How talented is Falbrav, a European invader who is one of the favorites in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT)? He's so talented that his jockey, Darryll Holland, isn't worried about being a first-time rider in the World Thoroughbred Championships.
"To be honest I'm not nervous because I know he's good enough," Holland said. "If he was a horse that wasn't quite good enough, then I would be a little bit nervous in case he messed up or something. But he's going to look after me around there. He's pretty smart."
Trainer Luca Cumani described Falbrav this way: "He's a true professional. He's a big, big horse that knows how good he is. He's got a full understanding of his abilities and of his job. He's strong; he's powerful; and he's very well built. To me, he's the ultimate athlete."
So far this year, Falbrav has captured four group I events in England and France. In Cumani's opinion, the muscular bay son of Fairy King should have won five. In the roughly run Irish Champion Stakes (Eng-I) in early September, Falbrav was beaten by last year's Breeders' Cup Turf winner High Chaparral.
"What happened was that Falbrav tried to charge on the inside of High Chaparral when there was a gap," Cumani said. "High Chaparral came down on him and forced him against Moon Ballad, then forced him against the rail. He was intimidated all the way to the line by High Chaparral. In spite of all that, we were only beaten a neck."
Falbrav and High Chaparral will tangle again in this year's Turf, but Cumani doesn't view it as a chance to gain revenge after appeals of the Champion finish fell on deaf ears.
"I don't take it as a personal thing," he said. "I would just have a lot of satisfaction for Falbrav to win regardless of who he beats."
In addition to facing a rematch with High Chaparral, Falbrav will be battling history in the Breeders' Cup Turf. In the five times the Breeders' Cup has been run in California, only one horse, Lashkari (1984), has won the Turf after shipping straight from Europe. Two of the winners were Europeans that raced for an extended period in North America before trying the Breeders' Cup, and two others raced only in North America prior to the Turf.
"It's not an advantage to travel halfway around the globe and run against horses that have been here for a while," Cumani said. "The change in the climate is also not an advantage. But he's a 5-year-old; and he's adaptable, so we hope we can overcome the disadvantages."
Another challenge for Falbrav is the Turf's 1 ½-mile distance.
"He has won a group I over a mile and a half in Italy, but I think probably his best distance is a mile and a quarter," Cumani said. " But I think a mile and a half at Santa Anita will be fine for him because it is an easy mile and a half. The first four furlongs are downhill and then it's a flat, fast course. There's no premium on stamina."
Falbrav's connections had considered trying him in the Breeders' Classic (gr. I), where the 1 ¼-mile distance would have been more to the horse's liking.
"The discussion was that the Classic was a bigger gamble because of the unknown surface--he has never raced on dirt -- and the different way races are run on dirt than they are on turf," Cumani said. "It was left to the owners (Luciano Salice and Terry Yoshida) to decide whether they wanted to play it safe or take a chance. They decided for safe. It was a close call."