11/04/2013 4:15PM

Breeders' Cup: Euros win five races, sweep three exactas

Susie Raisher
European horses won the Marathon, Juvenile Turf, Filly and Mare Turf, Juvenile Fillies Turf, and the Turf.

California, it was said, never was the ideal spot for Europeans to ship for the Breeders’ Cup. The trip was too far, the weather too hot, the courses not suited to the horses. When Santa Anita switched from a synthetic surface – which the Euros loved in 2008 and 2009 – back to an American-style dirt track, it was said that the Euros would think twice about shipping, if they shipped at all. And when the Breeders’ Cup’s plan to ban Lasix from all its races slipped away earlier this year, it was said the decision would have a negative impact on overseas participation.

Well, after two days and 14 Breeders’ Cup races in 2013, it says here the Euros aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Carve away Santa Anita’s two synthetic-surface years and European horses had their best Breeders’ Cup showing last weekend. European-based horses won five of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, adding three seconds and a third. Outstrip and Giovanni Boldini ran one-two in the Juvenile Turf; Dank and Romantica ran one-two in the Filly and Mare Turf; and Magician and The Fugue ran one-two in the Turf. The only turf race in which a European horse was entered and did not win was the Mile, where Olympic Glory never got out of a gallop and checked in ninth.

It was a big bounce-back showing from overseas runners after two decent and one somewhat disappointing Breeders’ Cups. Last year, at another Santa Anita dirt-and-turf Breeders’ Cup, Euros went only 2-0-2, while at Churchill in 2011 they were 2-3-3 and just 2-1-1 there in 2010. The recent record suggests that contrary to common opinion, California is a better destination for European runners than Kentucky, where the fall climate more closely approximates conditions back home. Friday and Saturday this year, temperatures soared into the 80s and it was downright hot in the full sunshine, while the turf course was super-firm and lightning fast. Still the Euros roared. Go figure.

Since the Breeders’ Cup expanded to 14 races in 2008 (there were 15 in 2011 and 2012 during the Juvenile Sprint’s short existence), it has been overseas horses reaping the benefits. The 2007 Cup was at soggy Monmouth Park, whose yielding turf figured to favor the Euros but didn’t, with Euros failing to win any of the 11 races and George Washington suffering a fatal breakdown in the Classic. In the 86 Breeders’ Cup races since then, Europeans have put together 22-11-10 record, which is all the more remarkable considering how many of those races were run on dirt, over which North American horses have a decided edge, and in which few Europeans even participated.

The creation of 2-year-old turf races has worked especially well for European runners, and their domination of the Juvenile Turf has been particularly stark. Besides the one-two finish this year, European horses won four of the last six editions of that race.

This year’s performance by Aidan O’Brien’s stable also should ensure robust future participation from his powerhouse Irish operation. O’Brien won the Turf with Magician, who ran the best race of his life to nail The Fugue in the final strides, and might have won the Juvenile Turf had Giovanni Boldini not moved so early into a sizzling pace. And O’Brien figures to be hungrier than ever for an elusive victory in the Classic, which, for the second time, he came close to winning.

Giants Causeway finished second to Tiznow in the 2000 Classic, and Declaration of War probably ran equally well in the $5 million race this year. Declaration of War showed plenty of speed in his dirt debut to take up a perfect pace-tracking spot, and he finished third, beaten a nose and a head while more than three lengths clear of 2012 Classic winner Fort Larned in what seemed like one of the deeper Classics of recent history.

Ironically, the European contingent for the 2013 Cup was slow to take firm shape this year, and for a time looked like it might be coming up soft. Instead, the Euros rocked the house – and we should expect to see even more of them next autumn.