11/13/2009 12:00AM

Dirt or synthetic - there isn't room for both


NEW YORK - A number of trends were confirmed at this year's Breeders' Cup, none more than the fact that racing on synthetics has very little to do with racing on dirt.

The victory of synthetic specialist Zenyatta in the Classic, a race in which she was followed home by turf horses Gio Ponti and Twice Over, who had one synthetic start between them, left no doubt the American tracks that replaced their dirt tracks with synthetic surfaces have, in effect, installed a second turf course. The effects of those ill-advised changes will continue to wreak havoc upon handicapping and breeding in America until they are reversed.

The victory of Dundalk Polytrack specialist Man of Iron in the Marathon, in which he was followed home by turfers Cloudy's Knight and Mastery, offers further evidence that dirt is the odd man out in today's confusing track mix. Dirt horses were nowhere to be seen in the Juvenile Fillies. They were no better than fourth with Sara Louise in the Filly and Mare Sprint and filled only one of the first five places in the Ladies' Classic (Music Note was third).

In the Sprint, the only two dirt sprinters in the field, Capt. Candyman Can and Join in the Dance, finished eighth and ninth in a field of nine. In the Juvenile, the European turfer Vale of York beat three synthetic types to the wire. And Furthest Land ran back to his big-figure synthetic win in Turfway Park's Kentucky Cup Classic to take the Dirt Mile.

Unfortunately, the pendulum is likely to swing the other way in the Cup next year, when dirt horses will have a decided advantage at Churchill Downs. Is this any way to run the most important race meeting in the world? Indeed, is this any way to run racing day in, day out? The sooner we begin racing on turf and either dirt or synthetics, the better, but this country must choose now, or it risks looking even more schizoid than it currently does to the outside world.

European-trained horses won six Cup races, bettering their mark of five at last year's event. Two of their victories, however, came in races that may be scratched from the Cup card next year. The Marathon and the Juvenile Turf could disappear along with the Juvenile Fillies Turf as Breeders' Cup Ltd. seeks to cut costs.

One overlooked trend is the European dominance in the longest Cup races. In the last two years, Euros have won six of the eight longest Cup races - both Marathons, both Turfs, the 2008 Classic, and this year's Filly and Mare Turf. This is no coincidence. In fact, it is evidence of a decades-long trend, during which European breeders have continued to breed for stamina as well as speed, as European owners seek the same qualities.

It is worth noting that only three of the 52 horses that appear on the latest list of the World Thoroughbred Rankings earned their ratings at sprint distances. All three - Sacred Kingdom, Scenic Blast, and Rocket Man - are based in Hong Kong or Australia.

The Marathon victory of Man of Iron, who broke an 0-for-28 Breeders' Cup schneid for Coolmore, was achieved with the aid of Lasix. Man of Iron was the only one of seven Aidan O'Brien-trained Cup runners that ran with the diuretic, and there was a reason for that. He ran while in the process of being sold by Coolmore to Samanda Racing, which wanted him to run with Lasix. That he was the only Coolmore winner last weekend has prompted Magnier, Tabor, Smith and Co. to review their no-Lasix Cup policy.

Oddly, all seven of O'Brien's Cup runners ran with Butazolidin, a painkiller far more detrimental to the health of horses than Lasix. Only seven Cup horses ran without Bute. Two of those, Goldikova and Informed Decision, won their races; Cloudy's Knight finished second in his. Besides the six Coolmores, only Mushka, Fleeting Spirit, and Zacinto ran without Lasix. Only Mushka cracked the first three, finishing second in the Ladies' Classic.

Man of Iron's new owners will put him under the care of trainer Luca Cumani, who loves to test his stayers in the Melbourne Cup. Cumani finished second in the great Australian race with Purple Moon in 2007 and Bauer in 2008. With the Breeders' Cup Marathon probably history, expect to see Man of Iron at Flemington instead of Churchill Downs next November.

The news about Cup repeaters Conduit and Goldikova is positive. Conduit, who has been sold by Ballymacoll Stud to Shigeyuki Okada's Big Red Farm, where he will stand at stud next spring, will probably go off as the favorite in the Japan Cup on Nov. 29. Freddie Head has hinted strongly that Goldikova will remain in training next year for a try at a record third win in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Henry Cecil will have Filly and Mare Turf winner Midday back in training next year. He also is seriously considering the Dubai World Cup for Twice Over, who was third in the Classic, especially as the World Cup will now be run on Meydan's new synthetic surface. Vale of York, Godolphin's Juvenile winner, will attempt to reach the Kentucky Derby by way of the UAE 2000 Guineas and UAE Derby on that synthetic surface. That, however, seems like a stretch, given the iron curtain that currently separates dirt racing from the synthetic variety.