Euros show strength with five-win day

Updated: October 25, 2008, 8:34 PM ET
By David Grening | Daily Racing Form

ARCADIA, Calif. -- When Raven's Pass roared past Curlin in upper stretch and galloped to a 1 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, it capped an unprecedented five-win day in the series for the European contingent.

In addition to winning the Classic, European-based horses won the $2 million Turf with Conduit, the $1 million Juvenile Turf with Donativum, the $2 million Mile with the 3-year-old filly Goldikova, and the $1 million Dirt Marathon with Muhannak. The Classic and Dirt Marathon were run over Santa Anita's new Pro-Ride surface. This was the first Breeders' Cup to conduct its races over a synthetic surface.

"The Pro-Ride is bringing the two countries together, Europe and America; it's becoming a level playing field," jockey Frankie Dettori said after riding Raven's Pass to victory in the Classic, in which American champion Curlin finished fourth. "Now we don't have to worry about the kickback and now we showed them what we can do."

Earlier on the card, Dettori won the Juvenile Turf with Donativum, who like Raven's Pass is trained by John Gosden.

"It's been an extra special day, we had a pretty good armory to come and tackle this challenge," Dettori said. "You need the stock and we had the stock this year."

Gosden, 57, trained in Southern California for 11 years and conditioned two Eclipse Award winners before moving to Newmarket. Gosden, a former assistant to Charlie Whittingham, hadn't won a Breeders' Cup race since Royal Heroine won the inaugural running of the Mile in 1984. He had gone 0 for 17 since.

Gosden said European trainers have become "a lot more savvy" when it comes to the Breeders' Cup.

"I think when we've gotten a little smarter, we tend not to drain them too hard through the season, into the fall," Gosden said. "We try to freshen."

Gosden added that the use of synthetic surfaces means "the whole game is opened up for us now."

Without a synthetic surface, Gosden said, a horse like Raven's Pass would have most likely gone in the Breeders' Cup Mile on turf. Raven's Pass, a 3-year-old son of Elusive Quality, had not run on any surface other than turf and had not run at a distance beyond one mile.

"To run in the Mile would have proved nothing either way," Gosden said. "And this was the big challenge, and this is what we had to do."

Raven's Pass is owned by Princess Haya of Jordan, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai who races as Darley Stable. Princess Haya also owns Donativum and Darley also won the Juvenile with Midshipman, a North American-based horse trained by California's Bob Baffert

John Ferguson, a racing advisor to Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya, credited talented horses as well as the synthetic surface as a reason for record European success.

"First and foremost they're good horses," Ferguson said. "Secondly, I think there is no doubt the synthetic surface is somewhere between turf and dirt. Therefore, I think it makes European trainers that much braver to take it on. They're good horses that won; if they were longshots I'd have been surprised, but they were all horses that I think had a great chance."

William Farish Jr, the chairman of the Breeders' Cup, said the success of the European horses is "tremendously important" in continuing the Breeders' Cup as a truly international event. Next year's Breeders' Cup is also scheduled to be held at Santa Anita.

"They make a big commitment to come over and it's important they feel the playing field is level," Farish said. "I mean in a sense that the track surface agrees with them, that the climate agrees with them. They've had tremendous success in California, not just this year but in other years.

"The level of racing is very high, but yeah, it's surprising they won that many," Farish added.