Racing: Dettori suffers Swain pain
Breeders' Cup XV: Britain's challenge founders but expatriate trainers claim two victories
Sunday 08 November 1998
There was a blank for Britain, a blank for Europe, as the batteries which attacked the Turf and the Mile were repulsed, and, finally and painfully, Swain swerved away his chance when the Classic garland appeared ready for his neck. It was an emblem for the day as a whole.
The Classic was an aptly named finale in the creeping gloom of Churchill Downs, equine warriors crashing against each other, reputations tested at the ultimate level. It was too much for Skip Away, last year's champion, too much for his great grey rival, Silver Charm. And ultimately, it was too much for Frankie Dettori, who will gain no pleasure from the reel of this encounter.
Swain stalked behind a ferocious pace until the field hit the rolls of spectator noise in the straight. Dettori pulled his partner to the outside and a surge developed which had a winning inevitability about it. Then, the Italian's compusure melted. He beat out an awful rhythm on Swain's backside, rapid flaying with his left hand which sent the resentful old horse scurrying towards the stands.
By the time Swain straightened, Silver Charm had gained an advantage and then Awesome Again, trained by Essex-born Pat Byrne, arrived with the definitve effort. Swain was beaten three-quarters of a length and a neck, a distance which in no way represented the margin his meanderings had cost.
Sheikh Mohammed, like most of the record Breeders' Cup crowd of 80,452, believed his horse to have been the best athlete on show. "He is one of the best I have raced and was the best horse here," Godolphin's leader said. "But when he hit the front he saw these lights and lost two lengths."
The lights that did matter, in fact, were the living day ones that the five-year-old was having beaten out of him. Dettori kept the party line and blamed the erratic path on the illumination of a television gantry. "The ride was good until he saw the lights in the last 100 yards," he said. "My horse is not used to that kind of thing and he got to the front and saw the lights glaring. Then boom, he veered right and it cost me the race."
Swain now retires to stud, the European squad retires to consider its first whitewash in Churchill Downs' fourth hosting of the Breeders' Cup series.
Red Sea and Bolshoi, in the Juvenile and Sprint respectively, were predictably blown away, but few had anticipated the mass surrenders in the Mile and Turf. The Europeans came in numbers, but were picked off cleanly.
Desert Prince, joint-favourite in the Mile, finished damaged in last place. Fly To The Stars was the best of British, but that was a timid honour as he trundled home fifth. Second Empire was a place behind for Ireland, Cape Cross sixth and Among Men a spent 11th.
It was left to scrabble for tangential credit in the shape of Michael Dickinson's success in this race with Da Hoss. The 48-year-old Yorkshireman was virtually run out of town 11 years ago when his Flat career in England died early on the vine at Robert Sangster's Manton.
Since those turbulent times, Dickinson has established himself as an admired, if eccentric, figure in the States. Dickinson does alchemic things with horses. In 1982 he sent out 12 winners in a day. The following year he saddled the first five in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Yet it may be that Da Hoss will stand as the training masterpiece for this Merlin of Maryland.
The old horse won the Mile two years ago at Woodbine, but was then visited so often by injury that he must have feared a rifle being cocked at his temple. But Da Hoss not only recovered fitness but also his brilliance at the age of six. Only Miesque and Lure had previously won two Breeders' Cup races.
Dickinson compared the two wins. "Woodbine was the happiest day of my life, but now this is. It has been an emotional rollercoaster. Tuesday was the first time I have gone to bed without waking up. I told everyone that at long last it seemed as if we were going to show up. I had not been sleeping because of worry and excitement."
Fly To The Stars, Cape Cross and Among Men had all burned brightly for the first portion of the race, but Desert Prince never got into the race. "He started well, but horses came inside and killed me," Olivier Peslier reported. "After the first turn there was a lot of contact and he got cut. After that he wasn't special. He was lazy. I smacked him one, two, three times but he showed nothing."
The second British battery to run down came in the Turf over a mile and a half, which proved a trip too far for another visiting favourite. Henry Cecil's Royal Anthem was being flogged around the top bend by Gary Stevens, who had sensed worry early on. "After two furlongs I knew it was going to be a long mile and a half," he said.
Royal Anthem spluttered home seventh, which was better than Insatiable (10th) and Leggera, who had only one behind her. Sunshine Street from Ireland was fifth and creditable in the circumstances.
Credit, however, was not largely extended to Team Europe. As the sorry battalions retreated from Churchill Downs, the sobering thought was that when the army regroups in 12 months' time the venue will be Gulfstream Park, a site even more ill-starred for Britain than the good ol' Kentucky home.
Kim Bailey, who won the 1990 Grand National with Mr Frisk and trained Alderbrook and Master Oats to win the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup in 1996, has been bailed after allegations that he conspired to commit burglary. Bailey, arrested on 12 October, is due to answer bail on 17 December. The arrests followed surveillance after police had been contacted by Jamie Osborne, recently cleared during race-fixing and doping inquiries.
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