10/23/2003 11:00PM

Europeans: European contingent strong in numbers, class

Email

In the two previous Breeders' Cups at Santa Anita, 31 European runners produced just two victories - yet those two are among the most memorable in Breeders' Cup history.

Last Tycoon, Europe's champion sprinter in 1986, stretched out to win the Mile that year under an unforgettable ride from Yves Saint-Martin in the first Santa Anita Breeders' Cup. In 1993, Arcangues sprang the biggest surprise in Cup history with a 133-1 shocker in the Classic.

In spite of the firm ground, tight turns, and warm weather at Santa Anita, as many as 15 European invaders will line up for this year's Cup. Do not worry too much about the hot weather at Santa Anita. It has been a warm autumn in Europe, about the same as the weather Southern California was experiencing until the current heat wave.

Classic

The defections of Mineshaft, Candy Ride, and Empire Maker have moved Hold That Tiger up a couple of notches in the Classic. After a woeful start in last year's BC Juvenile, Hold That Tiger finished a fast-closing third. He returned to the United States as a 3-year-old after a disappointing turf season in Europe and finished second to Mineshaft by four lengths in the Woodward on Sept. 6. A son of Storm Cat, Hold That Tiger gets his stamina from the family of his dam, Beware of the Cat, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/8 miles on dirt whose sire, Caveat, won the Belmont Stakes. To win, however, Hold That Tiger would need one or two like Medaglia d'Oro and Perfect Drift to falter.

Turf

Falbrav is a rock-solid, classy type in the mold of the 1996 Turf winner, Pilsudski. Luca Cumani, Falbrav's trainer and the engineer of Barathea's 1994 BC Mile triumph, has been pointing Falbrav to this since midsummer.

Thoroughly professional, with tactical speed and a turn of foot, Falbrav might prefer 1 1/4 miles, the distance over which he won the Eclipse Stakes and the Juddmonte International, two of his six Group 1 victories. But, he did win the Japan Cup at 1 3/8 miles and the Gran Premio di Milano at the 1 1/2-mile Turf distance. Twelve furlongs at Santa Anita should suit him.

Sulamani, owned by Godolphin, is a high-class individual. He has been in the United States since August, when he lucked into winning the Arlington Million. The 1 1/4 miles of that race was two furlongs short of his best distance. He showed his power in an easy Turf Classic win at Belmont, but he is the sort who needs a long stretch to find top gear, as he showed when he steamrolled to victory in the Dubai Sheema Classic, helped by Nad Al Sheba's 2 1/2-furlong straight. Sulamani will be reunited with Frankie Dettori, but Santa Anita's short stretch will be to his disadvantage.

High Chaparral finished third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last year, when Sulamani was runner-up. The defending BC Turf champ is lightly raced this season and was inconvenienced by the heavy ground when third again in this year's Arc. A son of Sadler's Wells, High Chaparral can be expected to bounce back to his best on firm ground and will be difficult to beat, but the preference is for Falbrav.

The decision of Alec Wildenstein to run Bright Sky in the Turf and not the Filly and Mare Turf, a race she could have won, is perplexing. The winner of the 1 5/16-mile French Oaks and the 1 1/4-mile Prix de l'Opera on good to firm ground, she was only third in her lone try at the Turf distance, in the Prix Vermeille last year against 3-year-old fillies. This looks suspiciously like a last-ditch effort to enhance her reputation in a race she has little chance of winning. The Wildensteins tried the same thing with Aquarelliste in the Dubai World Cup in March and failed.

Juvenile

Dermot Weld will experiment with his Indian Ridge colt Relaxed Gesture, whose strong gallop just failed to see him last the mile of the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at The Curragh on Oct. 12. He was, however, losing to a filly in the Beresford and would be a big surprise even in this disappointing field.

Filly and Mare Turf

In the best betting race of the day, any one of 10 would be no surprise in the winner's circle.

Dimitrova is well acquainted with American racing, having breezed in both the American Oaks and the Flower Bowl Handicap, but though this will be tougher, she will relish the firm ground. Moreover, she is trained by Weld, the game's best international shipper. Godolphin runner Mezzo Soprano found her best distance at 1 1/2 miles when she landed the listed Galtres Stakes and then held off Yesterday in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille. A cut back to 10 furlongs plays against her chances.

The versatile Yesterday was unlucky not to win the 1 1/4-mile Prix de l'Opera and the English Oaks. One of the reasons the O'Brien-trained Yesterday is so luckless, however, is that she always comes from well out of it. She may have difficulty working out a trip through the short stretch in a crowded, classy field. Her stablemate L'Ancresse, a listed winner against older colts going 1 1/2 miles at The Curragh on Oct. 12, is in the race to ensure an honest pace.

Islington was third in this race last year. Her close third to High Chaparral and Falbrav in the Irish Champion Stakes looks good on paper, but she is a high-actioned type who may not be suited to American racing.

Mile

Oasis Dream seeks to emulate Last Tycoon as a sprinter stretching out to a mile. A perfectly conformed son of Green Desert, Oasis Dream is trained by John Gosden, who won the first Mile with Royal Heroine in 1984. Oasis Dream's four-length victory in the five-furlong Nunthorpe Stakes is perhaps the best sprint performance of the year on any surface, but he was stopped by soft ground when he finished second in the six-furlong Haydock Park Sprint Cup. If the soft ground stopped Oasis Dream in the sixth furlong, any kind of ground is likely to stop him in the seventh and eighth.

Six Perfections, the Marois winner, was a very unlucky second in both the 1000 Guineas, to Russian Rhythm, and the Irish 1000 Guineas, to Yesterday. Pascal Bary, who won the Mile last year with Domedriver, trains this talented filly, who has the tactical speed for victory in a race that requires luck and skill in equal measures. She was unlucky in drawing post 13, from where Jerry Bailey will have his work cut out.

Refuse to Bend, winner of the 2000 Guineas, failed to stay 1 1/2 miles as favorite for the Epsom Derby. He was without an excuse when he finished 11th in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp. He should do better in this but not well enough to win.