Foreign flavor, no home cookin'

November 04, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

LOUISVILLLE, KY. — LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Clockers were groping for superlatives after Lochsong, an English mare, sped three furlongs in 33 2/5 seconds in the early-morning hours yesterday at Churchill Downs.

"Fastest work I've ever seen," said Kenny Ransom, who has been timing horses for 11 years. The mare, who starts as one of the favorites in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, not only "dazzled" the experts, according to the Churchill PR folks, but also "blistered" the track.

But if history is any gauge, Lochsong has a poor chance of victory tomorrow.

In the first 10 runnings of the Breeders' Cup, only 11 of the 70 races, or roughly 15 percent, have been won by European horses, and only two of those victories, Pebbles in 1985 and Sheik Albadou in 1991, were accomplished by English-trained horses.

Hugh McIlvaney, the venerated columnist for the Sunday Times in London, said a victory by Lochsong, a champion sprinter in Europe, would constitute nothing short of "a remarkable achievement."

Among the disadvantages that Lochsong, as well as the other European runners, must overcome are: the long trip requiring swift acclimatization to a foreign country; the fact that the Breeders' Cup comes at the end of a long, hard season for the Europeans, especially for the British, who don't take a break in the summer like the French, and the fact that the horses are required to run in America on strange surfaces.

While virtually all European races are contested clockwise on the turf, many European horses are trying the dirt for the first time in this country and they must run in a counter-clockwise direction.

"Even though some take to it immediately, like Lochsong," McIlvaney said, "regrettably, what she did this morning might have been too much too soon."

But the major hurdle, said English champion jockey Pat Eddery, "are the tight turns. In Europe, most of the races are around big, sweeping turns or just plain straightaways."

Added Gerald Leigh, co-owner of Barathea, who runs in the Mile: "It seems [Breeders' Cup management is] just asking for trouble. They are running a 14-horse field in a race that starts too close to the bend with a bunch of European runners that are notorious for not being able to handle the turns."

So why are the Europeans turning out for the Breeders' Cup this time around in record numbers, including an unprecedented number of six horses in the $3 million Classic?

"The prize money," McIlvaney said.

"We were all encouraged by Arcangues' win last year in the Classic," said Michael Stoute of the French horse who went off as a 99-1 shot and won the $3 million Classic at Santa Anita Park. Stoute has two entries, Cezanne and Ezzoud, in the Classic.

Additionally, the Breeders' Cup is taking place at Churchill Downs, where the Europeans staged their greatest success in 1991 when they captured three races.

"And there don't seem to be any champions among the American entrants in the Classic," said William Jarvis, the trainer of English starter Grand Lodge.

Also, Leigh adds, it's just plain fun. "There are European owners and trainers who love racing here," Leigh said. "They get caught up in the hype and its enjoyable."

McIlvaney said: "It costs something like $50,000 for each European horse to compete, including traveling expenses and entry fees. But it's a good bet if you can win $600,000 or $700,000. But you'd think the British would be discouraged.

"We sent seven horses to Los Angeles last year and the best we could do was a fifth. But then there's the romance of a Wild Again winning.

"He's supplemented at a cost of $360,000, goes off at 30-1 odds and wins a $3 million purse. It's a dream machine."

So, who are the best bets among this largely mysterious group of foreign horses, whose form is baffling to the American racing public ?

"Bigstone," said Remy Haccoun, columnist for Paris Turf, who said the 5-year-old French entry is perfectly suited to the distance in the Mile, and is capable of upsetting American favorite Lure, who drew the 14 post position.

"Bigstone recently won for the first time wearing blinkers and he is being given Lasix for the first time tomorrow," Haccoun added.

It used to be that the Europeans frowned on using any sort of permissible medication, such as Butazolidin or Lasix, on their horses.

"I don't think a junkie should be representing Britain," an enraged English lord exclaimed in 1988 when British trainer Henry Cecil wanted to start Indian Skimmer on Lasix in the Turf.

That attitude has now softened. "It's a benefit if it helps a horse," said Luca Cumani, the English trainer who has two Breeders' Cup starters, Barathea in the Mile and Only Royale in the Turf, but is running them without medication.

"I don't think it's viewed any longer as a moral inhibition," added McIlvaney. "It's whether or not the stuff works."

Haccoun also likes the chances of French horses Millkom in the Classic and Hernando in the Turf.

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