Racing: America's Domination May Be over at Last ; Europe's Strongest Challenge in the History of the Breeders' Cup Can Provide a Significant Breakthrough at Belmont Park
Edmondson, Richard, The Independent (London, England)
BREEDERS' CUP day, horse racing's unofficial Olympics, is never an occasion shy on patriotism. The Americans stand for the "Star Spangled Banner", wave their flags and then glory in a wipeout of the visiting European thoroughbreds.
The 18th running of the annual championships on Saturday will be particularly nationalistic, not least because it is sited here at Belmont Park on the fringes of New York city, yet this may be the year that Old Glory stops fluttering. This is the year when the Europeans in general, and the British in particular, look set to dominate the Breeders' Cup.
At the very time that the Americans are represented by perhaps their weakest unit in the history of this competition, Europe has come up with three behemoths of the modern age. Galileo, the dual Derby winner, Sakhee, the victor in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and Fantastic Light, the World Series champion, are the headline horses in a battery which includes the leading horse from almost every division of European racing. If the breakthrough does not come here then it never will.
The Breeders' Cup has been held at major racing sites across North America since Hollywood Park in Los Angeles hosted the first in 1984. Although the name suggests just one race, the day is in fact a series of contests, designed to find the leading horse in each division: two-year-olds and older horses, sprinters and stayers, turf and dirt animals. On Saturday, there will be eight races, each worth a minimum of $1m (pounds 690,000) and a total of $13m in purses.
There will be 17 European-based runners attempting to collect their slice this weekend, attempting to outrun the historical form book. For in 17 years of Breeders' Cups, the shippers across the Atlantic have won just 18 races. And there is a further disturbing fact within that statistic. Not unlike the Ryder Cup, we count fellow Europeans as our own and, not unlike the golf, those from outside Britain have played a pivotal role. Of 18 wins, 12 have come from either France or Ireland. Only Pebbles (1985), Sheikh Albadou (1991), Barathea (1994), Pilsudski (1996), Daylami (1999) and Kalanisi last year were trained in Britain.
There is, however, evidence of improvement. Gone are the days when British horses arrived in the States as an afterthought following the exhaustion of a full season at home. Now campaigns are designed to peak in North America. Yet the obstacles remain tall and dark.
Travelling techniques have improved but it remains a disadvantage to be playing away. The alien surface of the dirt track accounts for many, as does the mode of racing. American horses try to do it all virtually in one gulp, while the European way is to attempt to preserve something in the tank for a final kick.
Most contentious though is comparison between the respective weighing rooms. Americans believe European jockeys to be as helpful on a horse's back as sacks of flour.
"They have a totally different style," Steve Haskin, the racing analyst, says. "It's not quite ugly, but it's certainly awkward to see a rider up on a horse and just flailing away, moving so much, heads and bodies jerking all over the place. From an aesthetic standpoint it's not attractive. Our riders get down more on the horse and let the horse do the work. In the Classic, people would rather see any American rider at all on their horse than a top European rider."
This will be of interest to Frankie Dettori and Michael Kinane, the partners of Sakhee and Galileo respectively in the final race of the day. …