05/08/2008 11:00PM

Euros also going Poly to turf

Email

NEW YORK - The Polytrack-to-turf angle that has become something of a cause celebre among American handicappers trying to make sense of our brave new multiplex world of racetrack surfaces works just as well in Europe as it does here. Three recent examples provide evidence that trainers across the Atlantic have become adept at that increasingly common surface switch.

Michael Stoute has hardly made a name for himself on any of England's five artificial surfaces. Yet he did not hesitate to send Heaven Sent to Kempton in the listed Masaka Stakes for her season debut and first career try on Polytrack on April 12. By Pivotal out of a Rahy mare and so a full sister to Megahertz, a three-time Grade 1 winner on turf in California, Heaven Sent responded with a 2 1/4 length victory.

That effort proved to be a perfect primer for the much more difficult Dahlia Stakes three weeks later. A 1o1/8-mile Group 3 run on Newmarket's undulating straight course, the Dahlia included Group 1 winner and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf third-place finisher Passage of Time and four turf listed winners. Heaven Sent swept to a three-length victory and will seek bigger game next time.

Godolphin is one European outfit used to juggling turf, dirt, and Polytrack. On March 12 the stable was watching closely as Mark Johnston saddled Campanologist in a 1 1/8-mile allowance on the Kempton Polytrack. It was the Kingmambo 3-year-old's first try on an artificial surface, and he responded with a 1 3/4-length victory. Johnston, who was training Campanologist at the time for Sheikh Mohammed's son Hamdan, sent him next in Newmarket's listed 1 1/8-mile Feilden Stakes on turf. The result was a half-length victory that convinced the Godolphin braintrust that Campanologist might be their best Epsom Derby hope. Sheikh Mohammed snatched him away from son Hamdan to wear the Godolphin blue in Saturday's Lingfield Derby Trial.

French trainers have been slower to realize the Polytrack-to-turf angle, if only because Deauville is their only viable artificial surface where the schedule allows them the luxury of that switch. Alain de Royer-Dupre, the trainer for the Aga Khan's very traditional stable, may be the last trainer on earth that you would expect to see toiling on Polytrack.

In Leo's Starlet, Royer-Dupre has a Galileo filly bred and owned by William Preston of Prestonwood Farm. He started her with a two-length victory in a 1 3/16-mile maiden for unraced fillies on the Deauville Polytrack in November. After a winter's rest she returned to the same track on March 21 to win an allowance at the same distance by three lengths.

On May 1, Leo's Starlet became the first French-trained horse to switch from Polytrack to a group race victory on turf when she won Saint-Cloud's Group 3 Prix Cleopatre, a key 1 5/16-mile French Oaks prep. Moreover, she did it on a turf course labeled very soft that she was not supposed to like. If the ground comes up good or better at Chantilly on June 8, she could give her Aga Khan-owned stablemate Zarkava a run for her money in France's premier classic for fillies.

All of which is further proof of how Polytrack is much more like turf than it is like dirt. Which begs the questions: Why are we running so many of our Triple Crown preps on Polytrack? And why will horses be running many of this year's Breeders' Cup preps on dirt when the event will be held on Santa Anita's synthetic surface?

Heaven Sent is owned by Juddmonte Farms, who has sent not only Megahertz but also many other future stakes winners to America. Campanologist's owners at Godolphin have been known to have a runner or two in the U.S. And since Leo's Starlet is owned by an American, there is a chance we could see one, two, or all three of these versatile performers in America . . . on turf or on synthetic surfaces, but probably not on dirt.

Eight Belles tragedy a call for change

Concerning the Eight Belles affair. American racing got its first taste of PETA venom this week as the radical animal rights' group spit out at Eight Belles' trainer Larry Jones, her rider Gabriel Saez, and the sport in general. Irrationally energized by the death of the filly, PETA and its allies have finally discovered horse racing, much to the industry's chagrin.

As stated in this space two weeks ago, we have a problem with race-day medication in this country, one that is exacerbated by a breeding industry that breeds primarily for speed, yet too often tries to squeeze horses into races at distances for which they are unsuited.

Having grabbed the attention of the media in ways the racing industry must envy, PETA and other animal rights groups can be counted on to continue their attacks in the future. Unless we eliminate race-day medication and begin to breed for stamina as well as speed, we will not only be left defenseless for the battles ahead, we will be supplying our enemies with ammunition that they will be only too happy to use against us.