Racing: Raiders feel the heat and humility

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THE LAST batch of European runners arrived here yesterday for the combat that will be Breeders' Cup XVI on Saturday. In a rare spirit of integration, representatives from France and England travelled together from Stansted to Miami and then on to Gulfstream Park.

They found a palm-fringed racecourse dominated by the mile circuit of the dirt track. Inside that is a turf lozenge separated from an immense infield lake by rampart hedging. White egrets pick at the ground, while way up, big buzzards wheel in the sky. This, it must be said, is something of an exotic graveyard.

There are certainly some fancy names on the tombstones here. Europe have yet to record a victory in two Florida Breeders' Cups and have had to inter the reputations of such as Zilzal, Selkirk and Dr Devious along the way. Yesterday, as perspiration came to all at breakfast time, it was easy to see why.

Gary Stevens, at least, had an excuse. The American who spent a fruitful session in Britain earlier this season went seven furlongs "dogs up" (round cones on the turf course) on Royal Anthem. He felt it. "It's nothing to do with class and I give all the European horses a great chance here if they can handle the heat," Stevens said. "But you can feel what it's like and it's a huge, huge disadvantage for them. It took me a while to get used to it after coming back from England. It's so humid that I was tired as soon as I got here. It's tough for the horses coming from New York and the horses coming from California, never mind the ones that have to come from Europe."

And even if the Europeans can stand the heat there remains a further problem, a track which offers the path of a wife chasing her stopout husband round the kitchen table. "Luck plays such a big part, especially on a track like Gulfstream," Stevens added. "You tend to want to stick close to the rail because if you're wide on the bend you're giving up a lot of ground. By the same token, if you're down on the rails you risk the chance of being boxed in."

Saturday's eight-race series, worth an unprecedented $13m, will be a thorough examination of both man and beast. "It's a tight track and horses have got to switch their leads properly [throw out the correct leg first]," John Gosden, who trained Royal Heroine to win at the inaugural Breeders' Cup meeting, said. "It comes naturally to some horses but not to others and, while it is an essential component of American racing, they are not taught it in Britain at all. If you are not on your off fore coming round Tattenham Corner then you tend not to see the horse again.

"Otherwise, you can train early in the morning at Gulfstream and it's perfectly pleasant, but come race time we're talking heat. You get dehydration, and bleeding can come on a horse a lot more quickly in Florida. I would be surprised if a lot of our boys weren't on Lasix there. I think the humidity will frighten them into doing in Rome as the Romans do."

The mobile pharmacy of Stateside racing may be something to mock from afar, but it is a reality which British trainers grasp as soon as they land on American soil. Lasix and Bute will be in short supply round these parts by the end of the meeting. Even the flying Stravinsky, Europe's champion sprinter, may be given a little something for the weekend. "There is a strong possibility because it seems everyone else is going to be using it," Aidan O'Brien, the colt's trainer, said.

This will be Stravinsky's final race before he retires to stud in Kentucky and connections hope he can blow up a storm to advertise his skills to breeders. Before then, he will receive a natural example. The hurricane season is supposed to end in southern Florida on 20 October but, this year, someone forgot to tell the hurricanes. A devastating storm was predicted for the Fort Lauderdale area last night, as well as floods, in the environs which have thus far provided Europe with nothing but a drought.