Skip Dickstein

30 Years in 30 Days: Sheikh Albadou's Sprint

Studying pedigree and weight assignments leads a photographer to Sheikh Albadou.

By Anne Eberhardt Keogh

My first position at The Blood-Horse was in research where I Iearned about foreign pedigrees. Fast-forward a few years to the 1991 Breeders' Cup when I was in editorial and oversaw our photo coverage. I gave myself the assignment to photograph the European contenders during morning works at Churchill Downs. As part of any racing assignment, I started reviewing the horses, their pedigrees and race history.

Sheikh Albadou was bred in England by Highclere Stud and was a son of Green Desert out of the Welsh Pageant mare Sanctuary. A brilliant son of Danzig, Green Desert was a group I winner at 2 and 3, taking the five-furlong Brian Swift Flying Childers Stakes (Eng-II) and six-furlong Norcros July Cup (Eng-I). A pure sprinter, Green Desert was a tremendous source of speed.

While reading the past performances on Sheikh Albadou, I was surprised to see the weight the colt had been carrying, including 137 pounds in France's five-furlong CIGA Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp (Fr-I), his most recent race before the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Before that he carried 132 pounds in the Ladbroke Sprint Cup Stakes (Eng-I) at Haydock.

In the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), Sheikh Albadou was assigned 124 pounds. The 13-pound difference, based on the British Horseracing Authority system, indicated that Sheikh Albadou would improve from 3-5 lengths based on the race distance.

I enjoyed handicapping but was not a big bettor. I shared my observations about Sheikh Albadou with others on our photo team that like to handicap, but as expected most were pulling for favorite North American runner Housebuster and one even said, "How can you pick him? A European horse winning the Sprint?"

At odds of 26-1, I went to the betting window and placed my $5 win bet. Like I said, not a big bettor but what fun to win! The payoff was $54.60 for a $2 win bet.

Sheikh Albadou officially won the Breeders' Cup Sprint by three lengths but the announcer had called it five lengths when I viewed the replay. With his win Sheikh Albadou became only the second 3-year-old to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint, following Very Subtle in 1987.

In the Cartier Racing Awards for 1991, Sheikh Albadou was named European champion sprinter and was high-weighted as a 3-year-old on the French Free Handicap for five to seven furlongs. He remains the only European horse to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

My race day assignment for Breeders' Cup was to shoot the final turn. Favorite Housebuster was on the lead going into the stretch with Sheikh Albadou in fourth and starting his acceleration. While I could see Sheikh Albadou making his move on the outside through the stretch I couldn't tell who won and couldn't hear the announcer. No Jumbotrons back then. After a few minutes somebody in the crowd behind me said, "Who won?" and someone else answered, "some longshot from England." I just smiled and started getting cameras ready for the next race.