by Jackie Duke
When a mid-morning downpour closed the Churchill Downs turf course to training Nov. 3, Sir Michael Stoute did let a little rain dampen his spirit. In fact, the closure incensed the British-based trainer, who had planned to work Sea Moon four furlongs on the grass.
Instead, final preparations for the colt’s start in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) were thrown into limbo.
“It was ridiculous, and I had about 10 drops of rain on me,” said Stoute, who described the course as “eminently suitable for work.”
Track superintendent Butch Lehr defended the decision, saying he had let it be known earlier in the morning that turf horses could train “weather permitting.” Lehr acknowledged it was a tough decision but said he closed the course for safety reasons.
“I’m thinking of the horse and that’s all I’m thinking about," he said. "A couple of guys were the only ones upset. I hope we all know we have to think of all the guys.”
British trainer John Gosden also had intended to send out a turf worker and was reportedly unhappy as well.
After being refused entry to the turf course, Stoute took Sea Moon back to the barn rather than work him on the main track, which he called “scuffed up” by mid-morning. “No way I was going to risk having him on that surface,” he said.
Apart from missing the work, Stoute said Sea Moon had traveled well and had enjoyed an easy canter on the turf course the previous day. One of just two 3-year-olds in the field, the Juddmonte Farms homebred most recently finished third in the St. Leger Stakes (Eng-I) after failing to find running room.
He had three consecutive victories previously, including an eight-length triumph in the Voltigeur Stakes (Eng-II) at York.
“It’s a tough race,” Stoute said of the Turf, “but we’re still hoping for a good run.”
In 2010 Stoute scratched Workforce from the Breeders’ Cup Turf after pronouncing the Churchill course too firm. Workforce had been the early favorite.
Of the nine horses in the Turf, only Aidan O’Brien’s duo of Await the Dawn and St Nicholas Abbey had not yet been to the track, their first visit planned for Nov. 4. O’Brien said Await the Dawn had become sick after his last start, a third in the Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I) in August, and the colt was now returning to form.
“We think he’s ready to start,” the Coolmore trainer said.
St Nicholas Abbey, who ran fifth to Danedream in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) last out, has “progressed with every race. We’re very happy with him,” O’Brien said.
Early favorite Sarafina and Midday, the other European Turf starters, had light exercise Nov. 3. Alain de Royer-Dupre, who trains Sarafina for the Aga Khan, was en route to Kentucky from Australia, where he had saddled Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) fourth-place finisher Americain earlier in the week.
Henry Cecil, who trains Midday for Juddmonte’s Prince Khalid Abdullah, passed on the trip to Louisville.
Juddmonte racing manager Teddy Beckett said Cecil was intent on running Midday in the Turf this year after her close second in last year’s 2010 BC Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), a race she won in 2009. The Turf will be the last start for the 5-year-old Oasis Dream mare and a win, Beckett said, “would be extremely emotional. She is a most lovely filly to look at and to deal with. Her attitude is 100% generous.”