Manhattan winner Cacique tops Turf field.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Manhattan winner Cacique tops Turf field.
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Barbara D. Livingston

Turf Preview: Home Team

By Richard Griffiths
When you consider that European horses have won 12 (including High Chaparral's 2003 dead heat) of 22 runnings of the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), this year's contingent seems somewhat sketchy.

Last year's smooth 1 3/4-length winner, Shirocco, has bowed out of contention after running a stinker in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere (Fr-I), in which the 5-year-old trailed in last of the eight runners behind his progressive stablemate, Rail Link. He is now destined to take up stud duties, reportedly in the ownership of Darley.

It's amazing how things can change in racing. Just two months ago, it was widely accepted that Shirocco's trainer, Andre Fabre, housed the world's top two middle-distance turf horses in his Chantilly yard, the other being Hurricane Run.

But Hurricane Run's performances have also tapered off and in a manner that has an eerie similarity to those of his sire, Montjeu.

Having excelled as a 3-year-old, yet leaving us with the distinct feeling that there was more to come, Montjeu easily won the 2000 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I) before his form dipped a little in the autumn, finishing fourth in the Arc, second in the Dubai Champion Stakes (Eng-I), and seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Since winning this summer's King George, Hurricane Run has been beaten by Shirocco in the Prix Foy Gray d'Albion Barriere (Fr-II) and finished third to Pride in the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes (Eng-I). Like his sire, it seems Hurricane Run is just losing his edge in the second half of his 4-year-old career. Yet with a place at Coolmore Stud already secured, there is little to lose in a bid for the Turf.

Although Aidan O'Brien has ruled out Dylan Thomas from the Turf following his lackluster run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), the Ballydoyle maestro still looks to have an interesting contender in the form of last year's Ladbrokes St. Leger (Eng-I) winner Scorpion.

Injury kept the son of Montjeu off the track until Oct. 8 this season when, despite starting as the 15-8 favorite, he could only finish second in a 12-furlong listed race at the Curragh, having behaved playfully beforehand. But considering the layoff and some of his form last year--only just beaten by Hurricane Run in the Budweiser Irish Derby (Ire-I), easy winner of the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-I), won this year by Rail Link--Scorpion's season may yet have a sting in the tail. Certainly O'Brien was not at all discouraged by his comeback run. Be warned.

The European challenge is completed by Red Rocks, who comes from the same stable as Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) contender David Junior.

Although he has not finished first past the post since claiming a Newmarket listed race in May, don't be too hasty in turning over the Red Rocks page. The son of Galileo, owned by J. Paul Reddam, has form that in fact has been steadily knitting in the second half of the season.

In July, he was second only to Rail Link in the Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-I) at Longchamp; in August he was beaten only a head by Youmzain in the Great Voltiguer Stakes (Eng-II), and Youmzain not only finished second to Rail Link in the Prix Niel, he subsequently put in a strong run to win a group I prize, the Preis von Europe at Cologne Sept. 24.

Red Rocks then tackled the St. Leger over 14 furlongs and was a non-staying third to Sixties Icon. A drop in trip will suit him just fine.

That all said, the recent successes of Cacique in the Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) and English Channel in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Oct. 7 suggest the home challenge this year is a more-rounded, consistent one than its European rival.

Is there to be an American victory in the Turf? It certainly looks like it.