe simply because of the fact there is more racing here," he said. "But percentage-wise there are just as many top guys riding in England."

John Gosden too has plied his trade with success in both countries. "I think it's the old, old story," the trainer said.

"I mean, would you want an American jockey around Epsom or Ascot? (Bill) Shoemaker only just got beaten in the Derby on his first effort, trying to make all the running on Hawaiian Sound, and Stevens won at the Royal meeting so I think the real answer is that the very best jockeys can ride anywhere in the world.

"The local guys will know most of the other jockeys in the race and they'll know how they are going to ride their horses, but don't forget that knowledge of your own horse is as valuable as anything.

"Frankie Dettori rides perfectly on the American tracks. He learned a lot out there and his style is mid-Atlantic. He's beautifully balanced and he knows his way round."

Dettori rides Daylami in the Turf, Swain in the Classic and, yesterday, it was revealed that he had chosen Fly To The Stars over Cape Cross in the Mile.

Tom Albertrani, the assistant to Godolphin's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, believes their man is as good as anything the home forces offer. "I think the jockeys here know the tracks better and know the times better, and that can be a crucial benefit in having an American rider. They work with the clock and in Europe they don't know their fractions like they do here.

"But Frankie has experience over here so he shouldn't have any problem at all coping with any situation he's in."

Yesterday's draw was kind to the Europeans and post position will not be a viable excuse for many on Saturday.

Fly To The Stars is the worst housed in berth 10 of the Mile, as no horse has ever won from outside the nine box. Desert Prince, Among Men, Cape Cross and Second Empire will be on his inside.

Second Empire was out before daybreak in a covert Aidan O'Brien operation on the dirt yesterday. He returned as a chill hung in the darkness and horses, like Serpentine dippers, were being hosed down steamily outside the barns.

O'Brien may not have seen much of the work but at least the horse seemed to know where he was going. "I don't think he bumped into anything out there," the trainer said. "There were no marks on him when he came in."

Skip Away, the big, grey beast who is on the verge of becoming the most successful horse of all time, in financial terms at least, also emerged unscathed from morning work though he later had his problems.

A 747 leaving Louisville Airport flew into a flock of birds, and engine debris was sent showering on to the barn where Skip Away was relaxing.

His trainer, Sonny Hine, believes only a freak occurrence can stop his runner winning and plans to counter this latest threat. "I guess I'm going to have to get some anti-aircraft guns up there now," he said.