Round here they know that some day the San Andreas Fault is going to wrench open "the next big one". On the state's racecourses, however, a massive tectonic rupture has already taken place. Last year, Santa Anita staged the first Breeders' Cup Classic on a synthetic surface – and the carnival's return this weekend has reopened the wounds made by a breakthrough British success.
To the author of that ground-breaking moment, however, the collision of these plates in the global horse racing crust will eventually produce a landscape every bit as majestic as the San Gabriel Mountains. Yesterday John Gosden was back in the same quarantine barn that last year housed Raven's Pass, his Classic winner, and very much at home he looked, too. Three decades ago, the big man set out here with three horses in a barn shared with Willard Proctor, who began his own training career here in 1938 and would eventually drop dead feeding horses in the same stable 60 years later.
"I don't think he was too thrilled when this Limey showed up," Gosden said wryly. "But it was a great place to start. You're all on a level handicap, all on the same track, all have the same facilities, no one's got an advantage. I stayed 11 years and formed a deep love of the place. People were so welcoming, so open. It took me two years to go from three horses to 12. And then I got a horse called Bates Motel."
Bates Motel won an Eclipse Award, in 1983. The following year, Gosden saddled Royal Heroine to win the inaugural Breeders' Cup Mile across town at Hollywood Park. But a sense of belonging is no longer confined to Gosden, whose CV happens to bridge transatlantic cultures; it can be shared by each and every European trainer here. The heat and sunshine may seem exotic, but the new surface means that their horses actually enjoy something akin to home advantage in the Americans' own backyard.
That is certainly the way things look to connections of the outstanding Rachel Alexandra, who was long ago ruled out of a meeting staged on a surface they disparage as "plastic". They are clearly still smarting from their experience with Curlin, the dirt champion outpaced behind Raven's Pass last year. But Gosden suggested that synthetic surfaces provide a more reliable measure of what Europeans, at any rate, cherish as class in a thoroughbred.
"We like to see a horse like Sea The Stars, that can go any distance, any pace," he said. "A horse with tremendous cruising speed. And then bang! That last quarter, they just explode and go away. To me, that's what is exhilarating about the equine athlete. And these surfaces can bring that out. Zenyatta [the unbeaten American mare] is living proof of that. Maybe Rachel Alexandra would have run a great race. I can understand the owner not wanting to come back. But if she's so wonderful, who's to say she wouldn't have beaten them all anyhow?"
They still have dirt at other historic venues across the country, of course – notably at Louisville, where the Breeders' Cup returns next year – but Gosden reiterated just why they dug it up in California. "It wasn't a decision taken in the heat of the moment," he said. "It was decreed by the state legislature due to the attrition rates. I think that has been proven to be a good move.
"Obviously if you've trained exclusively on dirt all your life, it is a different ball game. But there's no doubt these surfaces favour what we call high-class horses, with a turn of foot. That was certainly the case here last year, with Raven's Pass. Those that grind it out are going to get caught by those that can get hold of it, get bounce out of it. Curlin was best dirt horse I'd seen in a very long time. I think he just broke his opponents, broke their hearts the way he could gallop. But on that surface out there I think the last quarter our horses put in was very difficult to answer."
So, too, were questions about Jimmy Fortune's replacement by Frankie Dettori on Dar Re Mi, in the Turf, and Pounced, in the Juvenile Turf; Rainbow View, Gosden's runner in the Ladies' Classic on Friday's card, will meanwhile be ridden by Julien Leparoux, as she was when second in Canada last month. But we have been here before, not least when Dettori took over on Raven's Pass last year.
"Frankie cut his teeth here," Gosden said. "He was a kid sneaking in the back gate to ride work. It's no fault of Jimmy's, but he's never ridden here. You have a man who's ridden in 60-something Breeders' Cup races, and knows this track like the back of his hand. Let's not be naïve."
Dettori also has a strong book of rides for Saeed bin Suroor, who overnight had the thrill of seeing Crime Scene taking it up three out in the Melbourne Cup. But he was cut down late by Shocking, with the other raiders, Munsef and Basaltico, only 12th and 18th respectively. It will be disappointing, however, if the local defence proves quite so resilient this weekend.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
King Of Legend (7.20 Kempton) Made a promising start for his new stable the other day, finishing fast after the winner had already gone for home.
Mannlichen (8.20 Kempton) Excuse a disappointing run at Southwell, where the surface does not suit every horse. Previously, had made encouraging return.
One to watch
Tinaar (G A Butler) Retains the right to further progress after giving the winner a head start at Lingfield last week, finishing well clear of the rest.
Where the money's going
Planet Of Sound is 25-1 from 33-1 with Totesport for the Queen Mother Champion Chase after his game reappearance success at Exeter yesterday.Reuse content