10/29/2010 2:48PM

Gosden well suited to Atlantic crossings


It’s a good thing American racing keeps a seat warm for John Gosden. Looks like he’ll be back again this week with more than a decent shot to win a Breeders’ Cup race for the third straight year.

The ecumenical Gosden had the Breeders’ Cup figured out early when he won the inaugural running of the Mile at Hollywood Park in 1984 with the filly Royal Heroine. He was a California trainer then, returning to his native England in 1988 and thereafter having little impact upon any of the Breeders’ Cup events. For consolation, he had to settle for winning an Epsom Derby and assorted other European baubles, while he plotted his spectacular 2008 return to Breeders’ Cup glory.

That year at Santa Anita, Gosden warmed up by winning the Juvenile Turf with Donativum, then knocked one out of the park with Raven’s Pass in the Classic. In 2009 he was back at Santa Anita to win the Juvenile Turf again, this time with Pounced, which, for the more cynically inclined, is proof only that Gosden has the game pretty well nailed as long as it’s played in Southern California.

What’s on the table for Gosden at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 is the chance at an old-fashioned hat trick – “trick” taken from the card table term by cricketers to describe the taking of three straight wickets, and “hat” because the bowler who pulled it off was awarded with a fancy new chapeau. Gosden, who doesn’t need a hat, will try for a third straight Juvenile Turf with Utley, a son of Smart Strike and a half-brother to Rainbow Quest and Just as Well.

The trainer also will be represented in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf by the maiden winner Flood Plain, and even more significantly in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf with Debussy, winner this year of the Arlington Million.

Reached at his Newmarket stables this week, Gosden said he felt particularly obligated to turn up for the Juvenile Turf, having conclusively established his luck in that one-mile event.

“The trophy went from silver in 2008 to glass last year, so I don’t know what to think,” Gosden noted. “But it was a very nice glass prism.”

Gosden offered that Utley’s form stacks up favorably with that of his two previous BCJT winners, even though he is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp on the Arc de Triomphe undercard, Oct. 3.

“The ground that day was very deep and he slightly labored in it,” Gosden said. “I think he’ll be a better horse on good ground, and from what I’ve heard they’ve been in quite a drought in Kentucky.”

For the sheer pleasure of watching Thoroughbreds do what they were invented to do, there is nothing like the Turf, with its mile and a half that has been run on everything from Hollywood Park’s close-cropped pool table of a course to the hock-deep bog over which Northern Spur outlasted Freedom Cry 15 years ago at Belmont Park.

Gosden has a chance to join Neil Drysdale, Andre Fabre, Richard Mandella, and Bill Mott as the only trainers to win both the Breeders’ Cup Turf and Classic. And while Debussy’s chances in the Turf begin and end with how Workforce, the Arc de Triomphe winner, handles the American turns and the firmer American ground at Churchill Downs, Gosden knows at the very least he has a horse at home with both.

“He showed me he really enjoyed the the turning, left-handed tracks when he won at Chester this year,” Gosden noted. “It’s real tight, seven-eighths around, like one big turn. Obviously if this race were a mile and three-eighths it would suit him better – the mile and a half is the top end of his range – but a three-turn mile and a half isn’t the greatest test of stamina.”

Cornering like a cutting horse, Debussy beat Gio Ponti on the square in the Arlington Million, got a break, then returned to the game to finish a good third to Twice Over in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 16.

“He ran great the other day,” Gosden said. “I was slightly using it as a prep race, something I said I’d do from a long way out, so he wasn’t totally wound up for it. Then he came back to work nicely here this morning over on the racecourse side.

“I know his 120 on our official ratings doesn’t put him with Workforce,” Gosden added. “And Workforce is a very good English Derby winner who won a very high-class Arc run over very soft ground. He probably wouldn’t want it too hard, though. If the ground is real firm they would think twice about running, I’m sure.”

Given his record, Gosden will be far from daunted by the idea of winning a big one at storied Churchill Downs, even though he has run only one horse in the six previous Breeders’ Cups run there.

“It will be fun, giving it a try,” he offered. “And Louisville is such an enchanting town.

“My greatest recollection of Churchill Downs is going there with a horse called Zabaleta to run in a certain Kentucky Derby,” Gosden said, giving it the full-stop “errr” of the American pronunciation. “His owner was keen to run even though he was a sprinter. I remember Charlie Whittingham asking me, ‘John, is there any speed in this race.’ I told him, ‘Charlie, we’re in the auxiliary gate. We’ll go to the three-quarters in nine and change. You can relax.’

“So Zabaleta blazed through the pace, while Shoemaker sat in last with Ferdinand, weaved through the field and got up and won,” Gosden added. “We all flew back to California together, and I told Charlie he owned me about 20 dinners. He said, ‘I’ll give you two,’ and I said, ‘Okay, my choice of restaurant.’ ”