For whatever reasons--there are surely many--this could be the first time in the history of the Breeders' Cup that no starter that last raced in England makes the trip for one of the event's turf races. If that is the case, it will be a shame.
The pre-entry date for the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Lone Star Park in Texas is Oct. 18. As we all know, surprises happen every day when racetracks take entries. Still, as the pre-entry date for the eight grade I races nears, there is talk of several entrants from Ireland and France, but only a single horse that stables in an English yard.
Some horses, as they say in England, are "over the top," having tailed off at the end of the season. Others were not nominated to the Breeders' Cup program, thus necessitating a costly supplemental entry fee few are willing to fork over, especially when it is added on to the expense of shipping from a foreign country.
Another reason mentioned by some is the 2004 site, Lone Star, which is hosting the event for the first time. Horsemen note Lone Star has struggled with track surface problems, and the turf course is Bermuda grass, obviously not what Europeans are used to.
What should be noted is Lone Star has not previously held an October race meet. In the summer, the heat and wind make it very difficult for the surface to hold moisture. This month, that should not be a problem.
The grass course will not be attractive to trainers whose horses like good to soft turf. But it is configured the same as Santa Anita's course, over which European horses have performed well through the years.
European support for the Breeders' Cup has been strong from the event's first running in 1984, when Royal Heroine won the Mile and Lashkari the Turf. Every year since, at least one runner whose last start was in England has competed in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and only twice (1999 and 2001) was there not also at least one Mile starter that shipped from France.
In the Breeders' Cup Turf, England has been represented by runners 14 times, while a French runner has been a part of the field every year except one (2000).
(Some runners may have been "based" in Ireland, but their start prior to the Breeders' Cup was in England.)
These runners have not just competed; they have taken home hardware. We have been treated to their brilliance, something that would not have happened had the Breeders' Cup not been brought to fruition.
Horses from Europe have made the Breeders' Cup, in particular the turf races, the grand event that it is. Though the word "world" in the name is a bit misleading, it is the closest thing the sport has to a global event.
But imagine the Breeders' Cup without Miesque, the brilliant two-time winner of the Mile. Who can forget horse such as Spinning World, Daylami, Banks Hill, Six Perfections, High Chaparral, Barathea, and Pebbles?
We expect European horses to perform well on the turf, but we are left with handicapping dilemmas when they ship over and run in a Breeders' Cup dirt race. Horses whose last start came in Europe have run 25 times in the Classic, 29 times in the Sprint, 23 times in the Juvenile, 11 times in the Juvenile Fillies, and four times in the Distaff.
Arcangues, winner of the '93 Classic, holds the record for mutuel payoff in the 20-year history of the Breeders' Cup ($269.20). Sheikh Albadou paid $54.60 to win the '91 Sprint when 2-5 favorite Housebuster suffered an injury. Arazi's electrifying victory in the '91 Juvenile is one of the greatest Breeders' Cup performances.
There will be many stars Oct. 30 at Lone Star. But the lack of European participation is worrisome.