Past Winners » Five European winners


You have to hand it to the Yanks. The Breeders’ Cup simply would not be the Breeders’ Cup without its “World Championships” tag. Why have understatement and modesty when you can have brashness and hyperbole? Election talk and economic concerns will be left well outside racing’s cocoon at Santa Anita on Friday when they go behind the stalls for the Filly & Mare Sprint at 3.35pm Western Time.

It is always tough for the European horses. They have to travel, they are usually after enduring a tough domestic season, they have to get used to foreign surrounds, a different style of racing, and they often have to contend with an alien surface. However, there are reasons for believing that the Europeans could do unusually well this year.

Santa Anita has historically been good to the Europeans. The last time the Breeders’ Cup was staged at the Californian track in 2003, there were three European-trained winners, equalling the best ever result for the raiders. More importantly, however, the surface on which they will run the ‘dirt’ races this year, for the first time in Breeders’ Cup history, is not dirt at all, as the Americans understand dirt. It is a synthetic surface called Pro-Ride which, by all accounts, is much more like the Polytrack that we have at Dundalk and Lingfield than it is like traditional American dirt. Horses who are suited by good to firm turf generally perform well on Polytrack; ergo, if Pro-Ride is like Polytrack, the European-trained horses have a real chance of doing well in the non-turf races as well as in the turf races.

There are 14 Breeders’ Cup races this year stretched over two days, three more than last year and six more than there were in 2003, and it looks like Europe will be represented in 11 of them. Of those 11 races, a European horse is either clear favourite or joint favourite in six of them (admittedly according to the European bookmakers), and these six horses are backed up by a strong supporting cast that could number as many as 20. It looks like one of the strongest European challenges in the history of the Breeders’ Cup.

Consequently, there is a chance that the bookmakers have under-estimated the number of European winners that there will be. This is possibly down to the whitewash and wash-out in Monmouth Park last year, but that was a freak year with freak weather. The long range forecast is good for California this week, and European horses could be in for their best Breeders’ Cup ever. William Hills’s offer of 12/1 about five or more European winners looks big.


© The Sunday Times, 17th October, 2008