Wednesday, Oct. 22, was the day European trainers held court outside the quarantine barns at Santa Anita Park.
Their horses had cleared quarantine and 24 of the 26 who arrived from across the pond went out to exercise.
The figure of 26 horses from Europe is the highest seen at a Breeders’ Cup World Championships since the same number turned up at Churchill Downs way back in 1994, according to the International Racing Bureau, which facilitates their arrangements.
John Gosden talked about his two Breeders’ Cup challengers, Classic hopeful Raven’s Pass and juvenile turf contender Donativum, in addition to setting world racing to rights. He also recalled the 11 years that he trained in California. At the time, his horses started out in barn 89 at Santa Anita before he moved up the pecking order and was based out of barn 16.
Now he’s back and said his pony moved well on the Pro-Ride surface in the dark shortly after 6 a.m. — "a very nice track and a very nice surface."
Gosden planned to tour the facility later in the day to catch up with friends and acquaintances.
Jeremy Noseda, another Newmarket, England-based trainer, also has experience of training in America, albeit for a much shorter period than Gosden.
He said "gallop" when describing what his horses — Sixties Icon and Fleeting Spirit — did on the track this morning. In England, he would have said "canter."
The trainer was told that the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita was more similar to the Polytrack at Lingfield Park, the longest established all-weather course in Britain, rather than Great Leighs, the newest Polytrack course there. Four of the five British all-weather courses have Polytrack, with the other one using Fibresand.
Talking about Sixties Icon, owned by Susan Roy, wife of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) chairman Paul Roy, Noseda is convinced that the Marathon rather than the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) gives the horse the best possible chance.
According to Noseda, Sixties Icon had "issues with his wind for a few years now, and he was operated on last autumn," but he did not want to go into further detail. The important thing was the horse had got his confidence back
He started a theme that was developed by other European trainers: "Racing on a synthetic surface will see more Europeans coming over to compete — Sixties Icon would definitely not be in the Marathon if it was run at Churchill Downs (which hosts the 2010 Breeders’ Cup) on the dirt. It (the spread of synthetic surfaces) is the way forward if you want a proper international Breeders’ Cup meeting where we can all hopefully be on a level playing field. This (Pro-Ride) is the type of surface that we need to see these races run on."
However, he dismissed, as a remote possibility the hosting of a Breeders’ Cup in Europe, arguing that there was no suitable racecourse to host such a meeting.
Gosden said on the same subject: "I would not be running Raven’s Pass in the Classic if it was still on the dirt. The problem with dirt is not the surface you are running on but the kickback. If European horses have never suffered kickback in their face, it can put them right out of their stride.
"It is now a level playing field and makes it incredibly exciting because the top horses all round the world can come together and meet. It is truly exciting bringing together the breed. We need a bit of unity these days — racing has had enough negative press this year."
Newmarket’s very extensive training grounds had the first Polytrack used for training racehorses, and Gosden’s horses use it regularly.
"The great thing about Polytrack is its consistency. If it rains an inch overnight, Polytrack is in perfect condition, and if does not rain for two months the surface is still the same," Gosden said. "Synthetic surfaces are kinder to horses. You have got to do what is right for the horses and everything else follows on.
"The problem here at Santa Anita used to be the rain storms coming off the Pacific and the track was sealed. I remember Laz Barrera being leading trainer, and he never had a horse left for Hollywood Park. This was a very real problem. I used to wait for the track the dry and jog my horses round the training track."
Gosden had a winner at the very first Breeders’ Cup in 1984 when Royal Heroine took the Mile (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park and is waiting for his second one.
He would like to see the Breeders’ Cup in California every year. "You are pretty well guaranteed good weather — you may have heat but you don’t have the humidity, which is brutal on horses.
"I would prefer the temperature in the 70s — the 90s is getting a bit rarefied but it is not humid. I will take heat not humidity. I don’t want what happened in Monmouth last year."
When asked about steroids, Gosden said he feels the situation is moving in the right direction. "It is long overdue. American racing has had a very dark summer, and you need to come out of it and show enormous strength of purpose to do that. We do not want to wind up as an industry which saw its glory days at the end of the last century."
As the temperature rose to 94 degrees Fahrenheit, Ireland’s champion trainer Aidan O’Brien, whose eight horses went out for jog at 8:15 a.m, patiently answered all sorts of media questions for over 20 minutes.
A flash of humour was prompted by a question about the pacesetter Red Rock Canyon for Soldier of Fortune in the in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf. "We don’t talk about pacesetters any more because I may get into trouble again!" He was referring to a fine he received from the BHA for his use of a pacemaker earlier this year in England.
"Red Rock Canyon is there to ensure a consistent pace. He is a good horse in his own right and is natural leader. He usually breaks quick and goes along."
Surprisingly maybe, he said he was happier seeing horses sweat rather than being too cool.
"Usually when they are bit warm, they are up for it especially in this kind of weather. I don’t think the weather will be an issue but the horses have all had long hard seasons — though they seem to be fine."
He called the Breeders’ Cup a marvellous meeting: "It is great for the whole Thoroughbred breed that everybody can come together at this time of year. Bringing the new surface in is bringing everybody closer. This is much safer and the more this type of surface spreads around the world, the more the breed will benefit. "
The final word goes to Freddie Head, the French trainer responsible for Goldikova in the Mile who remarked: "If she runs up to her form, she will be very hard to beat."