Europe gain an edge as battle lines are drawn for the Breeders' Cup gold rush


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The Independent Online

Even when athletes run in lanes, some places on the start line are judged better than others. So when jockeying for position counts, the luck of the draw can be crucial. And generally, the hand of fate has been kind to the Europeans involved in the Californian gold rush that is the Breeders' Cup series of races. One of those who will start favourite, for instance, Excelebration in the Mile, will break from stall six, and so should be neither trapped on the rail or forced to run wide.

With a smallest-ever field of only nine runners for this $2m [£1.2m] turf contest, and a confirmed trailblazer among the competitors in Obviously, who will go the shortest way, there should be few excuses, though, for any.

Even the widest stall for French challenger Moonlight Cloud may not be a hindrance – her erstwhile Freddy Head stablemate Goldikova did win two of her three Miles from the so-called coffin box – but she was eased in the betting after her position was revealed.

Excelebration was a wide-margin winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes 11 days ago and, after Frankel, is the best miler in Europe. His chief local rival is perceived as Wise Dan, a top-level winner on his last two starts and drawn two. "I'd rather be in the middle," said his trainer, Charlie Lopresti. "He's won from just about every hole there is but this time I think he'll have to run the race of his life to win."

As well as Excelebration, judged a 6-4 shot for his race, Aidan O'Brien will saddle eight others at the $25m two-day meeting on Friday and Saturday, including the market leaders for the Marathon (Fame And Glory), and Turf (the defending champion St Nicholas Abbey). And if they were not enough, the Coolmore partners have now acquired a half-stake in the favourite for the Juvenile on dirt, the unbeaten Shanghai Bobby.

The six races on grass, rather than dirt, are where the main European interest lies and runners from these parts head the markets in all bar one, the Turf Sprint. In the Juvenile Filly Turf, the Richard Hannon-trained Sky Lantern will start from stall three and in the colts' equivalent, the Juvenile Turf, Dundonnell (trained by Roger Charlton) from stall six.

In the Filly & Mare Turf, John Gosden's charge The Fugue will go from box four, but two other of the raiders, Ridasiyna (Mikael Delzangles) and I'm A Dreamer (David Simcock), face more of a challenge from 10 and 11 (of 12 runners) respectively.

The beauty of Santa Anita, with its sunlit backdrop of the San Gabriel mountains, is a long way, literally and figuratively, from Wetherby. But on Saturday the new domestic jump season carries on its momentum there with the Charlie Hall Chase, traditionally a first marker for Gold Cup candidates. The home side, headed by new kid on the block, Silviniaco Conti, and older stagers Weird Al and Time For Rupert, will be tested by another of the younger brigade from Ireland, First Lieutenant, likely to travel to Yorkshire rather than tackle Sizing Europe at Down Royal.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Suraj (1.40 Haydock) No match for one of the Melbourne Cup favourites Mount Athos on the Flat but previously showed in that sphere that he stays and handles soft ground.

Next best

Elidor (1.55 Nottingham) Half-brother to Treasure Beach. Stepped up on debut effort and can put that further experience to good use in what will be a slog.

Where the money's going

Silviniaco Conti is 5-2 from 7-2 with Paddy Power for Saturday's Charlie Hall Chase.