08/05/2004 11:00PM

Foreign interests dubious of BC at Lone Star


NEW YORK - The premature retirement of Smarty Jones means many things to many people.

To his owners, Roy and Pat Chapman, it is an early opportunity to start cashing in on the lucrative stud fees Smarty Jones will attract. For Three Chimneys Farm, where he will stand, it is a feather in its cap. For trainer John Servis, it is a grave disappointment. For the nation's racing writers, it provided a rare opportunity to get some space in the local dailies not directly related to race-day activity.

For Smarty Jones's legions of supporters, most of whom had already morphed back into baseball fans the day after the Belmont Stakes, news of their hero's retirement will have been greeted with a general shrug of incomprehension. For the Breeders' Cup Ltd., it is an addition to a growing list of nagging doubts about the status of its event.

The presence of the popular Smarty Jones at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30 would have given the Breeders' Cup a media ratings boost. His absence only adds to the woes of what BC Ltd. euphemistically bills as the "World Thoroughbred Championships."

European trainers and owners are not exactly jumping out of their boots at the prospect of sending horses to the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth for the Breeders' Cup. They have, after all, the option of running in important races at Longchamp, Newmarket, Tokyo, or Hong Kong, all places with which they are well familiar.

From Newmarket, Chantilly, or The Curragh, it is a very long way to go to Lone Star, a warm-weather track over which no European-trained horse has ever run. And it is a racecourse with a bandbox turf course with an alarmingly short one-furlong, 90-yard stretch ill-suited to the styles of most European horses.

Attraction, the first filly in history to win both the 1000 Guineas and the Irish 1000 Guineas, has already been declared out of the Breeders' Cup Mile, while Ouija Board, winner of both the English Oaks and the Irish Oaks, will not travel for the Filly and Mare Turf, which will be run this year at 1 3/8 miles.

Ouija Board's owner, Lord Derby, summed up the feelings of many Europeans when he said that it was too long a journey over an untested track. This in spite of his belief that his filly's best distance is something short of the 1 1/2 miles of the Oaks.

His lordship may also have been balking at the $90,000 supplementary fee required to get Ouija Board into her Breeders' Cup race, and that highlights the most serious problem facing this year's Cup.

South American imports are having another banner year on North American racetracks, yet it would be surprising to see any of them at Lone Star. Pico Central from Brazil may be the best horse in the United States between seven furlongs and a mile. Total Impact from Chile is in a position to challenge Pleasantly Perfect as America's best at the Breeders' Cup Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles. Star Parade from Argentina should be a serious challenger for the Distaff. Ema Bovary from Chile deserves a shot at the Sprint off graded victories at Santa Anita, Keeneland, and Calder. And the Brazilian-bred Hard Buck would have been among the favorites for the Breeders' Cup Turf if he hadn't already been earmarked for possible trips to Baden-Baden, Longchamp, Flemington, Tokyo, or Sha Tin, where valuable races are open to any horse whose owner can come up with a modest, sometimes free, nomination fee.

But with the hefty supplementary fees the owners of all five of our talented South Americans would have to ante up, they are likely to give Lone Star Park a wide berth on Oct. 30.

Last year's Breeders' Cup was poorer for the absence of Candy Ride (Argentina), Avanzado (Argentina), Redattore (Brazil), Wild Spirit (Chile), and Noches de Rosa (Chile). A Breeders' Cup which excludes virtually all Southern Hemisphere foals from an equitable chance of participation cannot claim to be a world championship of any sort.

Now with Smarty Jones eliminated, we are faced with the possibility of the most lackluster Breeders' Cup to date. But could Smarty Jones really have posed a serious threat in the Classic?

Smarty Jones may have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but he was not bred to get farther than a mile. His sire, Elusive Quality, never won beyond 1 1/16 miles, and his average winning distance was just 7.17 furlongs. His dam, I'll Get Along, by the excellent sprinter Smile, won 12 races, but at an average distance of just 6.6 furlongs.

That Smarty Jones has Secretariat, Northern Dancer, and Sir Ivor four generations back on his sire's side only goes to show how stamina is being bred out of the American Thoroughbred.

The reason given for Smarty Jones's retirement was chronic bruising to the bottom of the cannon bones on all four fetlock joints. When a horse is asked to run repeatedly at distances beyond his capacity, such injuries should not be unexpected. That Smarty Jones won most of those races suggests that he was competing against horses that, like himself, were not bred to get classic distances.

So if the breeding industry and its allies at Breeders' Cup Ltd. really want to help this game, they will get down to the business of producing horses that can really stay Triple Crown distances, horses that, unlike Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, can defeat not only their own generation, but the generations that both precede and follow them, South American-bred imports included.