Racing: Selkirk to turn Gulfstream tide for Europe: Paul Hayward assesses the challengers for racing's international championships

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The Independent Online
AMERICA's leading racehorse trainer, D Wayne Lukas, has a tidy way of summarising Breeders' Cup day. He says: 'Second doesn't count here. It's a trivia question.' The last time racing's richest meeting was held at Gulfstream Park, European horses supplied a stack of such trivia. They were wiped off the board.

If the same thing happens today then British, Irish and French trainers could justifiably cancel all future foreign excursions, because with a runner in every race, and the likes of Rodrigo De Triano, Dr Devious, Selkirk, and Arazi in the squad, a shut-out is all but inconceivable. Until, that is, you step into the morning heat and see just how pronounced the tilt- mechanism has to be for a horse like Selkirk to negotiate the paper-clip turns of Gulfstream.

Those who benefit from such claims are calling this the best Breeders' Cup in the nine-year history of the event. In terms of media-attendance, they say it is second only to the Olympics and football's World Cup, but if the Breeders' Cup has become one of the planet's great sporting occasions then nobody has told the American public.

You can be deposited at Gulfstream by a cab driver who has never heard of the Breeders' Cup. Mention of it even in Miami and its surrounds elicits the blankest looks imaginable, though some do try to maintain a pretence of interest, like the waiter who stifled his boredom sufficiently to ask: 'How many boats in it?'

None. Well, a few actually. The big, clumsy beasts who will be like soldiers marching out of time as they attempt to co-ordinate their legs on the tight bends. The Americans may be largely ignorant of the Breeders' Cup and its many attractions, but from somewhere today will emerge 51,000 racing fans who will stake dollars 10m at the track.

They will probably be a good deal less cynical than the Belmont Park audience, too. Anybody who witnessed the scene will never forget Dayjur jumping the shadow at the end of the 1990 Sprint there, and poor Willie Carson justifiably asserting that his mount would have won but for that aberration, only for a particularly hard-bitten New Yorker to bawl behind him: 'Whad-an-ass-hole'.

Hard to please, these track regulars, but it could never be otherwise in a country where racing, for the punters, at least, is a numbers game, dominated by Trifectas, and Exactas and Pick 7's. Did you know, for instance, that the serious handicappers (tipsters) are looking at today's card in terms of the percentage of races at Gulfstream normally won by wire horses, stalkers and closers respectively?

A stalker 'sits chilly', as they also say here, within four lengths of the pace. A wire horse flees from the deafening starting bell and attempts to win from the front. A closer, or rally winner, drops out early on and strikes from more than four lengths off the pace.

Round Gulfstream, you would think that wire horses must scoop the lot, yet in fact, some lost soul with nothing better to do has calculated that stalkers win more than 50 per cent of the races on turf and an almost equally high proportion of those on dirt.

Conclusion: a horse must be able to accelerate to win round this track - and who better to sprint successfully off the final bend than Rodrigo De Triano, Selkirk or Arazi? The European side (goodness knows how the Breeders' Cup came to be viewed like the Ryder Cup) have a stack of positives in their favour, even if it will be 80F in Miami today, compared to 43F at Churchill Downs last year. The other negatives, of course, are the long seasons endured by the likes of Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano, and the gruelling effects of travelling.

So the prospects for victory, from the top: in the Sprint, Sheikh Albadou and Mr Brooks (quietly fancied by Richard Hannon, his trainer) ought to eliminate most of the American speedsters, but at the likely odds, Furiously (6.55) is a better bet. Love Of Silver has virtually no chance in the Juvenile Fillies and should get a distant perspective of Eliza (7.30), who is being called 'the female Arazi' by his owner, Allen Paulson.

In the Distaff, Marling and Culture Vulture inject class and courage, but neither has looked the part in morning workouts so Saratoga Dew (8.05) could be the each- way value. Treat the Mile as a European preserve, because non- American runners have won four of the eight runnings, and none of the domestic candidates looks anything to write a postcard about. Arazi is still a risky proposition, so stick with Brief Truce or Selkirk (8.40), who has only to negotitate the turns to win.

Incidentally, the American papers have been gunning for Arazi's trainer, Francois Boutin, again, with the Miami Herald calling him the man who talks 'with his foot in his mouth'. Not fair. By the Americans' own statistics, Boutin is one of the most successful trainers at the Breeders' Cup (three wins, a haul bettered by only Lukas) and ill deserves the blame for the mess that has been made of Arazi's schedule this season.

On that point about stables to follow, it might be profitable to know that 29 of the 56 Breeders' Cup races have been won by just nine trainers. That would appear to count against Darrell Vienna's chance of winning the Juvenile with Gilded Time (9.15) because Vienna's score is nil, but against that, this is almost certainly the best two-year-old in America.

Sky Classic (9.50) is being seen as a banker in the Turf, not least because he lowered Secretariat's mile-and-a-half turf record at Belmont Park. Corrupt and Trishyde are nowhere near good enough here, while Dr Devious and Subotica have been heavily taxed in recent months.

Which leaves the Classic, the race that produced those ghostly images of Sunday Silence beating Easy Goer in near darkness on this course three years ago. No Arazi, no St Jovite, but Zoman, Jolypha and Rodrigo De Triano are there in pursuit of A P Indy, the Belmont Stakes winner, and Pleasant Tap, who is the first horse to run in four different Breeders' Cup races.

You reach for Rodrigo, but put him back, ultimately, in favour of a track-wise, home-town horse like Sultry Song or A P Indy (10.30). May they all be saved from trivia questions.

----------------------------------------------------------------------- THE CREDENTIALS OF THE BRITISH CONTENDERS ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Race Horse Principal Victories ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Sprint Elbio 1991 King's Stand Stakes (Royal Ascot) Mr Brooks 1992 July Cup (Newmarket), Prix de l'Abbaye (Longchamp) Sheikh Albadou 1991 Nunthorpe Stakes (York), Breeders' Cup Sprint (Churchill Downs), 1992 King's Stand Stakes (Royal Ascot), Sprint Cup (Haydock Park) ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Juvenile Fillies Love Of Silver 1992 Prestige Stakes (Goodwood) ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Distaff Culture Vulture 1991 Fillies Mile (Ascot), Prix Marcel Boussac (Longchamp), 1992 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (Longchamp) Marling 1991 Cheveley Park Stakes (Newmarket), 1992 Irish 1,000 Guineas (Curragh), Coronation Stakes (Royal Ascot), Sussex Stakes (Goodwood) ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Mile Selkirk 1991 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Ascot), 1992 Lockinge Stakes (Newbury), Celebration Mile (Goodwood), Challenge Stakes (Newmarket) ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Juvenile Firm Pledge 1992 maiden stakes (Goodwood) ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Turf Corrupt 1991 Derby Trial (Lingfield), Great Voltigeur Stakes (York), 1992 Prix Gontaut-Biron (Deauville) Dr Devious 1991 Dewhurst Stakes (Newmarket), 1992 Derby (Epsom), Irish Champion Stakes (Leopardstown) ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Classic Rodrigo De Triano 1991 Middle Park Stakes (Newmarket), 1992 2,000 Guineas (Newmarket), Irish 2,000 Guineas (Curragh), International (York), Champion Stakes (Nmkt) Zoman 1990 Prix du Rond-Point (Longchamp), 1991 Rogers Gold Cup (Curragh), 1992 Prix d'Ispahan (Longchamp), Budweiser International (Laurel Park) -----------------------------------------------------------------------