10/30/2008 11:00PM

Cup Day proved to be a global revolution


NEW YORK - The biggest winners at this year's Breeders' Cup were Sheikh Mohammed and Pro-Ride Racing Australia.

Although his name will not be found among the list of Cup winners, Sheikh Mohammed won three Cup races. Midshipman took the Juvenile carrying his Darley colors. Donativum gave him a sweep of the 2-year-old colt races when he landed the Juvenile Turf. Raven's Pass, trained, as is Donativum, by John Gosden, capped the Sheikh's big day with a historic triumph in the Classic, giving Britain its first victory in America's richest race after 19 failures.

Donativum and Raven's Pass ran in the colors of Sheikh Mohammed's wife, Princess Haya, the daughter of Jordan's late King Hussein. Don't be fooled: Sheikh Mohammed calls the shots on both horses in conjunction with Gosden. He bought them both from Robert McNair, who was left holding the barrel after having sold his entire Stonerside Stable to Sheikh Mohammed a few weeks earlier.

Donativum will be trained for the Kentucky Derby since, as a gelding, he is ineligible for the European classics. Gosden has set the new Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the Kempton Park Polytrack on March 18 - victory in which guarantees a spot in next May's Kentucky Derby - as his early season target. Midshipman, trained by Bob Baffert, is likely to be switched to Godolphin and sent to Dubai for his Derby preparations, although Baffert is lobbying against such a move.

Donativum gave Sheikh Mohammed's arch rivals at Coolmore fits by denying Westphalia victory in the Juvenile Turf. Raven's Pass did likewise as he kept Henrythenavigator out of the Classic winner's circle. Raven's Pass has already been installed by bookmakers William Hill as the favorite for next year's Classic, although a better bet might be to weigh in on whoever wins next September's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes to take the Classic, as Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator were one-two in both the QEII and the Classic this year.

After the great Cup success of the new Pro-Ride surface, everyone in the world save Steve Asmussen will be lining up at their headquarters in Yarra Glen, Victoria, in Australia to have their synthetic surface installed in their backyards, driveways, and anywhere else where a smooth, kind, unbiased surface is required. Pro-Ride appears to be state-of-the-art in the synthetic world, looking like dirt but riding like turf.

Yet American jockeys still ride on Pro-Ride and other synthetics as if they were racing on traditional dirt. Riders on front-runners cut out insanely fast fractions again and again on Cup weekend. Seven of the eight Pro-Ride Cup races were won by horses who came from far out of it, while the pacesetters and their prompters weakened to finish well behind. Only in the Juvenile, where Midshipman and Square Eddie were one-two most of the way, did speed hold up, and then because they set sensible fractions of 23.55 and 47.08 seconds.

Jockeys should understand that because there is virtually no kickback on synthetics there is no need to set a breakneck pace. Front-to-back racing, i.e. races in which the first part is run faster than the last part, had its origins in America as riders attempted to avoid the kickback on dirt tracks. Kicking dirt in a horse's face also has the effect of discouraging closers. On Pro-Ride, there is no kickback to avoid, so why set suicidally fast early fractions? Perhaps the results of this year's Breeders' Cup will prompt riders to take it easy on the front end, as they now do in turf races.

There was agreement that the best Cup performance belonged to Conduit, whose Turf victory was rated 128 by the Racing Post and received a Beyer Speed Figure of 116. The Racing Post gave Raven's Pass a 127 in the Classic and Goldikova a 125 in the Mile.

With Curlin having met his Waterloo at the hands of Raven's Pass, the claim that he is, or ever was, the best horse in the world has been exposed. In the Classic he was facing true Group/Grade 1-class horses for the first time this year, and two of them beat him. The surface had nothing to do with the result. Remember that both Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator were, like Curlin, making their debuts on a synthetic surface. Moreover, those two had to travel twice as far as Curlin to get to Santa Anita. Curlin ran much the same race he did in struggling to beat Grade 2 winner Wanderin Boy in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and allowance winner Past the Point in the Woodward.

Postrace comments by Curlin's trainer, Steve Asmussen - which he later recanted - that Curlin had been beaten by the surface, were pure sour grapes. So was Rick Dutrow's crack that Goldikova - who gave his defending champ Kip Deville a thrashing in the Mile - is a freak. She is nothing of the sort. In fact, she is exactly what she was bred to be, trained to finish with a rush, even after tracking a fast pace of 46.52 seconds for the first half.

Goldikova got the last eighth in an incredible 11.10 seconds. That is not freakish, it is greatness. In so doing she made Freddie Head the first man in history to both ride and train a Breeders' Cup winner, the Frenchman having scored twice in the Mile aboard Miesque, of whom Goldikova gave a very good imitation last Saturday.

We now have a situation where Eclipse Award voters for Horse of the Year must choose between Curlin, who was beating Grade 2 males all year long, and Zenyatta, who was beating Grade 1 females all year long. But employing a global perspective, the three best performances of the year in America belong to Raven's Pass, Conduit and Goldikova.