Racing: Fabre the best of breed: Americans hold whip hand but Europe's main man chases more glory in the Breeders' Cup. Sue Montgomery reports

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The Independent Online
YOUR starter for ten: which was the first British-trained horse to get stuffed in the States? Since the Kentucky Derby winner Zev beat the Epsom Derby hero Papyrus in a dollars 100,000 match 71 years ago in New York, it has been acknowledged that the odds are stacked against European horses when they travel to America to race.

Yet hope springs eternal in the owner's breast, and on Saturday the biggest ever contingent from this continent will compete for dollars 10m at the Breeders' Cup meeting at Churchill Downs. Some 25 horses from England and France will fly to Kentucky this week.

Since the Breeders' Cup series was first held in 1984, there have been 139 European challengers in 42 races. Just 11 of them have won.

Transatlantic travel for big US prizes has become a regular occurrence with -the Breeders' Cup record notwithstanding - an increasing amount of success. But many problems remain. Some have been solved by advances in technology, knowledge and experience, but neither time, season, climatic changes nor the layout of American tracks can be altered.

The Breeders' Cup is a moveable feast, and European horses have a better record at Churchill Downs, with its temperate climate, relatively easy turns and direct journey, than at, say, scorching Santa Anita in California or humid Gulfstream Park in Florida.

Timing seems to be the key, either by going in as close as possible to the race or weeks before, as the Melbourne Cup runners have done. The Chantilly-based Andre Fabre is the most successful European Breeders' Cup trainer, having won with In The Wings and Arcangues, and having had seven others placed second or third from 19 runners. 'The horses seem to adapt well enough to the time changes and conditions,' Fabre says. 'The trick is to go in as late as possible, then there is less time for something to go wrong.'

Fabre, the outstanding trainer in Europe this year, won the Rothmans International at Woodbine, Ontario, with the Breeders' Cup Turf challenger Raintrap two weeks ago. He flew the horse in just 36 hours before the race.

'I don't like to work horses out there,' he says. 'The tracks are hard and the horses get very stiff.'

As in most sports, the home side has the advantages. The American horses are still in full bloom, while the body-clocks of the Europeans, with a full season behind them, are ticking towards the winter shut-down. But the Americans are impressed with this year's overseas challenge, particularly that of the French, whose vastly superior record, with eight wins to the two from Britain and one from Ireland, is a Breeders' Cup phenomenon. The accepted reason is that the French horses, whose year is geared to the autumn, tend to remain in form longer. Fabre again: 'I think our success has largely been down to our light summer programme and, personally, I do as little as possible beforehand to bring them to America fresh. Perhaps it is lazy of me, but I do not give them any special preparation. I leave it to nature and the talent of the horse.'

John Gosden, the British trainer who won the inaugural Mile with Royal Heroine when he was based in California, agrees that it all comes down to talent. 'To win a Breeders' Cup race', he says, 'you've not only got to have a very good horse, but also one that can adapt to the style of the racing, which demands agility and balance.'

In moments of sporting extremis, like the World Cup finals, we Brits tend to adopt close neighbours as our own. So, Irish-trained Vintage Crop and Cliveden Gail will be carrying our banner in Melbourne on Tuesday as much as Quick Ransom, and Hatoof, Dernier Empereur, Millkom, Bigstone, East Of The Moon, Ski Paradise and Co will for one day whinny in Franglais.

The second of Britain's two wins came when Sheikh Albadou took the Sprint at Churchill Downs three years ago. On Saturday Lochsong will open the batting in the same race, but Ian Balding's mare faces a formidable task against six furlongs, two bends, a dirt track and the local hot-shot Soviet Problem.

It is difficult to look beyond D Wayne Lucas's Flanders, a 21-length winner last time, in the Juvenile Fillies, where Paul Kelleway's tough Belle Genius takes her chance. Fabre's Agathe should prove best of the invaders in the Distaff, but should not cope with the likes of Heavenly Prize and Hollywood Wildcat. If Henry Cecil's Eltish adapts to the dirt he could go well in the Juvenile, for there has not yet emerged an outstanding two-year-old colt in the States. Inspired by the success of Arcangues last year, there will be six from Europe in the Classic to take on the best of the locals, Devil His Due and Tabasco Cat; a scrap off a fast pace could suit Ezzoud down to the ground, and his Michael Stoute stablemate Cezanne, a winner on dirt in Dubai, should go well.

Ten of the 14 Turf runners are likely to be Europeans, but Paradise Creek, the best grass horse in the States, will be favourite. He should outstay Hatoof, be too quick for Raintrap, but Hernando might chase him up. The one race that has claims to being a world championship is the Mile, also on grass. Shug McGaughey's mighty Lure should pick up the first Breeders' Cup three-timer; Bigstone and the tough, professional Barathea are the dangers.

(Photograph omitted)