10/30/2010 11:44AM

Beware Of Breeders' Cup Generalizations


There are two broad handicapping generalizations about this Breeders' Cup that I feel need to have a few holes poked in them. So here goes:

First is the thinking that California's synthetic track horses will be at a severe disadvantage competing on natural dirt at Churchill Downs.

It's obvious that part of the reasoning behind this theory has to do with the abject failure in the last two Breeders' Cups on the old synthetic surface at Santa Anita by horses who had their final preps on dirt. For the record, 43 horses started in synthetic track Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita in 2008 and 2009 off of preps on dirt. Not one of them won, and not every one of them was hopelessly overmatched.

So, the thinking is the tables will be turned in the opposite direction what with this Breeders' Cup being run on a dirt track. Maybe there would have been better cause to buy into this if the soap opera last summer concerning the Oak Tree meeting, which hosts California's final Breeders' Cup prep races, had never taken place. But the series of events that forced this year's Oak Tree meet to Hollywood Park might have actually been the best thing that could have happened to California's Breeders' Cup hopefuls.

Many people believe that Hollywood's Cushion Track is the synthetic track that is most like natural dirt, and I am right along with them. So horses who prepped on Cushion Track this year in Oak Tree races like the Lady's Secret, Goodwood, Norfolk, Oak Leaf, and Ancient Title might have a much better chance to successfully transition to natural dirt than if those races had been run on a different, less dirt-like synthetic track. Now, it will really just be a matter of how the California horses stack up to their counterparts from other geographical areas.

The other generalization out there that needs to be poked is the notion that the relatively cooler climate in Louisville is beneficial to European shippers.

I've got news for you: After watching second stringers like Chinchon, Debussy, Redwood, Hibaayeb, and Joshua Tree come over here this year from Europe and win one major race after another, and after seeing Swain, Giant's Causeway, and Sakhee come over in years past and narrowly miss in Breeders' Cup Classics on dirt, it has been obvious that the really good Europeans would be formidable in this Breeders' Cup no matter what the weather is.

But the subject of European shippers and the climate really should have been retired after the 2003 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. In a 99 degree blast furnace and with ash falling from nearby wildfires, European shippers Six Perfections, Islington, and High Chaparral all won, proving that European horsemen really have this "coming to America" thing down pat, regardless of the climate.

And for the record, in the three warm weather Breeders' Cups since then (Lone Star in 2004, and Santa Anita in 2008 and 2009), European shippers Ouija Board, Muhannak, Goldikova, Donativum, Conduit, Raven's Pass, Pounced, Vale of York, Goldikova (again), Conduit (again), Man of Iron, and Midday all won. That's a pretty good record, and it is hard to believe that the Europeans would have won even more races if the weather was 12 degrees cooler.