Butler's attack plan pays off in land of opportunity

Newmarket trainer bridges transatlantic gap to field live chance in the Ladies' Classic tonight

Louisville

To meaner perspectives, responsible for culpable retrenchment on either shore, the ocean may seem to be widening again. On this side, for instance, they have sulkily restored the dirt surface so inimical to the Europeans at Santa Anita, where the Breeders' Cup returns next year. Back in the old world, the scheduling of the new Champions Day at Ascot for now remains in myopic competition with this carnival. True to the national mythology, however, some can still come to America and discover in the insularity of others only the opportunity for fresh adventure.

So much so, in the case of one Newmarket trainer, that there is no point seeking his star filly among the other "Euros" in the quarantine barn. Pachattack is instead stabled among her indigenous rivals, several blocks away on the back stretch. She was one of five horses flown to Chicago by Gerard Butler in the spring, and her presence in the Ladies' Classic – climax of the preliminary Breeders' Cup card tonight – is a spectacular vindication of a gamble that shames trainers with far less to lose.

Over breakfast at Wagner's Pharmacy, Butler reflected on the hazards and rewards of his pioneering experiment. Founded in 1922, Wagner's is an institution of the American Turf, its walls covered by photographs of Kentucky Derby winners trained by its patrons. It came as something of a surprise, then, that Butler had never been here during his apprenticeship under Wayne Lukas.

Lukas, whose tally of 18 Breeders' Cup wins remains at least double that of any other trainer, had horses from Del Mar to Saratoga – and several of those to whom he duly delegated responsibility have become outstanding trainers, not least the record-breaking Todd Pletcher. Butler has precious memories of the Californian grounding of Serena's Song, who ran stablemate Flanders to a head in an epic duel for the Juvenile Fillies here at Churchill Downs in 1994, and Timber Country, winner of the Juvenile the same year.

He has looked very much at home this week, leading Pachattack out on his pony. But it was not this affinity with the milieu that prompted him to undertake a weekly transatlantic commute, or to post Andrew Morris here to supervise the satellite operation day-to-day. Between saluting various local trainers at their eggs and biscuits, Butler related that one of his horses had won a race at Kempton the previous evening – with a princely return of £1,500. An inveterate worker, he stresses an undiminished commitment to his team at home. "But by offering my clients the chance to come here, as well, at least we've done something positive," he said. "If prize-money at home can be nearly pointless, that doesn't necessarily mean things are hopeless. Here you can run for proper money – and, if you pick the right spots, you may not have to run any faster."

In Britain, Pachattack was no more productive or competitive than her record suggests: a Group Three bit player. On her first start in Arlington, she won a Grade Three prize worth £36,000 by six lengths, and she has earned her place here by finishing second in consecutive Grade One starts at Saratoga and Keeneland. The consequences for her value as a broodmare are infinite, never mind how enjoyable the odyssey has proved for her engaging owner, Michael Deegan, and his family.

"She has a dirt pedigree and that's where the gap is," Butler explained. "Kentucky is the biggest producer of foals in the world. But many of them go to Europe – and how many fulfil their racing potential there? I do think their grounding helps. The ones we have shipped back here are mature, have a sounder base, because training youngsters on dirt every day can bring its problems. And obviously they can be nice horses on turf. But if their pedigree and conformation is all dirt, they can achieve so much more over here. It's like tennis. Nadal is very competitive at Wimbledon, but at the French Open he's invincible. Look at Michael's other filly, Maristar. She won off 76 at Southwell in April. On Saturday she's running in a Grade Two race here worth $175,000 [£109,000], and she's second or third favourite on the morning line."

Butler, 45, has not had the raw materials his talents warrant since announcing himself with the Group One wins of Compton Admiral and Elusive City. But nor has he sat on his backside grumbling, and a podium finish here would be an achievement commensurate with a win for more powerful raiders tonight. Among these Nahrain and Elusive Kate take winning runs of four on to the turf, while an American pedigree qualifies the latter's stablemate, Questing, for a switch to the dirt. Should she win, however, she will not so much be setting an example as following one.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy