11/02/2006 12:00AM

Euros jump in middle of U.S. rivalry


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - While the order of the Breeders' Cup races has frequently been rearranged since the 1984 inaugural, two races always have held down the final spots: The Classic is always last, and the Turf always precedes it.

This hard-and-fast arrangement is an overt manifestation of their importance, with the Classic being the ultimate race on dirt, and the Turf being the ultimate race on grass. The dramatic moments that each have given to Breeders' Cup history are among racing's greatest treasures, and as the shadows grow longer Saturday at Churchill Downs, it is with tremendous anticipation that the $3 million Turf will be run for the 23rd time as a gripping predecessor to the $5 million Classic.

There are plenty of dramatic elements to make for yet another memorable running of the 1 1/2-mile Turf. Not only is there the longstanding rivalry of Europe versus America, but arguably the best rivalry within American racing this year - English Channel versus Cacique - also will have its final reprise. In four previous meetings, all this year, English Channel and Cacique have finished ahead of the other twice apiece, and it would be impossible for their decisive match to carry any greater importance than it will Saturday.

"The rivalry has been great for racing," said Bobby Frankel, who trains homebred Cacique for Juddmonte Farms. "I really think the only time he beat us on the square was in the United Nations, but overall they've really been close. They're both stalkers, and they both come with their runs. It should be another great race Saturday."

Hurricane Run, who as the winner of the 2005 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe already owns his own slice of racing immortality, is the most accomplished of the three European shippers, a relatively small contingent. Even ardent fans of Hurricane Run concede that the 4-year-old colt might already have seen his better days; before losing three straight races coming into the Breeders' Cup, he had won 8 of 10 starts, with his two defeats being narrow ones. Nonetheless, it is those former displays of grandeur that make him the most feared and respected runner in the field of 11, and, as such, he figures to be a slight favorite when the Churchill starting gate is unlatched at 4:35 p.m. Eastern.

Still, if Hurricane Run, with Christophe Soumillon aboard, is unable to revert to his former greatness, either Cacique or English Channel seem fully capable of rushing into the void. Together, they have accounted this year for five Grade 1 turf races, including their respective last starts, when they somehow managed to dodge each other: the Sept. 9 Man o' War for Cacique, and the Oct. 7 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for English Channel.

"Hopefully that last race shows that English Channel is coming to peak form," said Todd Pletcher, who not only will be represented by English Channel in this race, but also by Go Deputy, an earner of more than $1.1 million, and Icy Atlantic, an outclassed 5-year-old whose sole purpose is to ensure an honest pace.

The Turf is one of just two Breeders' Cup races this year with a former champion: Better Talk Now, who won the 2004 Turf at Lone Star Park. (Ouija Board, the 2004 Filly and Mare Turf winner, also is back.) Better Talk Now, a

7-year-old gelding trained by Graham Motion, also enters off a win, having captured the Sept. 24 Sky Classic at Woodbine.

The balance of the Turf cast includes the other two Europeans, Red Rocks and Scorpion, both of whom are held in high regard by their Irish connections; the lone California invader, T. H. Approval; and a pair of locally based grass specialists, Rush Bay and Silverfoot.

For a longshot, fans might do worse than Rush Bay, who has never met such fierce company but nonetheless has compiled a record of 3 wins and 1 second in 4 starts over the local course.

"He loves this course, and hopefully he also brings a tactical advantage to the race," said trainer Tom Amoss. "Other than Icy Atlantic, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of pace. Our horse has shown you can place him just about anywhere you want."

The Turf has never been won by the favorite in five previous runnings at Churchill. The winners were Great Communicator ($26.80) in 1988, Miss Alleged ($86.20) in 1991, Tikkanen ($35.20) in 1994, Buck's Boy ($9.20) in 1998, and Kalanisi ($11.20) in 2000.