Team Europe sticks to safe horizons for Breeders' Cup
Nothing, it seems, is quite so universal as insularity. Despite the best efforts of its organisers, the publication yesterday of entries for the 29th Breeders' Cup reiterated the challenge they face in matching its formal billing as the World Thoroughbred Championships.
For while the European raiding party looks up to scratch, in quality and quantity, it also reflects the work of narrower minds either side of the Atlantic.
Thanks to the maddeningly parochial scheduling of Qipco Champions Day, cheek by jowl with both the Arc meeting and the Breeders' Cup, Excelebration and Fame And Glory are the only two horses deemed hardy enough to proceed from Ascot last Saturday to Los Angeles next week. For their part, meanwhile, the American professional community – in urging Santa Anita to abandon its momentous experiment with a synthetic racing surface – has guaranteed that Frankel was only one of the European stars to abjure those races now staged back on dirt.
The two Breeders' Cups staged on a synthetic circuit at Santa Anita yielded unprecedented success for the raiders, with five winners in 2008 and six in 2009. This time round, however, they have dared just three entries in dirt races – and two of these, Fame And Glory and Sense Of Purpose, contest one that plays to another European strength, stamina, in the Marathon. Much credit is due, then, to Tom Dascombe for his enterprise in preparing Ceiling Kitty for the Juvenile Sprint.
In fairness to the Breeders' Cup management, Santa Anita's retreat to dirt was beyond their jurisdiction – and they continue to provoke their compatriots by dismantling other barriers to overseas competition, in eligibility, costs and medication. For the first time, Lasix will be prohibited in all the two-year-old races. It seems highly instructive, then, that only nine fillies and 10 colts have been mustered for the two showcase juvenile events on dirt. (Three of those fillies, moreover, have alternative engagements.)
In contrast, the turf races in this division have been oversubscribed – as another congenial innovation, from the European perspective – and bookmakers identify Sky Lantern (Richard Hannon) and Dundonnell (Roger Charlton) as favourites to export first prize.
John Gosden has long targeted The Fugue at the Filly and Mare Turf, but the mainstay of the raiding party is once again Aidan O'Brien. His nine candidates are headed by Excelebration, as short as 6-4 in places to follow up his Ascot rout in the Mile. With such a demanding fortnight in mind, O'Brien was careful to give him a light build-up after he endured the last of several thrashings by Frankel at Royal Ascot.
"He's only been with us one season and we've been learning a lot about him as we went along," O'Brien said. "We were testing him, and when we knew Frankel was going a different route we put together everything we learnt from that whole experience. We think he's got stronger and faster, and he has top form on every type of ground."
S t Nicholas Abbey defends the Turf, alongside Treasure Beach, while Starspangledbanner will go for the Turf Sprint if coming through his prep at Dundalk on Friday. Line Of Battle and George Vancouver give the stable a strong hand in the Turf Juvenile, while Up and Infanta Branca tackle the senior and junior fillies' races. As for Fame And Glory, the mission is a candid gamble.
"He has got a little bit clever," O'Brien admitted. "When the going got tough on that ground at Ascot, he just curled up a bit. The dirt is obviously an unknown, it's an experiment really, and he'll probably run in a visor." A useful reminder, perhaps, that those are only supposed to be worn by the horses.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Miss Dashwood (6.10 Wolverhampton) Has made a good start in handicaps and, having travelled strongly throughout when scoring here last time, looks to have got away lightly with a 3lb rise.
Sea The Storm (9.10 Wolverhampton) Quickly finding his feet for a new stable, well clear of the pack when running a thriving rival to a neck last time.
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