TURF PREVIEW 2003: Home Field Advantage

Invaders from Europe are formidable in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). No North American-based runner has captured the 1 1/2-mile race since Buck's Boy in 1998. All the winners since have been based in England or Ireland.

But the advantage changes when the Breeders' Cup is staged in Southern California, the site of this year's renewal. Two of the Turf's five winners in the Golden State--Manila (1986) and Chief Bearhart (1997)--raced exclusively in North America before their triumphs. Two more--Theatrical (1987) and Kotashaan (1993)--ran here for extended periods following European campaigns. Only Lashkari (1984) was successful without a prior start on this continent.

Based on those results, it's not surprising that some of Europe's biggest stars will be missing this year. Dalakhani, the winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Lucien Barriere (Fr-I), was retired. Alamshar was scheduled to run once more in England after being sold to the Japan Racing Association for stud duty next year. Kris Kin, who struggled home 11th in the Arc, also is headed to stud. And Ange Gabriel, ninth in the Arc, has other plans.

The pre-entries do include the 2002 winner, High Chaparral, but the Ireland-based runner may not be as powerful as he was a year ago. Bothered by shoulder problems, he did not begin his 2003 campaign until August. He won the Royal Whip (Ire-II) and Ireland The Food Island Champion (Ire-I) Stakes, then finished third in the Arc.

Another European standout, Falbrav, could end up in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) instead of the Turf. His connections are considering the Classic because there have been so many defections. They also think Falbrav has enough speed to be effective. He is coming into the Breeders' Cup off a two-length victory at a mile in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I).

Even though the $2-million Turf won't be filled with Europe's best, the race still will have plenty of international flavor. Storming Home has competed in both North America and Europe. A homebred raced by Sheikh Maktoum, Storming Home was a group I winner in England before joining trainer Neil Drysdale's stable in California for the 2003 season. The 5-year-old son of Machiavellian posted victories in the Jim Murray Memorial and Charles Whittingham Memorial (gr. IT) Handicaps on the West Coast, then tackled the Arlington Million (gr. IT). He finished first, but bolted just before the wire; the stewards disqualified Storming Home and placed him fourth.

While the erratic performance raised eyebrows, Storming Home later redeemed himself in the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship Stakes (gr. IT) at Santa Anita. He unleashed a powerful closing kick to defeat Johar by a half-length.

Godolphin Racing's Sulamani is another contender with both European and domestic ties. He is a champion and group I winner in France and a group I winner in Dubai. But the 4-year-old Hernando colt has made his last two starts in this country. Sulamani picked up a victory in the Arlington Million via Storming Home's disqualification. More recently, he turned in a game effort as the 3-5 favorite in the Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT). After nearly falling while approaching the top of the Belmont Park stretch, Sulamani recovered quickly and charged to the lead, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.

Turf candidates who have competed only in North America include Johar, Balto Star, and The Tin Man. Johar rallied in the Clement L. Hirsch, but couldn't hold off Storming Home. Balto Star scored in the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT), but finished third in the Turf Classic. The Tin Man was fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf.