Racing: Flight scare for Britain's Cup entries

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S challenge for the Breeders' Cup, the world's richest race meeting here on Saturday, came close to being eliminated over the Atlantic Ocean when a DC8 flight carrying 18 horses out of Stansted struck a severe tropical storm three hours away from Fort Lauderdale airport.

On board were 30 staff and the equine elite of British racing, including Dr Devious, the Derby winner, Selkirk, Europe's best miler, and Lester Piggott's mount in the dollars 3m Breeders' Cup Classic, Rodrigo De Triano. All were thrown to their knees when the aircraft plummeted 400 feet before rising sharply again on a pocket of hot air.

Most of the horses escaped with minor cuts and grazes, though Red Slippers, a Newmarket- trained filly, needed stitches in a head wound. Those at the back of the chamber - all fillies - were worst affected, and at Gulfstream Park race track yesterday several of the horses were said to be 'subdued' and off their food, which is a particularly worrying signal from a racehorse.

Transporting highly-strung thoroughbreds from Europe to America is a precarious task at the best of times, but with a shipment worth pounds 50m the potential damage is unthinkable. Even with the thick padding applied in the loading process, an hysterical horse can sustain career-ending damage if it throws itself round its pen.

Nick Vaughan, travelling head lad to the John Gosden stable in Newmarket, said as he clutched a consoling can of Budweiser: 'If anybody says they (the horses) didn't mind that experience they must be crazy.

'When we dropped we went straight down at unbelievable speed and when we rose again the plane was shaking so we were sitting there expecting it to happen again. It seemed to go on for a lifetime. That's the closest I've been to thinking my number's up.'

Heat - not turbulence - is supposed to be the biggest climactic barrier to success for runners not from Florida or California. Yesterday high temperatures played their part, too, when the airfans in the French barns (Arazi and company arrived separately) broke down, producing urgent calls for help to neighbouring Calder racecourse.

Another discouraging sign is the refusal of visiting horses to drink the local water, and to avoid that the French have imported their own bottled water, as has Peter Chapple-Hyam, trainer of Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano.

The extra care and planning undertaken by Chapple-Hyam and others was remarked upon yesterday by D Wayne Lukas, America's Wrangler-clad leading trainer. Lukas said: 'You're getting better at knowing what it takes to win over here. You've seen that dollars 10m (in prize-money) sitting on the table, and it sure has cleared your sinuses.'