09/20/2010 8:43AM

Europeans Look Stronger Than Ever


So the European shippers were only 1 for 3 in Sunday's three big turf stakes at Woodbine, and not an especially impressive 1 for 3 at that. But if you, like me, thought that the Breeders' Cup grass races this year would be easy pickings for overseas invaders after the mediocre likes of Chinchon and Debussy came over and won two of our biggest turf races of the summer, the United Nations and Arlington Million, then nothing that happened at Woodbine Sunday should have made you think differently.

The successful European shipper Sunday was Redwood in the Northern Dancer Turf Stakes. But despite owning arguably stronger Group 2 Euro form than Chinchon and Debussy had, which made him the favorite, and despite facing a decidedly softer group than Chinchon and Debussy beat in the U.N. and Arlington Million, Redwood's victory was a real struggle. Redwood was deftly put into the game early when his jockey sensed the very slow pace, and he got a huge base on balls when longshot (29-1) pacesetter Fifty Proof drifted off the rail into the stretch, giving him a wide opening to charge on through. Yet Redwood needed every bit of that good fortune as he was all out to narrowly take Fifty Proof, who had never before run in a stakes race, and whose allowance victory in his last start was his first outside of Canadian bred competition.

But where the Northern Dancer really signalled how formidable the Europeans figure to be in the 1 1-2 mile Breeders' Cup Turf is that, with the likes of Fifty Proof running second and no one else making a favorable impression, this race was yet another illustration of the dearth of quality 12-furlong grass horses in North America. Gio Ponti is not a 1 1-2 mile horse, and the fact that his next start is to come in the Shadwell Mile is pretty much admission of that. Perhaps the best and/or most consistent extended distance grass horse we have is Winchester. But Winchester was 21-1 when he upset the Manhattan, his first stakes victory since 2008, and he was beaten in his two starts since, most recently at 3-5. When Winchester is one of your best hopes for the Breeders' Cup Turf, it says a lot.

The Europeans really tried to rub our nose in it with Latin Love in the Canadian Stakes, and almost succeeded. On her very best day, Latin Love is a marginal Group 3 performer in Ireland, yet she was a strong second choice in the betting and gave favored Miss Keller all she wanted until the late stages when she settled for second, notably far ahead of the rest.

Miss Keller is a nice filly who is just getting good right now, and she liked the stretch out to nine furlongs after seven straight starts at shorter distances. But there is a world of difference between races at nine furlongs, and races at 1 3-8 miles, the distance of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs. This enormous distinction throws light on the fact that, as is the case in the BC Turf, we in North America have few, if any high quality females whose comfort zone is 11 furlongs to meet a real European challenge. Proviso is our best grass female, but nine furlongs is pushing it for her. Wasted Tears is a miler. Forever Together can get an extended distance, but she simply isn't what she used to be, much like American turf racing in general these days.

The big European disappointment Sunday was Famous Name, who could do no better than seventh as the favorite in the Woodbine Mile, never really running a step. With him out of the mix, Court Vision, who is no stranger to winning big races, but who had actually finished first only once in his last 11 starts, benefitted from a hotly contested pace and a very good ride by Robbie Albarado to beat The Usual Q. T. But The Usual Q. T. lost significantly more ground than Court Vision did, and there doesn't seem to be much between these two when they fire their best shots. Both deserve a chance at the Breeders' Cup Mile. But you can't think anyone would actually be eager to run in that event what with the great European mare Goldikova taking aim on a third straight Mile score.

One other note about the Woodbine Mile. I watched the race on TVG, and I'm not sure if TVG received a special broadcast from Woodbine that differed from the traditional split-screen in house feed, or if a TVG director took control of the race broadcast. Whichever the case, there were some poor directorial decisions made during the running that made the race incredibly frustrating to watch. A few strides out of the gate we got an isolated shot of front runner Straight Story at the total exclusion of the 12 other runners in the race. So unless you bet on Straight Story (if you did, sorry, he wound up last), you had no idea for a few very long and important seconds if your horse was running second, seventh, or 13th, or if he had trouble, or lost the rider. Then, on at least two occasions on the far turn, we got a close up shot of the first three runners at the total exclusion of the other 10. This took away any sense of the important move The Usual Q. T. was making.

I have complained about this for years, unfortunately to no avail, so one more time won't  hurt. Making numerous camera cuts during a race shows less of the action and provides less information, not more, and is an enormous disservice to bettors. Just tell us the story with a simple pan shot, or split screen if you must. All we as bettors want to know is where our horses are. Not being able to see where our horses are, especially at crucial stages like four jumps out of the gate or around the far turn when critical moves are made, is wrongheaded and makes you feel like you're betting in the dark. Sometimes, "coverage" like that makes you wonder why you bet in the first place.