Harvard N Yale out for a Kentucky first
It may sound sacrilegious, as Kauto Star seeks another piece of Turf history at Kempton on Boxing Day, but something equally momentous might conceivably get under way 15 minutes earlier – in a £3,500 race at Wolverhampton. Few will be paying the slightest attention to Harvard N Yale, not least with the holiday programme over jumps apparently secured by a mild weather forecast. Unlikely as it seems, however, this young colt will be taking the first tentative steps towards a summit never yet scaled from this side of the Atlantic.
Jeremy Noseda has a seasoned perspective on the odds against Harvard N Yale even lining up for the Kentucky Derby in May. He began his career in the United States and knows that no amount of talent or resources will ever guarantee a prize craved by every trainer or owner there. At the same time, he has already prepared a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner from Newmarket, and he does feel that Harvard N Yale is eligible at least to test the water.
"Where I stand is that this is a horse we like, and one I think might be ideally suited by American-style racing," he said yesterday. "His form is below the standard required. But he's a big, backward horse who's only going to improve from two to three, and has always struck me as the type to take to dirt, as his pedigree suggests he should."
Winner of the same Newmarket maiden that had announced Frankel the previous July, Harvard N Yale shaped very well even in odds-on defeat to Cavaleiro at Newbury in September. Caught out by a steady pace, he rallied powerfully to go down by just a neck, the pair well clear. "He's a relentless galloper," Noseda explained. "In America, a mile and a quarter on dirt is not about turn of foot – it's about how long they can keep up a tempo. If a horse can do 10 12-second furlongs on dirt, one after the other, he's a champion. It's so different from this country, where it's all about gears."
All being well, Noseda would hope to fly Harvard N Yale over the ocean in the new year to extend the experiment on to dirt. But first he must jump through this hoop. "So far, he's only raced on straight tracks, so now he's going to race round a left-hand bend," Noseda said. "He will be far from fully tuned up, but if he's not good enough to take this stepping stone, he won't be good enough, full stop. It's just a first step, a chance to see if it would be realistic to take the next one."
As an informed observer of the scene on either side of the ocean, Noseda accepts that the American sport stands at something of a crossroads entering 2012. But he counsels against the European tendency to reproach traditionalists for resisting synthetic tracks – perceived by Europeans not only to be safer, but far more congenial to their own horses. After unprecedented European success at the two Breeders' Cups it staged on a synthetic surface, Santa Anita has now restored a dirt track for the return of the series next autumn.
"You have to put yourselves in their shoes," Noseda said. "How would we like it if we were told our championship races had to be staged on a different surface? If the Epsom Derby had to be run on polytrack? The synthetic played to our strengths at the Breeders' Cup, but I felt some of the dirt races lost something. At its best, dirt racing is a phenomenally exciting spectacle – think of those epics between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, or Ferdinand and Alysheba. It's all very well for us to knock it. But the Americans have got their own huge tradition, and they don't want to lose it."
At the same time, he cautioned against American complacency in their superior funding. "They are getting huge money at the tracks with slot machines," he said. "But the prizes are being subsidised by people with no interest in horseracing. You have to ask whether it will be a long-term cure, or just a temporary medicine."
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