Racing: European challengers warm to Gulfstream

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The Independent Online
EUROPE'S challenge for the Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream Park, Florida, on Saturday week is the strongest in the nine-year history of the event with 30 entries providing runners in all seven races. With Rodrigo De Triano, St Jovite and probably Arazi in the dollars 3m Classic, can the Americans hang on to the world's richest race?

Now that 'the myth that European horses can't run on dirt has been well and truly shattered', to quote the Jockey Club's senior handicapper, Geoffrey Gibbs, the prospect of capturing the greatest of the Breeders' Cup races is dragging overseas runners out of their natural disciplines in pursuit of dollars. And a welcome rash of expansionism it is, too.

Arazi is not certain to last a mile and a quarter, St Jovite is better going right-handed over a mile and a half, and neither he nor Rodrigo De Triano have ever raced on the sand, and yet there they all are rubbing rumps with the crack Americans, Pleasant Tap (this year's 'iron horse') and A P Indy, winner of the Belmont Stakes.

Equine paparazzi will be a busy breed at Miami airport next week. Leaving shivery European mornings on trans-Atlantic flights will be eight Classic winners, as well as this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, Subotica. A quick round-up of the other notables would include Dr Devious (Turf), Zoman and Jolypha (also the Classic), Selkirk, Brief Truce and Exit To Nowhere (Mile), Sheikh Albadou (Sprint), Firm Pledge (Juvenile Colts) and Marling and Culture Vulture (Distaff).

The Classic comes last of the Breeders' Cup races but has often failed to justify its billing as Flat racing's World Cup final. Not this time. Gibbs is calling it 'the ultimate challenge', a description that is made all the more apposite when you consider that the last time the Breeders' Cup was staged at Gulfstream, in 1989, Europe suffered its first and only wipe-out. Arazi may be 'back to something like his previous glory', but he is definitely up against it if he by- passes the much easier option of the Mile, for which he would be disputing favouritism with Selkirk.

If there was a wallet-splitting bet during yesterday's media conference, then Selkirk, at 11-2 with William Hill, had to be it. Granted, he is a leggy horse who may feel he is racing round Romford dog track, but against that he is fast and athletic and can hold any position even in a quickly run race.

'The American milers don't look as strong as yours,' Gulfstream's racing secretary, Terry Meyocks, said from the track yesterday, and that, together with the quality of Selkirk's form, is enough to make 11-2 look like philanthropy.

The case against the visiting contingent is that the transition from a European autumn to beach weather will be too much to cope with at a course so tight that it is said to make Chester look as broad and open as Cheltenham. Miami's temperature peaked at 83F this week and you could tell the Breeders' Cup staff were happy with the quality of the fields when Meyocks said, 'If any of your trainers want to bring their surf boards we can take them out, there's a good breeze at the moment'. Clive Brittain maybe, but Andre Fabre, definitely not.

Meyocks, not surprisingly, is not riddled with anxiety about what the heat might do to the best of Britain, France and Ireland. 'In New York it's cold, in Canada it's cold, even in Kentucky it's cold,' he said, 'so it's not only the European horses who are travelling to a warmer climate.'

We will do well to remember that when the excuses are being made.