11/03/2010 5:55PM

History doesn't favor Workforce in Breeders' Cup Turf

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Barbara D. Livingston
Workforce will try to break a five-race losing streak by Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The racing pages are rife this week with a juicy fact that hits at the heart of the Breeders’ Cup Turf: All five winners of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe who raced in the BC Turf lost.

Early in Breeders’ Cup history, the Europeans viewed the Turf as easy pickings. Then Dancing Brave – a hero back home – finished fourth in 1986 at Santa Anita and was followed in defeat by Trempolino (1987), Saumarez (1990), and Subotica (1992). At that point, people started thinking twice about bringing the Arc winner to the States. No one did it again until 2007, when a fifth-place finish by Dylan Thomas provided a reminder of why the practice had ceased.

But the juicy fact flies in the face of another Breeders’ Cup Turf stat: Trainer Michael Stoute has won the race a remarkable four times. And this year, the Arc winner who has come to the Turf, Workforce, is under the care of Sir Michael.

He’s a beautiful horse, Workforce, with a shapely powerful body and a big handsome white-blazed head. One hot question, however, is how Workforce will handle an exceedingly firm turf course at drought-stricken Churchill. His connections are concerned enough that a scratch has not been ruled out. And Workforce must show that he, unlike his Arc-winning predecessors, hasn’t been sapped by the testing 12-furlong race four weeks earlier. On Workforce's side is a longer gap than normal - five weeks - between the Arc and the Turf.

“I’d say that he might be in slightly better form than in France,” Ryan Moore, Workforce’s race jockey and his morning rider this week, said Monday morning.

Even if Workforce flounders – or is scratched – capable overseas compatriots can take up the running. The eight-horse field in the 1 1/2-mile Turf includes three other capable Europeans, and Euros have won or dead-heated nine times in the last 11 Turf editions. Behkabad is nowhere near the looker that Workforce is, but he finished a tough-trip fourth in the Arc and won the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris in July. Debussy and Dangerous Midge might be dismissed were they trying a Group 1 over 12 furlongs in Europe, but both can factor here Saturday.

“He loves going left-handed and he loves firm ground,” trainer Brian Meehan said of Dangerous Midge.

All Meehan did was win the last BC Turf contested at Churchill with Red Rocks. Four-year-old Dangerous Midge has no more than a Group 3 victory atop his résumé, but Meehan said he’s been eyeing this race since spring.

Debussy is a lower-end Group 1 mile-and-a-quarter horse overseas, but he won the Arlington Million over Gio Ponti in an earlier U.S. excursion this year, and trainer John Gosden has won three Breeders’ Cup races in the last two years and four overall. Debussy finished third in the Group 1 Champion Stakes last out, a start merely meant to get him to Churchill.

“I’d be happy with the way his preparations have gone,” Gosden said. “He wasn’t exactly primed for that race.”

Six-year-old Telling, winner of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer the last two years, and 5-year-old Winchester, a two-time Grade 1 winner in 2010, are the proven class among the American horses. But the less-exposed Americans, Champ Pegasus and Al Khali, look more interesting. Champ Pegasus has not raced as much as 2003 dead-heat Turf winner Johar, but there are parallels with that horse, starting with their common trainer, Dick Mandella. Johar was 4 and had won only one Grade 1 before finishing on even terms with High Chaparral; the same goes for Champ Pegasus, who won a maiden race just five starts ago.

“This horse was a pretty handy winner last time,” Mandella said. “With Johar, I was kind of praying and hoping. It’s similar to this.”

Al Khali won the Bowling Green two races ago and might have won the Canadian International last out had he not found trouble. Trainer Bill Mott believes Al Khali has become a different horse now that he is coming from farther off the early pace, and Al Khali has looked good this week.

Of course, that would mean nothing if Workforce runs to his best form. Not only did he win the Arc, but Workforce turned in a record time winning the Epsom Derby by seven lengths in June. He would be rated a pure superstar at this point, if not for a flop in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July. His price will be short Saturday, and bettors must choose their BC Turf trend – Arc losers, or Stoute winners.