Racing: Gulfstream may sweep away all except Daylami

BREEDERS' CUP XVI The heat and dirt of Florida may defeat the European challenge with the exception of Godolphin's great grey in the turf
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The Independent Online
TRAINERS AND jockeys have been relaxed away from normal life this week and the European horses too have radiated in the Florida sun. It has been very difficult not to get infected with enthusiasm about their prospects in this afternoon's Breeders' Cup XVI.

There is, however, a rotten realisation when you force yourself into the history book. No matter which way you look at the statistic of European horses at the two previous Gulfstream Breeders' Cups it is not easy to find comfort: 0 for 31 is a fairly informative figure.

Some of the fallen have been tall poppies. In 1989 Zilzal came here unbeaten in five starts including the Queen Elizabeth II and Sussex Stakes. But by the time he got to the start of the Mile he already looked like a squaddie at the end of a routemarch. He finished sixth.

Three years later, Dr Devious and Quest For Fame, who had both won the Derby, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe victor Subotica perished in the Turf. They had no answer to Fraise, whose owner, Madeleine Paulson, had won the colt in a game of golf with her husband, Allen.

In the Sprint, poor Mr Brooks snapped his off foreleg and knocked out Lester Piggott with one of his hooves before rolling on top of him. Old Stoneface was taken to Hollywood Memorial Hospital with a broken collarbone, two fractured ribs and a gashed head. One of his lungs collapsed.

However, Piggott was soon sitting up in bed eating ice-cream and jelly and noticing that not all the figures in white coats were medical men. One of the stethoscopes was around the neck of a man he recognised from the Fleet Street pack.

At least Piggott got something out of this episode. The Queen, who had taken away his OBE, sent a message to hospital via the British Consul expressing her sorrow and wish for a speedy recovery.

If a further commendation is to arrive today, and the history lesson suggests it won't, it will almost certainly come in one of the grass contests.

The Turf, over a mile and a half, does at least provide one positive statistic. The Arc has given us three winners and eight horses in the money in past runnings of the race. This photofit gives a bonny chance to Frankie Dettori and Daylami, who has trained well and has no Stateside monster to beat.

His Godolphin masters have a Breeders' Cup record of none for 11 (in the American patois), but they also expect a vigorous effort from Lend A Hand in the Mile. The shorthand note for him by the leading handicapper Mike Watchmaker looks about right, however. "This Godolphin piece is good," he says, "just not scary".

The most compelling evidence in this heat is that horses which have had experience of the race seem to be at a considerable advantage. Miesque, Lure, Barathea, Da Hoss, Steinlen and Cozzene have all won after running a previous Mile. This line leads us then to Hawksley Hill, a former inmate with Lynda Ramsden, who ran Da Hoss so close 12 months ago.

The Classic, too, can have a British connection of sorts if we get desperate. You can dig River Keen out of your 1997 form book, in which he is tailed off in a 0-95 handicap at Haydock when trained by Robert Armstrong. The seven-year-old was claimed by Bob Baffert for $100,000 at Hollywood last November and is now one of the form horses in his category, having beaten Godolphin's Almutawakel on his last two starts. He is not, however, according to his trainer, as good as General Challenge.

Mull Of Kintyre and Brahms for Ireland take on Baffert's fancied Forest Camp in the Juvenile, a race which usually goes to one of the market leaders. Ballydoyle fancy their chances in the Sprint, in which the mighty Stravinsky goes to post. If he can win this, Stravinsky will retire a very good horse indeed, as he will have run through a sandstorm to gain his laurels.

It is probably better to be with Artax, who found an odd way of losing in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap on the Preakness Stakes undercard. The four-year-old was running second in the stretch when a racegoer ran out and punched at him. He is a likely and appropriate winner on a day when Europe, possibly Daylami excepted, are to get another bloody nose in Florida.