09/18/2003 11:00PM

Euros alive in Breeders' Cup turf races


PHOENIX - Looking to the Breeders' Cup a month down the road, you can already hear the European naysayers saying horses from across the pond don't do well in Southern California. It's the heat. It's the shipping. They have their winter coats.

And to be fair, there is a degree of accuracy to this. But most examinations of Euros shipping to warm U.S. climes for past Breeders' Cups include the ones held in Florida, and that isn't a fair comparison. After all, the humidity in Florida at Breeders' Cup time of year is significantly higher than it is in Southern California.

In Southern California, there may be as much heat, but any horse who has been in France this summer understands what it's like to train and race when the temperature is 100 degrees. And we don't expect to get 100-degree temperatures at Santa Anita next month.

So let's look at the five Breeders' Cups held in Southern California, and since we're talking Euros let's look at the turf races only.

Hollywood, 1984

The inaugural running. American-based, Euro-transplant Royal Heroine won the BC Mile. Euro contenders Lear Fan and Prego were seventh and ninth, respectively. In the inaugural BC Turf, Euros dominated - Lashkari and All Along ran one, two. You can argue whether All Along was still a European, as she had made five of her previous six starts dating back to 1983 in North America. But with France-based Patrick Biancone as her trainer, she was arguably still more a European than an American.

So, Euros won one of the two turf races.

Santa Anita, 1986

Some big Euros didn't do too well in the BC Mile as Thrill Show, Sonic Lady, and Magical Wonder finished sixth, seven, and eighth. But they all were 3-year-olds, and it was a significantly hot week in Southern California. The Euros held up anyway, as Last Tycoon blasted through for the win. In the BC Turf, Euro kingpin Dancing Brave was a non-threatening fourth, but was obviously feeling the effects of the heat and an ambitious campaign. Euro Theatrical, making his third U.S. start, ran great, however, losing to a very tough Manila, with Estrapade third. It is possible that this was the strongest BC Turf race ever run.

Despite Dancing Brave's failure, Euros still won one of the two turf races.

Hollywood, 1987

Euros seemed to be getting the hang of shipping. Even in Dancing Brave's loss the year before, it was clear that the Euros realized they could send their top horses. And that happened again in 1987 when top Euro milers Miesque and Sonic Lady ran one, three. And a year after Arc hero Dancing Brave lost, another Arc winner, Trempolino, shipped in, ran great, but simply could not defeat U.S. champ and Euro-transplant Theatrical. Again, Euros won one of the two turf races.

Santa Anita, 1993

The Euros were shut out in the turf races, but not because they ran poorly. Ski Paradise, Barathea, and Bigstone ran second, fifth, and sixth in the Mile, which looked like a demolition derby. They also ran into Lure, who might be the best U.S. turf miler in the last 20 years. In the Turf, top Euros Hatoof, Opera House, Wemyss Bight, and Hernando ran fifth, sixth, seventh, and 10th - but they also had the misfortune of facing Kotashaan (a Euro transplant) and Bien Bien. It was a year when the Euros were defeated by better horses, not a case of them shipping poorly or being hurt by the shipping or the climate.

Hollywood, 1997

Europe sent its top miler, Spinning World, and it was no contest. He toyed with a field that included Atto Mile winner Geri. Europe wasn't as fortunate in the Turf, as Canadian-based heavyweight Chief Bearhart fended off the tough Euro mare Borgia. Again, a Euro split in the grass events.

The verdict

So, in the 10 BC grass races in Southern California, Europeans won four, and with a break or two, could have won two more. So I see no reason why Euros can't perform to their best next month in the BC grass events, of which there now are three - the Filly and Mare Turf, the Mile, and the Turf. In fact, considering that the American turf runners appear less strong then in years past, it wouldn't surprise me to see Euros sweep the three grass races.