11/02/2011 4:53PM

Breeders' Cup: Europeans figure to dominate Turf

Barbara D. Livingston
Sea Moon, an improving 3-year-old, will try to give Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms its first win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Cape Blanco, retired now, came and quickly conquered, shipping three times from Ireland to the United States and winning three of this country’s top grass races, the Man o’ War, the Arlington Million, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Back home, Cape Blanco had finished sixth, fourth, and 13th the last three times he raced on turf.

The lesson? The right European can dominate a group of American grass horses that generously could be called mediocre. The problem? There are five Euros in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, and a case can be made for any of them. It’s all about which Euro shipper best adapts to the particular demands – tight left-handed turns, faster pace – of American racing.

“That is always a ponderable of Europeans,” said Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms. “We have longer straights and gentler turns. You can work horses all you like on nice narrow tracks, but you don’t know until you try them in a race.”

Juddmonte has won four Breeders’ Cup races, but is overdue for a Turf victory, having gone 0 for 10 in the race with luminaries as bright as highly rated Arc de Triomphe winner Dancing Brave. They have two chances in this year’s race: Sea Moon, a 3-year-old long on potential and fairly short on actual accomplishment, and Midday, a BC veteran who won the Filly and Mare Turf in 2009 and finished second in that race last year.

Michael Stoute, a four-time Turf winner, handles Sea Moon, whose form should put bettors in mind of Conduit, who won the Turf when he was 3. While Conduit won the St. Leger Stakes in his last race before the Turf, Sea Moon finished third in the St. Leger, but his trip in that long-distance race was troubled.

“He just got continually blocked in,” Grimthorpe said. “It was incredibly frustrating.”

The St. Leger marked Sea Moon’s Group 1 debut, but his eight-length win in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes in August suggests Sea Moon has considerable upside.

“We had him as a potential [Epsom] Derby horse at the beginning of the year, but he took a while to come, minor issues,” Grimthorpe said. “He’s a progressive horse.”

Midday, by contrast, simply is what she is after 22 starts at age 5. But what she is, is one of the world’s most accomplished mares, with six Group or Grade 1 wins and almost $3.5 million in earnings. Midday, however, ran below form at Churchill last year when edged in the Filly and Mare Turf as the odds-on favorite, and Juddmonte hopes the longer 1 1/2-mile distance of the $3 million Turf gives Midday more time to sort herself out. Regular rider Tom Queally has the mount, while Ryan Moore, Stoute’s stable jockey, rides Sea Moon.

Sarafina, another filly, might be as good as Midday. She had won six of nine starts and never finished worse than third before coming home a flat seventh as one of the favorites in the Oct. 2 Arc. Hot weather and a fast-playing course – neither of which will be in play Saturday – might have accounted for the dud, but Sarafina has made her first trip outside France this week and was agitated during her first two mornings of American training.

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“She seems a little worried,” exercise rider Eric Alloix said as he brought Sarafina back from the track Wednesday morning. “But I’m not.”

Trainer Alain Royer-Dupre, due in Louisville late this week, won the 1984 Turf with Lashkari. Christophe Lemaire has the mount on the three-time Group 1-winning filly.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien’s two Turf entrants, Await the Dawn and St Nicholas Abbey, also can contend. Await the Dawn had been considered a BC Classic hope until a late-summer illness set him back. St Nicholas Abbey was a top 2-year-old of 2009 before a lost 3-year-old season. He beat Midday by one length in the Coronation Cup in June and led the Arc at the top of the stretch before fading to fifth. Both O’Brien horses like firm going and a left-handed course.

Dean’s Kitten looks like the leading American hope. Third in the Arlington Million and a close second in the Joe Hirsch, Dean’s Kitten has come forward this year through maturation and longer distances. His trainer, Mike Maker, noted the lack of pace in the three-turn Turf.

“We might inherit the lead,” Maker said. “I don’t mind being controlling speed at all.”

But with five capable Euros in town, it might not matter.

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Sea Moon
M. Stoute
R. Moore n/a, n/a, n/a His win two back was only in a Gr. 2, but he's dangerous if he duplicates that 9-2
H. Cecil
T. Queally n/a, n/a, n/a Intriguing that this Cup veteran chose this over a 3rd straight F&M Turf start 7-2
A. de Royer-Dupre
C. Lemaire n/a, n/a, n/a Form prior to her Arc loss was stellar, and she's had lots of success vs. males 5-2
St Nicholas Abbey
A. O'Brien
J. O'Brien n/a, n/a, n/a Seems a half-notch below the best Euros here; not totally out if it, however 6-1
Await the Dawn
A. O'Brien
J. Leparoux n/a, n/a, n/a Disappointed in first Gr. 1 attempt last time; freshened since, must improve 4-1
Dean's Kitten
M. Maker
R. Dominguez 104, 97, 84 Comes into this off the best race of his life, but that was on very deep going 10-1
Teaks North
J. Sallusto
J. Castellano 93, 100, 96 That he's won two Gr. 1 races this year could win you a bar bet; in deep here 20-1
Brilliant Speed
T. Albertrani
J. Velazquez 92, 90, 89 Back to turf, which is what he does best, but this 3yo is aiming very high here 20-1
Stately Victor
M. Maker
M. Smith 91, 99, 89 Limited synthetic specialist doesn't seem as good on turf; way overmatched 30-1