Classic success seals glory night for Europe

Dettori enjoys Cup victory on thunderous Raven's Pass as Gosden's gamble pays the ultimate dividend. By Chris McGrath at Santa Anita
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A day of joyous renewal for the Breeders' Cup, albeit that this may not be quite the way the hosts view things. First the Europeans reiterated their traditional hegemony on the grass, thanks to a bewitching evocation of Miesque from Goldikova in the Mile, and a breakthrough on the international stage for Ryan Moore on Conduit in the Turf. But the impudent, thunderous success of Raven's Pass in the Classic may mean that the Americans will take rather longer to embrace the revolution in their racing surfaces.

Last year, at Monmouth Park, the pretensions of the Breeders' Cup to being the apex of international horseracing seemed to dissolve in rain and tears. To many European eyes, an insidious stagnation in the carnival acquired a revolting finality that day, when George Washington broke down in a dangerous slop. But it is hard to imagine a more redemptive scene than this: champions divided by oceans, but not by the surface under their feet, measuring each other safely and fairly on a synthetic track – all under cloudless Californian skies.

Expanded to 14 races, over two days, the Breeders' Cup has been restored as an authentic international carnival, and found a fitting climax in the field assembled for the greatest race in the American sport. The favourite was the richest runner in Turf history in Curlin, perhaps the last of the old-fashioned dirt champions, but on the new surface the Europeans were more than willing to take him on.

Aidan O'Brien declined less demanding options at the end of long seasons for both Henrythenavigator and Duke Of Marmalade. But it was John Gosden's audacious gamble on the stamina of Raven's Pass that paid the massive dividend. Frankie Dettori, replacing the ill-named Jimmy Fortune, tracked Curlin as the favourite made his move into the straight – and his mount was moving so smoothly that you dreaded the uncharted distance ahead. But he quickened past Curlin and at no stage looked likely to yield to the brave finish of another upgraded miler, Henrythenavigator. Tiago stayed on best from the rear for third, with Curlin one-paced in fourth.

It was a stunning return to California for Gosden, who began his training career here. He had earlier saddled Donativum to win the Juvenile Turf, only hours after his recent Newmarket victim, Crowded House, had gilded the form at Doncaster. Dettori – wearing the same Raven's Pass silks of Sheikh Mohammed's wife, Princess Haya – just denied Johnny Murtagh on Westphalia.

Sheikh Mohammed's own silks were also successful in the Juvenile itself, Midshipman ostensibly volunteering himself as a Kentucky Derby candidate – and, what is more, one in the hands of a man who has been there and got the job done in Bob Baffert. Of course, Churchill Downs is still persevering with its old dirt track for now, so Midshipman must prove his versatility first, and conceivably he may also leave Baffert's care for Godolphin, too.

As for Conduit, he ran down Eagle Mountain in the closing stages, his stamina coming into play in a race run at a relentless gallop. That was largely thanks to the way Murtagh clung to his pacemaker on Solider Of Fortune, who plugged on for third but found the ground too firm. Sir Michael Stoute's record with older horses guarantees more to follow next season.

O'Brien, meanwhile, was left to rue a barren streak at the Breeders' Cup stretching back to 2003. Instead this was a day to celebrate the breakthrough of Freddie Head into the international elite of trainers. Goldikova's was his ninth Group One success of the year, and made him the first man to ride and train a Breeders' Cup winner. He won the same race twice on Miesque, down the road at Hollywood Park in 1987 and then in Louisville the following year, and was happy to salute Goldikova as an equal.

Full of running on the heels of the leaders in the home turn, she dashed through a gap early in the stretch and pulled serenely clear in a matter of strides. Kip Deville, last year's winner, reduced the winning margin to a length and a quarter but Goldikova was in a class of her own.

The tone had been set by the remarkable emergence of Muhannak, who sealed Ralph Beckett's breakthrough season by winning the Marathon, barely a year after winning a Kempton handicap off 76. For this was a day that dismantled many different frontiers.