11/04/2009 1:00AM

Euro contingent looks formidable

Barbara D. Livingston
Rip Van Winkle, at Santa Anita Wednesday, is a heavy Classic favorite in Europe.

Conduit in the Turf and Goldikova in the Mile return to defend their Breeders' Cup titles at Santa Anita Saturday, as European horses will continue to try to improve on their haul of five Cup victories last year.

Juvenile Turf

Godolphin and Coolmore will go head to head with Buzzword and Viscount Nelson, but the one to beware is Pounced. A John Gosden-trained son of Rahy, Pounced is getting good at the right time, having handled a big step up from a maiden victory to second behind the highly regarded Siyouni in the seven-furlong, Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, in which he finished a half-length in front of Buzzword and 2 1/4 lengths ahead of subsequent Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes winner Beethoven. Capable of further improvement, Pounced has the speed to track the leaders and pounce late.

Out of Irish 1000 Guineas and English Oaks winner Imagine and a half-brother to Lagardere winner Horatio Nelson, Viscount Nelson is also due for improvement off his sharp second in the seven-furlong, Group 2 Champagne Stakes. Staying a mile will be no problem for this Giant's Causeway colt. Oasis Dancer won the same race - the Tattersalls Million - won by last year's Juvenile Turf winner Donativum, but this year's Juvenile Turf is tougher.

Turf Sprint

Strike the Deal has blossomed in his last two starts when paired with jockey Kieren Fallon, winning last time in the five-furlong, 34-yard Dubai Duty Free World Trophy. He beat subsequent Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp winner Total Gallery. He is one who should be used in the exotics, but beware his probable poor start.

Dirt Mile

Mastercraftsman, trained by the master Irishman Aidan O'Brien, is a two-time Group 1 winner at a mile on turf who was just a length behind Sea the Stars in the Juddmonte International. He won a Group 3 last time on the Dundalk Polytrack. Put the two together, a first-class miler and an ability to act on synthetics, and you have the Dirt Mile winner.


Beethoven was only just up to win the seven-furlong Dewhurst Stakes in his 10th start, and it looks like O'Brien is trying to squeeze one last drop out of him here, while his stablemate Alfred Nobel has backed up since winning the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes.

Radiohead is the best European hope. A son of the 2001 Juvenile winner Johannesburg, he closes with a rush but tends to get himself into trouble early. His win in Royal Ascot's Norfolk Stakes had to be seen to be believed, so badly was he bumped - and knocked sideways - when just beginning his rally. With a clear run he could throw a scare into Lookin at Lucky and D' Funnybone.


Disappointingly, there are only two French-trained horses in this year's Cup, but in Goldikova, France may have the jewel in the Cup crown. Forget her blip in the Prix de la Foret, which came at a distance a furlong short of her best. Olivier Peslier can be forgiven perhaps the worst ride of his career in a loss that will serve to inflate Goldikova's Mile price. Anything approaching her six-length romp in the Prix Jacques le Marois on Aug. 16 gets the job done.

If there is an upsetter in the field it is Zacinto. Very lightly raced, the Michael Stoute trainee threw a fright into Rip Van Winkle in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and should come on for that effort. The honest Delegator is at least a cut below Goldikova, while his Godolphin stablemate Gladiatorus had to travel to Italy to find a European Group 1 win.


Fleeting Spirit will run in this race as opposed to the Turf Sprint, a race that would have suited her better. One of Europe's best and most consistent sprinters, she is likely to be swept off he feet early and will be left with a lot of ground to make up through the short Santa Anita stretch.


This race has cut up badly with the defections of so many leading candidates, but it is still top-heavy with class, thanks primarily to the Stoute-trained duo of Conduit and Spanish Moon. Either one would be a worthy winner. The defending titleholder, Conduit was coming off a 10-week layoff when he finished a good fourth in the Arc, just two heads behind three-time runner-up Youmzain. A repeat of that effort makes him unbeatable in the Turf, unless Spanish Moon improves his rating. An El Prado 5-year-old, Spanish Moon picks up the invaluable services of Fallon as Ryan Moore logically sticks with Conduit. With only three races this year, Spanish Moon has plenty of gas in the tank, but his occasional reluctance to load could pose a problem.

Dar Re Mi is very much in their class. Unjustly denied victory the Prix Vermeille, she ran a corker when she ran fifth in the Arc, finishing a length behind the somewhat rusty Conduit. Red Rocks, back with Brian Meehan, is chasing the phantom of his 2006 Turf victory.


This should be the year that O'Brien and Coolmore finally win the Classic. Second with Giant's Causeway in 2000 and again with Henrythenavigator last year, Coolmore has the Classic very high on its wish list. Last year's Classic winner, Raven's Pass, had previously won the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, the race won by Rip Van Winkle in his latest start. Rip Van Winkle's best Racing Post Rating of 132 is second worldwide only to the 138 of Sea the Stars, who finished just a length in front of Rip Van Winkle in the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse Stakes. The 3-2 favorite with Ladbrokes and William Hill, Rip Van Winkle should be higher than that at Santa Anita and couldn't be more highly recommended.

By comparison, the in-form Champion Stakes winner Twice Over is a low-end Group 1 type. Zenyatta will be stepping up in class for her first try against males, while Summer Bird is a question on Pro-Ride.



:: MORE: Visit the