NEW YORK -- European horse races are conducted on grass, and that form of racing and dirt racing in the United States are as different as, well, green is from brown.
When European horses come over to the United States, they invariably race on turf courses. But the Breeders' Cup, the $10 million Day of Champions, is different. Sometimes, the Europeans take a shot on the dirt.
But in six runnings of the Breeders' Cup, all of the European shots on the dirt have missed. Only one horse from Europe has ever been in the money in a Breeders' Cup race contested on the dirt. Tagel, from France, ran third in the Juvenile for colts in 1988 at Churchill Downs.
The figures in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint are even more discouraging for the steeds from across the sea. Sprinting is a distinctly American aspect of thoroughbred racing, and the Europeans have not been close in the Sprint. Thirteen horses who raced in Europe have tried the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint and none have finished higher than fifth (Princess Tracy, from Ireland, in 1984 at Hollywood Park).
But the Europeans think this year will be different. This year, the Europeans have Dayjur.
Dayjur is not supposed to be the best European-raced sprinter of 1990, he is supposed to be the best European-raced sprinter ever. With the official draw being held today, Dayjur is listed as a 5-2 preliminary favorite among the 20 horses pre-entered for Saturday's Sprint at Belmont Park.
Dayjur is a 3-year-old colt owned by Shaikh Hamdan al Maktoum, the finance minister of Dubai, and trained by Maj. W.R. Hern, a commander in the British Army during World War II and coach of the British equestrian team that won a gold medal in the '52 Helsinki Olympics.
Of course, European bloodlines, full of horses who excelled at long distances over undulating courses, are not going to produce crack sprinters. But Kentucky bloodlines will, and Maktoum, who has 287 horses in training, paid a cool $1.65 million for Dayjur at the Keeneland fall yearling sales.
Dayjur's breeding is exceptional and speed-oriented. He is by Danzig out of Gold Beauty, a daughter of Mr. Prospector. Gold Beauty was the Eclipse Award-winning champion sprinter of 1982. Unfortunately, Gold Beauty died in April from complications following the birth of her fifth foal. Of Gold Beauty's first four foals, three sold for more than $1 million and the other for $750,000.
Dayjur has won seven of his 10 career starts with two seconds. All of his successes have been at five and six furlongs, the distance of the Sprint. His one poor performance was a seventh place at Newmarket. In Europe, graded races are called group races. Dayjur has won his last five starts, all group races.
In each of those victories, he led throughout.
Dayjur's ability to defeat his foes in the Breeders' Cup is not in question. What is in question is whether he can beat them over a dirt track with a turn that goes in the opposite direction from those he is used to negotiating. In addition, many European sprints are run on straightaways.