When the Breeders' Cup World Championships return to Santa Anita next year, there should be quite a crowd of Europeans lined up to compete.
The foreign contingent swept virtually all before it in the big races Saturday on Santa Anita's new "Pro-Ride" artificial track and on the natural turf, including a trouncing of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Raiders from across the Atlantic took five of Saturday's nine Breeders' Cup races and comprised the exacta in three of them -- a good lesson for those to follow.
Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator gave the Euro contingent a 1-2 finish in the Classic. Conduit and Eagle Mountain finished 1-2 in the $3 million Turf, with Soldier of Fortune fourth. Donativum and Westphalia were first and second in the $1 million Grey Goose Juvenile Turf. Goldikova was a dominating winner in the $2 million Mile on the grass. And Muhannak won the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon.
To be sure, there were some victories and some stars for the home team, especially on the "all filly" Friday program.
Zenyatta ran her record to nine straight wins and, considering Curlin's fourth-place finish in the Classic, is poised to be named U.S. Horse of the Year. Midshipman and Stardom Bound romped to victory in the Bessemer Trust Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, respectively, and became automatic early favorites for next May's Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
And Midnight Lute was very impressive in winning the $2 million TVG Sprint for the second year in a row.
But the buzz was about the Europeans and their victories in the weekend's biggest and most heralded events.
Curlin came into the Classic as a heavy favorite. He won the race last year, was named Horse of the Year and followed that up with a victory this spring in the Dubai World Cup. Saturday, he got to the lead when asked by jockey Robby Albarado on the turn for home. But he didn't have enough stuffing left to hold off European stars Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator and then lost third to Tiago in the final jumps.
The European victories on the grass were more to be expected, since that is their usual running surface. But the ground seemed to be leveled in the main-track races this year by Santa Anita's synthetic track.
John Gosden and Frankie Dettori, trainer and rider of both Raven's Pass and Donativum, said the artificial surface made a difference for the Euros.
"It's becoming a level playing field," Dettori said after the Classic. "Now we don't have to worry about the kickback (of dirt clods from leading horses) and now we showed them what we can do.
John Ferguson, a racing advisor to Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya of Jordan, who own Donativum and Raven's Pass, agreed the surface change helped. But he said the horses had something to do with the outcome, too.
"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."
The connections of Raven's Pass said Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya will be consulted about whether the 3-year-old Classic winner will run in 2009.
Saturday also was a good day for jockey Garrett Gomez, who won three races -- two of them for trainer Bob Baffert. Gomez was in the irons for Baffert as Midnight Lute won the Sprint with a sharp outside move into the stretch and guiding Midshipman to a front-running victory in the Juvenile. His third win came aboard Albertus Maximus in the $1 million Dirt Mile.
Gomez also rode Ventura to victory for trainer Bobby Frankel in Friday's $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint.
A recap of the two days of Breeders' Cup World Championship racing:
$5 million Classic: Raven's Pass rallied outside Curlin at the top of the stretch and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Fellow European Henrythenavigator was second and Tiago edged Curlin for third. Raven's Pass, a 3-year-old Elusive Quality colt, ran the 1 1/4 miles in a track-record 1:59.27 under Frankie Dettori.
$3 million Emirates Airline Turf: Conduit got through between horses at the top of the lane and held off fellow European Eagle Mountain to win by 1 1/2 lengths with Dancing Forever edging another foreigner, Soldier of Fortune, for third. Ryan Moore rode Conduit over 1 1/2 miles of firm turf in 2:23.42.
$2 million Sentient Flight Group Sprint: Midnight Lute circled six-wide around the leaders and drew off in deep stretch to win the Sprint for the second straight year. Fatal Bullet led early and finished second, 1 3/4 lengths back, with Street Boss third. The 6 furlongs took 1:07.08.
$1 million Grey Goose Juvenile Turf: Donativum came between horses at midstretch to take the lead and held on to win by 1/2 length over fellow European Westphalia. Coronet of a Baron salvaged third for the home team. Donativum, under a strong ride from Dettori, ran the 1 mile on the grass in 1:34.68.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile: Midshipman made the most of the pace while under pressure, opened up a bigger advantage turning into the stretch and held on well to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Square Eddie with Street Hero third. Midshipman, by Unbridled's Song, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.94 and is the early Kentucky Derby favorite.
$2 million Mile (turf): Goldikova moved strongly around the leaders turning for home and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over defending champion Kip Deville. Whatsthescript finished third, another 2 1/2 lengths back. Goldikova, an Irish-bred, 3-year-old filly, got the 1 mile in 1:33.4 with Olivier Peslier up.
$1 million TVG Dirt Mile: Albertus Maximus came from well back to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Rebellion with Two Step Salsa completing the trifecta. Albertus Maximus, a 4-year-old son of Albert the Great, ran the mile in 1:33.41.
$1 million Turf Sprint: Desert Code rallied from near the back of a 14-horse field and won a sprint to the wire by 1/2 length over Diabolical. Storm Treasure was third. Desert Code, a 4-year-old E Dubai colt, got the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:11.6.
$500,000 Marathon: Muhannak pressed the pace under jockey Patrick Smullen, then got by the leaders late and won by a head over Church Service. Big Booster was third. The favorite, Sixties Icon, was in traffic trouble entering the stretch and finished fifth. Muhannak, an Irish-bred son of Chester House, ran the 1 1/2 miles on the Pro-Ride track in 2:28.24.
$2 million Ladies Classic: Zenyatta raced last of eight until the turn in Friday's feature, then accelerated sharply, passed them all and won going away by 1 1/2 lengths over Cocoa Beach. Music Note was third. The victory kept Zenyatta's record perfect after nine career starts and easily could make her Horse of the Year. With Mike Smith riding, the 4-year-old Street Cry filly ran the 9 furlongs in 1:46.85.
$2 million Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf: Forever Together came five-wide around the leaders entering the stretch and rallied for a 3/4-length victory over Canadian standard-bearer Sealy Hill. Wait a While was third. Forever Together, a 4-year-old daughter of Belong to Me, ran the 1 1/4 miles on the grass in 2:01.58 under Julien Leparoux.
$2 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile Fillies: Stardom Bound lived up to her name, rallying from next-last in a field of 13 to impressively win by 1 1/2 lengths over Dream Empress. Sky Diva finished third. Stardom Bound, a gray daughter of Tapit, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.99 with Mike Smith up.
$1 million Grey Goose Juvenile Fillies Turf: Maram rallied to the lead in the stretch run and held on gamely to beat European hopeful Heart Shaped by a nose. Laragh, the favorite, was third. Maram, a daughter of Sahm, got the 1 mile on the grass in 1:35.15 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
$1 million Sentient Flight Group Filly & Mare Sprint: Ventura used a late burst of speed to catch the favorite, Indian Blessing, in the final sixteenth and won by 4 lengths. Indian Blessing held second by 2 lengths over Zaftig. Ventura, a 4-year-old Chester House filly, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:19.9.
In other weekend racing:
Kodiak Kowboy rallied five-wide into the stretch and went on to win Saturday's $150,000 Sport Page Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Eternal Star. Roi Maudit was third. Kodiak Kowboy, a 3-year-old son of Posse, ran the 7 furlongs under Gabriel Saez in 1:24.88 over a fast track.
Formal Decree led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $100,000 Knickerbocker Handicap by 3 lengths over Strike a Deal. Buffalo Man was third. Formal Decree, a 5-year-old, German-bred son of Diktat, ran the 9 furlongs on the inner turf in 1:47.57. Jean-Luc Samyn rode for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
They ran the Turnback the Alarm Handicap a week early on Sunday but that didn't bother Altesse, who survived a pressured trip on the lead to win by a neck over the favorite, Spring Waltz. So Glitzy was third. Altesse, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by A.P. Indy, was headed by So Glitzy with a furlong to run but dug back in under jockey John Velazquez. She finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.02.
Lauro led from gate to wire in upsetting Saturday's $250,000 (Canadian) Sky Classic Stakes, winning by 1/2 length over Seaside Retreat. The favorite, Spice Route, settled for third. Lauro, a 5-year-old, German-bred son of Monsun, ran the 1 3/8 miles on yielding turf in 2:18.81. Tyler Pizarro had the mount for trainer Andreas Wohler.
In Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Cup and Saucer for Ontario-bred 2-year-olds, Utterly Cool took the lead midway around the stretch turn and accelerated to a 10 1/4-lengths victory. Silver Rocket was second and Collerosa third. Utterly Cool, a son of Smoke Glacken out of the Housebuster mare Destroy, got the 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:44.62 under Patrick Husbands.
Ball Four was a gate-to-wire, upset winner in Saturday's $150,000 Fayette Stakes. After setting an easy pace, the 7-year-old Grand Slam gelding won by 1 1/4 lengths over Dominican. Stream Cat was third and the favorite, Mambo In Seattle, waltzed in seventh. Ball Four, with Julio Garcia riding, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:48.37, closing out the Keeneland stakes season.
Muny was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Oak Tree Derby and held on through to the wire, winning by a neck over Madeo. Dixie Chatter finished third. Muny, a Kentucky-bred son of Najran, ran the 9 furlongs on the grass in 1:47.69. David Flores had the mount for trainer Mike Puype.
Into Mischief caught pace-setting Dancing in Silks at mid-stretch of Saturday's $100,000 Damascus Stakes for 3-year-olds and drew off to win by 2 lengths. Dancing in Silks held second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Hatta Fort. Into Mischief, a Kentucky-bred son of Harlan's Holiday, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:20.38 with Victor Espinoza up.
Foxy Danseur was reserved early in Sunday's $100,000 Cascapedia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, circled the leaders on the turn and was up in time to win by 1 length over High Resolve. Highland Torree finished third. Foxy Danseur, with Mike Smith in the irons, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.66.
Magna Graduate stalked the pace outside the leaders in Sunday's $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap, shot to the lead at the top of the stretch and easily drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Greely's Conquest. Forest Command was third. Magna Graduate, a 6-year-old son of Honor Grades, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.06. Shaun Bridgmohan rode for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Sahmmy Davis Jr came from far back to upset Saturday's $100,000 Brickyard Stakes for Indiana-breds, winning by 3 1/2 lengths over Tee's Prospect. Squeaky Rich was third and the favorite, Edgerrin, checked in eighth. Sahmmy Davis Jr, a 4-year-old Sahm gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10 4/5 under Azael De Leon.
Johnny Murtagh flew from Los Angeles to Paris and Yeats, his mount in Sunday's Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp, flew down the stretch to victory. Yeats, who had failed in three previous tries in Paris, took the lead as the field turned for home and repulsed the late charge of the mare Allegretto to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Veracity finished third. Yeats is trained by Aidan O'Brien. He has won 14 times in 22 career starts.
As attention shifts from the Breeders' Cup to the year-ending international events in Asia, two of Hong Kong's top runners served notice Sunday they will be heard from in their national events. Viva Pataca, after racing well back, exploded down the stretch to win the Mission Hills Sha Tin Trophy by 3/4 length over Egyptian Ra. "He's run an astonishing race there and we have him right on target for the Cup Trial and the Cup itself," said winning trainer John Moore. The Trial is Nov. 16 and the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup is four weeks later.
Also Sunday, Green Birdie also made an impression down the stretch to win the Premier Bowl by 1 1/4 lengths over Down Town. "I'm thrilled because I've always said that he's a very good horse and that he would be a big chance for the Hong Kong Mile, said winning trainer Caspar Fownes. Fownes said Green Birdie will go to the Mile Trial and the Hong Kong Mile if all remains well.
Maldivian won Saturday's Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, slowing down the pace on the lead under jockey Michael Rodd, then running on well for the victory. The 6-year-old son of Zabeel covered just over 2,000 meters in 2:06.92 on going rated good. Zipping was second and Samantha Miss, a 3-year-old filly, finished third. Winning trainer Mark Kavanagh credited the addition of blinkers in getting Maldivian to the top in the Group 1 event.