Racing: Europe finds strength in numbers: The transatlantic challenge for the 11th Breeders' Cup will be the biggest ever. Richard Edmondson reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Breeders' Cup XI at Churchill Downs should see Europe's largest ever squad challenging for racing's Olympics.

The announcement of the programme in Kentucky yesterday outlined that 26 runners from this Continent (14 of them from Britain) are likely to participate on 5 November, beating the figure of 21 at the same venue three years ago.

In between, at Gulfstream Park in Florida and California's Santa Anita track, has come evidence that Breeders' Cup events are not surrendered lightly. Only Arcangues in last year's Classic has provided a European victory at the seven-race series since Churchill Downs was last visited.

Optimism, however, has not been doused, especially since Kentucky is considered to be one of the more equable environments for visiting horses.

The temperature is currently 68F degrees in Louisville, which is fairly high for the area but nothing to compare with the 81F degrees of Santa Anita 12 months ago.

In addition, there is a bit of history to lean on. Three years ago there was the shock victory of Miss Alleged in the Turf, Arazi's juvenile success, when the precocious colt weaved through his field with the dexterity of a motorcycle cop in a logjammed freeway, and Sheikh Albadou's win in the Sprint. That should have been a training launchpad for Alex Scott, but now remains as the finest testament to the man recently found shot at his Newmarket home.

Nevertheless, the American challenge is extreme, as Coral's offer of 2-1 Britain to win any race testifies. Any excuses for defeat are unlikely to revolve around the state of the course. Louisville's racetrack has long been considered to provide perhaps the best dirt surface in north America, and the grass circuit is now also in comparable condition. 'It's the best turf of the year at Churchill Downs,' said James E Bassett III, who may sound like a grandfather of the liquorice trade, but is in fact the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd.

Britain's best chance, according to the oddsmakers, is in the race in which its competitors last succeeded. Lochsong is a best-priced 5-1 to win the Sprint. Even so, the temperamental mare has much against her.

The six-year-old will have to survive the rigours of her longest journey and new surroundings as well as the competition of Meritocrat and Soviet Problem, who, like Ian Balding's runner, emerge from the stalls as if explosives have been detonated behind their flanks.

There are three other races with a lone British challenger: Belle Genius (Paul Kelleway) in the juvenile fillies, Eltish (Henry Cecil) in the juvenile and Erin Bird (Peter Chapple- Hyam) in the Distaff.

Yutaka Take takes the ride on the last-named, who has it all to do according to yesterday's Stateside assessment from Geoffrey Gibbs, the British Horseracing Board's chief handicapper.

Take, the Japanese jockey who ran into a rather cross Chapple-Hyam on Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe day, may be comforted by the fact that he will be more at home on this flat track and that, historically, all the best double-acts have had friction between them.

Europe's best prospects if numbers are a guide, lie in the Mile, the Turf and the Classic, the last two of which will be screened live on Sky. The satellite station will also show recordings of the other five events in a programme from 9.00pm to 10.30pm a week on Saturday.

The Mile is most notable for Lure's attempts at a treble in the race, but he will have to have retained all his old brilliance to overcome a formidable European challenge which will be mounted by Barathea, Distant View, Missed Flight, Bigstone, East Of The Moon and Ski Paradise. 'It's an incredible race,' Gibbs said. 'With the exception of Hatoof and Grand Lodge, who have gone for other races, you have got the top European milers.'

There is a similar picture in the Turf, in which Paradise Creek aims to repel the likes of Hatoof, Hernando, Only Royale, Raintrap, Tikkanen, Bolas, Celtic Arms, White Muzzle and River North.

The last-named squeaks into the race with the same sort of luck that enabled Peter Savill, the gelding's owner, to come by Britain's new 'wonder horse', Celtic Swing. Similar good fortune will have to rub off on his British confederates if the Breeders' Cup whitewashes of the last two years are to be avoided.