10/28/2008 12:00AM

Are the Brits simply better?


TUCSON, Ariz. - Where was Paul Revere when we needed him to warn the folks at Santa Anita that the British were coming? He could have at least ridden to Lexington - Kentucky, not Massachusetts - to alert breeders that things have changed, and they better study the lessons.

It may be too early to assess the full impact of Saturday's British invasion - they won four Breeders' Cup races, led by the impressive victory by Raven's Pass in the Classic - but it's not too early for the skilled turf writers of England.

Chris McGrath, writing in The Independent, got carried away a bit, but he reflected the British view. "Make no mistake," he wrote, "Saturday marked a seismic shift in the Turf's international balance of power. To some American horsemen, it felt like the end of the world as they knew it."

No one, even a crushed Steve Asmussen, who dismissed the $5 million Classic with contempt as "a turf race," may have felt it was the end of the world, even though it could have marked the end of Curlin's run toward Horse of the Year. The brilliance of Zenyatta's last-to-first performance brought memories of Silky Sullivan coming from the San Gabriel Mountains, or the main drag in Arcadia, to catch a field, with Joe Hernandez illuminating his heroic charges with his accented calls, part of Santa Anita's lore.

John Gosden, trainer of Raven's Pass, knows that lore. He began his distinguished career at Santa Anita, and after scoring England's first victory in the Classic, he told Peter Allison of The Scotsman, "With my wife and family based with me here at Santa Anita for 11 years, it doesn't get any better than this. . . To me this is a dream come true, and it's a day I will cherish for the rest of my life."

Gosden, one of Thoroughbred racing's most intellectual trainers, had a brief conversation with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who handed him the Classic trophy.

"I know things are tough with your budget right now . . . I know we're facing a recession," Gosden told the governor. "But look, this is celebration of life here. We're having fun."

That was true for no one more than Frankie Dettori, and it is troubling to read that his post-race celebration after his win on Raven's Pass was "under review."

I was not aware that jubilation is a punishable offense, or that a whip tossed in the air in the exultation of victory in America's richest race is a danger to anyone.

It is not a hand grenade and not likely to hurt anyone or inflict damage on either horse or human if it hit them as it fell. It was a highlight of the day to watch a jubilant Dettori, who has won Europe's greatest races, carried away by the moment, his arms outstretched wide above his head.

Such a moment is not an occasion for decorum. It is a celebration of a momentous and memorable event, and steward Albert Christiansen and his colleagues should lighten up and take themselves less seriously. If they are really concerned about whips causing damage, they should sit and review Saturday's proceedings and the copious use of the bats in the stretch drives.

As the championship events were going on in California, whips flailing furiously, pretty Plainridge Racecourse in Massachusetts was conducting its first whipless race. The track has decided whipping has gotten out of hand and suspended its two leading drivers for excessive use of their weapons.

I watched the stretch drive of the whipless event at Plainridge, the third held in the last two weeks in harness racing, with the first two being successful experiments at Pompano Park in Florida and Indiana Downs in Indiana. I could not tell the difference between them and any other races on the card. The winner at Plainridge covered the mile, without a tap, in his fastest performance save one in his last seven starts.

To its credit, Plainridge plans to schedule at least one whipless race a week.

But back to the British.

Their invasion is not an American phenomenon. In Australia, where 24 horses will contest the $5 million Melbourne Cup, a national holiday, a record nine Europeans were paid up.

It may be, as Andrew Beyer believes, that there is clear correlation between form on turf and on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride, but McGrath, in his Independent article, had a different explanation. He concluded, "The harsh possibility is that European horses, with turf pedigrees, are not just better suited to the new surfaces, but better full stop."

In all the tens of thousands of words scribbled and shouted last week, not one was heard about the man responsible for all this synthetic chatter. No one - Gosden and Dettori included - could have enjoyed the day more than Richard Shapiro, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. He and his colleagues made the gutsy call mandating synthetics, and it had to be a gloriously rewarding afternoon for them.