European Breeders' Cup contenders training at Santa Anita Park

European Breeders' Cup contenders training at Santa Anita Park

Rick Samuels

Surface Question: Will More Euros Ship?

Trainers reflected on the Breeders' Cup races run on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface.

Though champion Curlin  may not have handled the synthetic racing surface as well as some of his European rivals did in the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), Santa Anita Park’s Pro-Ride racing surface performed safely during the two-day World Championships Oct. 24-25.

As a small group of supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested outside the facility’s entrance gates, 145 horses competed in the 13 races held on the all-weather track. All of them finished. In spite of 90-degree weather, there were no breakdowns, and none were taken off the course by ambulance.

The heat contributed to fast times at Santa Anita.

“We had two days that showcased the best racing in the world,” Santa Anita president Ron Charles said Oct. 26. “The track was fair to everyone and the best horses won. That’s what we were trying to accomplish. People were able to wager with confidence.”

BC Classic Slide Show
BC 08 ClassicBreeders' Cup Classic 2008

No pacesetters were able to go gate to wire on the Pro-Ride surface. Twelve of the 13 winners stalked the leaders from mid-pack or came from far back. Only one, the Bob Baffert-trained Midshipman , was close to the pace. The Bessemer Trust Juvenile (gr. I) winner took the lead before the field went a half-mile and held off Square Eddie in the stretch.

Baffert, who also won with Midnight Lute  in the Sentient Flight Group Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) on Oct. 25, has been critical of synthetic surfaces, at least for racing purposes. But he said the track did not compromise his horses’ chances during the Breeders’ Cup.

“The only one that was pissed off was Indian Blessing,” Baffert said. The 3-year-old filly faded as the favorite but held for second after going to the front in the Sentient Flight Group Filly & Mare Sprint Oct. 24.

“Horses with a quick, low action like she has aren’t able to dig in,” Baffert said. “They bounce up and down more. Indian Blessing really struggled with the track, but I wasn’t surprised. She got beat by a hell of a performance (from Ventura).”

In the immediate aftermath of the Classic, Curlin’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, said European horses have an edge on synthetic tracks because they are more conducive to grass runners.

A record 30 European horses competed in this year’s Breeders’ Cup, and trainer Ralph Beckett, who saddled Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Muhhannak, said to expect even more from the continent next year, when the Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita.

BC Turf Slide Show
BC 08 TurfBreeders' Cup Turf 2008


“I think that if he can do it, it shows that everyone can,” said Beckett, whose Muhhannak was his first Breeders’ Cup starter. “I think you could see 50 coming over next year. If they go to Churchill the year after that and run on dirt, it would be a different situation entirely.”

John Gosden, trainer of Classic winner Raven’s Pass, said the synthetic track was what attracted him to the race.

“The game is opened up for us now because of the synthetic surfaces,” said Gosden, who trained in Southern California for more than 10 years before moving to Great Britain. “I would normally run in the (Turf) Mile, but we were tempted to try for the big one because it’s a level playing field to us.”