Europe is sending its best to Breeders'

Godolphin enters Sakhee in Classic

October 25, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. - The release from William Hill, the British bookmaker, began: "Godolphin stunned punters and racing fans around the world Wednesday ... "

Distributed yesterday at Belmont Park, the notice went on to describe how Godolphin, the massive racing stable based in the Middle East, shocked gamblers and the racing world by entering Sakhee in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Fantastic Light in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The 18th Breeders' Cup will be held Saturday at Belmont Park. The news of Godolphin's decision will be received far more casually by Americans.

Europeans possess a passion for their racing that does not exist on a widespread level in this country. Most Americans have no idea that this year in the Breeders' Cup, the Europeans have sent perhaps the three top thoroughbreds in the world.

Galileo, from Great Britain, and Sakhee, from the Dubai-based Godolphin Racing, will meet in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Fantastic Light, also from Godolphin, will lead the parade in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf.

Eoin Harty, a former assistant to American trainer Bob Baffert, has worked two years for Godolphin, training its 2-year-olds in the United States in Godolphin's continuing quest to win the Kentucky Derby. The Irish-born Harty trains four horses in the two Breeders' Cup races for 2-year-olds: Imperial Gesture and Tempera in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies, Essense of Dubai and Ibn Al Haitham in the $1 million Juvenile.

Asked to name American horses as popular in this country as Galileo, Fantastic Light and Sakhee are in Europe, Harty said: "I couldn't do that. There's so much awareness of racing in Europe that I'd have to compare them to human athletes. Europeans revere these horses. The comparison in America would be Shaquille O'Neal or Michael Jordan."

European racing is also more sporting than American racing. That was never more evident than yesterday, when Godolphin defied conventional wisdom (American wisdom) in placing its horses in the Breeders' Cup.

The Maktoum family, which rules Dubai on the Persian Gulf, runs Godolphin. The oil-rich Maktoums can afford to be sporting.

By entering Sakhee in the Classic, Godolphin passed on the Turf, in which Sakhee would have been a heavy favorite. A 4-year-old with turf breeding, Sakhee has never raced on dirt, as he will have to in the Classic.

He has won all three of his races this year with ease. His six-length victory Oct. 7 in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France stamped him as the top turf horse in Europe, and hence probably the world.

No winner of the Arc, one of the world's great races, has run in the Breeders' Cup Classic, let alone won it. Therein lies the motivation of Godolphin's defying logic and racing Sakhee in the Classic.

"He's been brilliant on turf; there's probably not a lot left to prove," says Simon Crisford, racing manager for Godolphin. "The challenge, the excitement to our stable, is going into the Classic. We like to pick up the challenge and go for it.

"The Classic is one of the, if not the, premier races in the world. It's the race everybody in Europe, everybody around the world, wants to win. When we've achieved all we can on turf, we want to have a go at something a little bit different."

The mystery is why Godolphin entered Sakhee and not Fantastic Light in the Classic. Neither has raced on dirt, but Fantastic Light, a 5-year-old son of Rahy, not only has more dirt pedigree, but also worked faster on dirt Tuesday at Belmont.

Godolphin chose Fantastic Light for the Turf. He has raced 24 times on grass, including three times in the United Stakes, and won 11 races, including five Group/Grade I's.

His two epic battles with Irish-bred 3-year-old Galileo on British turf this summer had racing fans eagerly awaiting a showdown on American dirt in the Classic. But with Sakhee, not Fantastic Light, competing in the Classic, Galileo will race without the company of his gritty competitor.

Saeed bin Suroor, Godolphin's trainer, says he is happy running Sakhee and Fantastic Light in any race. He says they are fit and ready and will represent their stable well.

"This year, everything's gone right," bin Suroor says. "We have a great chance."

Simon Clare, oddsmaker for the Coral bookmakers in London, says he expects the 19-horse European contingent to win at least two Breeders' Cup races: Filly and Mare Turf with Banks Hill and Turf with Fantastic Light.

"This is the year Europe has brought its champions to the Breeders' Cup," Clare says. "I can't think of one horse we should have here that isn't here. If ever Europe is going to make its mark, this is it."

Breeders' Cup

What: Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships

When: Saturday

Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

Races: Eight stakes worth $13 million

Feature: $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic

TV: Chs. 11, 4, 1-6 p.m.

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