Past Winners » Raven's Pass


The 25th Breeders’ Cup World Championships is just about the most intriguing of all to date. Fourteen heats now where once there were seven, a ‘dirt’ surface about which nobody knows very much, and a stronger European challenge than perhaps ever before.

If California State’s objective in changing to Pro-Ride from the traditional American dirt surface was to elicit a stronger challenge from Europe, then that objective has been realised. Careful not to get it mixed up with the snow boarding camps in Whistler in Canada, or the Californian Motorcross scene, but common consensus appears to be that Pro-Ride is very like Polytrack, like we have in Dundalk, and like they have at Lingfield, Wolverhampton, Kempton and Great Leighs in the UK.

Its characteristics appear to be very similar in that, in the limited history of Pro-Ride at Santa Anita, it seems that you can lead all the way, and horses have been doing so if they have enjoyed an easy lead, but it is difficult, especially in races run over a mile or more (two turns). Just like Polytrack then. This is key, and it requires a complete about-turn for local punters and handicappers, as Santa Anita’s traditional dirt track had always favoured those who raced on or near the pace.

Horses who can perform on good to firm turf tend to do well on Polytrack at home, so it is probable that Pro-Ride will at least level the playing field between turf performers and traditional American dirt performers. This obviously favours the Europeans. At the very worst, they should not be as inconvenienced in the non-turf races as they usually are. Consequently there is a real chance that Europe’s haul of one win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (the Arcangues 1993 shocker) can be doubled this evening.

Curlin is the American monster. The richest thoroughbred in the history of racing and last year’s Classic hero, he doesn’t have very much left to prove. All the noises emanating from the Steve Asmussen yard are bullish ones, but he looks too short to me at best odds of 5/2, and it is probable that he will be even shorter on the local tote.

Crucially, it has to be unlikely that he will be as effective on Pro-Ride as he is on traditional dirt. His galloping grinding style is ideally suited to dirt, but not necessarily to the synthetic surface. While he has been pleasing in his workouts on the track this week, it is difficult to truly tell how he is handling it when he is not racing, and a better indication of his effectiveness on Pro-Ride may lie in his sole performance on turf, when he couldn’t get past Red Rocks in the Man O’War Stakes at Belmont Park in July.

Moreover, it is possible that Curlin is just not as good this year as he was last year. Certainly his last performance, when he just got the better of Wanderin Boy in the Jockey Club Gold Cup back on dirt at Belmont last month was not the most impressive of his career. He is a huge talking horse in the States and is likely to be backed in to very short odds on the tote, so there could be significant value to be had elsewhere.

The European challenge is strong, headed by Duke Of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator, but Raven’s Pass has even more in his favour than the Ballydoyle duo. Princess Haya’s colt’s victory over Henrythenavigator in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot last month probably confirmed him as the best miler in Europe this season. He comes into the Breeders’ Cup on a high, he loves fast ground, so there is every chance that he will handle the surface, and his trainer said before the QEII that he was being trained for the Breeders’ Cup, that he might even improve for that run.

Significantly, said trainer is John Gosden, a man who plied his trade in California for nine years before we got to really know him in Europe. While in Santa Anita, Gosden trained Royal Heroine to win the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Hollywood Park. He obviously knows what is required to succeed at California, and he has trained Raven’s Pass accordingly.

The one unknown about Raven’s Pass is the distance. He has never been beyond a mile. Indeed, until his penultimate run, common consensus was that he just about got eight furlongs. But he was ridden aggressively to win the Celebration Mile at Goodwood, and once more to win the QEII, when he was going away from Henry again at the line.

Although Raven’s Pass is owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, and therefore perhaps more vulnerable to the lure of the Classic over the Mile than most, it is unlikely that Gosden would be happy to allow him run in the 10-furlong contest if he wasn’t happy that there was a real chance he would stay the trip. The Elusive Quality colt’s finishing burst will be a potent weapon on the synthetic surface, particularly if they do not go a great gallop, which has to be likely, and best odds of 8/1 about him are more than fair.


© The Irish Field, 25th October, 2008