A horse walks in the paddock at Lone Star Park.

A horse walks in the paddock at Lone Star Park.

Lone Star Park

The Euros: Will They Make the Trip?

By Steve Haskin and Mark Popham
Will Europeans Reach For the Star? – by Steve Haskin

European horsemen, like the vast majority of Americans, will be Texas strangers this year, as the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships comes to Lone Star Park for the first time. The question is, will they be willing to journey into the unknown to run at a track that has never hosted a grade I stakes? Preliminary indications say yes.

Several European representatives have already toured Lone Star and come away with a positive feeling, while Breeders' Cup vice-president Pam Blatz-Murff and former European and American rider, Cash Asmussen, recently visited training yards in England, Ireland, and France to touch base with many of the leading trainers. It is apparent that Breeders' Cup Ltd. and the European community recognize the fact that this is not your typical Breeders' Cup. There was a great deal of reassuring that had to be done, and it appears that has been accomplished.

"The Europeans are enthusiastic about the Breeders' Cup in general, and they realize they need the right kind of horse for the kind of racing we have," Blatz-Murff said. "They were concerned about the fact that there has never been a group I race run at Lone Star Park before; the best they've ever run is a group III. But, they are comfortable with the knowledge that the turf course is designed very much the same as Santa Anita.

"Obviously, we're not going to be getting the horses who like good to soft going. We're going to get those who like good to firm. The track superintendent has been working very diligently to build up a thatch cushion under the Bermuda grass so that there is a bounce to it. The way the turns are set up, the horses are led gradually into them. And even though it is a seven-furlong turf course, and is going to be tight, as it is at Churchill Downs, there's a decent run-up to the first turn. We also have sent the plans for both the turf and dirt course to the British Jockey Club in Newmarket, so they can install gallops with those dimensions for the horses to practice on."

Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for Khalid Abdulla's Juddmonte Farms, walked the Lone Star course Sept. 15 and he was happy enough with what he saw then.

Juddmonte hopes to run Polish Summer in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) and Nebraska Tornado in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). Both are trained by Andre Fabre in France.

Speaking Sept. 27, Grimthorpe said:"I thought that the turf course was fine. There was a good cushion on it -- the short Bermuda grass is not what Europeans are used to though.

"I said to them at the time that from the mile and three eighths start you run for a furlong before you go into a tight left-handed bend so the draw will play a part in that race but whether it is outside, inside, or middle draw to be desired, I don't know.

"The turf track was in good nick -- it is just over seven furlongs round -- the configuration is not dissimilar to Santa Anita except except Santa Anita has a turf chute.

"I saw the quarantine barns which were just being finished. They looked like they were going to be fine while the temperature should be pleasant, in the 70s.

"It can be very humid there but I don't think it will be at the end of October. It was quite a hot day I was there but it was fine in the barns.

Blatz-Murff said one of the major concerns has been the reports that the Lone Star track is hard and fast. "(Superintendent) Ron Moore assures he will have that surface as fair and consistent and unbiased as he possibly can. It isn't the red dirt it used to be. It is brown, with a very good mixture of silt, sand, and organic fibers, and all the other things it needs to have a good consistency. He uses plenty of water to hold it together."

Asmussen said the European trainers he talked to are "just trying to find one or two of their horses that can stick their head above the surface and show they can run.

"Trainers who have horses that are still in top form are looking forward to coming over," he said. "Like at Santa Anita, it will be more favoring to horses who have the speed underneath them rather than a long-galloping horse that takes time to get warmed up. But at Lone Star, if there's a good pace you can come from anywhere, so it's not just a speed-favoring track."

Allen Kershaw, general manager of Sheikh Maktoum's Gainsborough Farm, said he liked what he saw during his visit to Lone Star. "I'm optimistic that the people at Lone Star are going to make this right, and do everything they can for the safety of the horses," he said. "The turf course looked very good; it's nice and level, and the turns are safe, as far as the angles. Some Europeans may think the turns are a little tight. The grass is not going to be long and thick like New York. Let's just say it's going to be a nice fast course, but it'll be a safe one. I'd say a good Ascot horse from this summer should do very well on it."

Patrick Biancone, who trains for Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, called Lone Star a "baby Santa Anita" and said he felt right at home there. "It's a lovely place," Biancone said. "The track will be a big advantage for the West Coast horses. The turf course is very wide with a lot of cushion. The turns are banked, which I like, especially for the young hiorses. The good news is it's a nice track; the bad news is we cant use the track as an excuse if we lose."

After talking to Biancone, Demi O'Byrne, bloodstock manager for Tabor and Smith, and for John Magnier of Coolmore Stud, said he has no problem with the track. "The first things I heard about the track frightened me," he said. "The turns are sharp, but, apart from Belmont and Woodbine, all the tracks in America are sharp, and if you're going there, you have to be aware of that. I don't think we'll have any problems with the European horses other than finding ones good enough."

Alan Cooper, racing manager to the Niarchos family, is another to have visited Lone Star. He was there Sept. 16.

He revealed Sept. 27 that Bago is being aimed at the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I). The 3-year-old Nashwan colt won his first six races and has been third in his two most recent starts, all on turf.

"I've been to Lone Star Park and, at the moment, our plans are Six Perfections for the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) and Bago for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"Six Perfections will not run beforehand. We are doing the same as last year with her, going straight from running in August to the Breeders' Cup. It is too early to say whether Bago will have a run in between."

Six Perfections won the Mile last year at Santa Anita.

Michael Jarvis, trainer of Rakti, winner of the mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot this past Saturday, said, "The choice (for next run) would seem to lie between the Breeders' Cup Mile and Japan's Mile Championship in Kyoto on Nov. 21.

"I have not received great vibes about Lone Star Park, but Gary (owner Gary Tanaka) may well want to take that route, though I know he is also keen on Japanese racing and there are plenty of pluses about the Kyoto race.

"The sharp bends of Lone Star would certainly not worry Rakti. You need a horse that has plenty of toe and travels in a race, and he showed at Ascot that he does just that. He is not the big, lazy type who needs pushing and kicking -- he is very athletic and would have no trouble taking a handy position."

Jarvis conceded that a pre-race post-parade at the American track might be a problem; at Ascot, Rakti cantered down to the start last before the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.