10/27/2008 12:00AM

Raven's Pass conquers the Classic

Alex Evers
Raven's Pass completed 1 1/4 miles on Pro-Ride in 1:59.27.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Throughout his career, there has been nothing artificial about Curlin, but in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, an artificial surface may have done him in, while elevating Europeans who might not have been in the race otherwise.

Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator, who traded blows all year in grass races in Europe, transferred that form to the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita and led a one-two finish of Europeans in the Classic. Before a crowd of 51,331 Saturday, Europeans won five races.

Raven's Pass ($29), trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, won by 1 3/4 lengths. Tiago ran on to finish third, three-quarters of a length behind Henrythenavigator, and Curlin, the 4-5 favorite, faded to fourth in the final furlong after hitting the front at the top of the stretch. He lost by 2 3/4 lengths.

Go Between was fifth and was followed, in order, by Colonel John, Smooth Air, Champs Elysees, Duke of Marmalade, Fairbanks, Student Council, and Casino Drive.

Racing over a track baked fast by temperatures that climbed into the low-90's, Raven's Pass completed 1 1/4 miles on Pro-Ride in 1:59.27.

Curlin won the Classic in 2007 at Monmouth Park, and thus earned that year's title as Horse of the Year. Heading into Saturday, he was the consensus favorite to win his second straight title as Horse of the Year, but his loss may swing some votes to Zenyatta, who won the Ladies' Classic on Friday to complete a perfect 7-for-7 season. Zenyatta made all of her starts in races restricted to fillies and mares, while Curlin traveled halfway around the world and back this year to face top international competition, winning every main-track race except his first try on a synthetic surface.

"It was a turf race. It absolutely was the Pro-Ride surface" that beat him, said Steve Asmussen, who trains Curlin. "He ran his heart out and gave it all he had."

Curlin had finished second in his lone turf race earlier this year.

"Maybe he's not a synthetic surface specialist," said Curlin's jockey, Robby Albarado. "He was paddling around.

"These horses," Albarado said, referring to the first two finishers, "are great turf horses, and it seemed like the synthetics played like a turf course."

Gosden paid Curlin great respect by saying, "Curlin set the standard. He's a true, true champion."

Curlin was eighth in the field of 12 as the field raced by the stands for the first time. Casino Drive, the Japanese invader, led through fractions of 23.77 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 47.60 seconds for a half-mile. Curlin made a powerful move while five paths wide on the far turn, running his fourth quarter-mile of the race in a little less than 23 seconds, but could not sustain his run.

"I'm disappointed he lost, but obviously he's done enough for us and our careers," Albarado said.

The Europeans Raven's Pass, Henrythenavigator, and Duke of Marmalade all were making their first starts on a surface other than turf. They were entered in the Classic because this was the first time in the 25-year history of the Breeders' Cup that the main-track races were run on a synthetic surface.

Synthetic surfaces are widely considered easier for turf horses to adjust to than traditional dirt. Because of that, there was a record number of Europeans entered in this year's Breeders' Cup, and they had a record haul.

Proponents of synthetic tracks also say they reduce catastrophic injuries. There were no injuries of note at this Breeders' Cup.

Gosden and Dettori also won the Juvenile Turf with Donativum. Their two winners are owned by Princess Haya of Jordan, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed.

"All credit to Sheikh Mohammed and John Gosden," said John Ferguson, the racing manager for Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai. "John believed in this horse from the very beginning."

Gosden, now based in his native Great Britain, won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Mile in 1984 with Royal Heroine when he was training in California.

Raven's Pass had never raced beyond a mile in his previous 11 races.

"There was a split second when I asked him and I wondered if he would pick up or falter at the distance, and he picked up," Dettori said.

Saturday was the second day of the two-day Breeders' Cup festival, which encompassed a record 14 races for the first time. After running five on Friday, nine were contested on Saturday, and the day's results highlighted the international flavor of the event. In addition to the Classic and Juvenile Turf, Europeans won the Turf, Mile on turf, and the inaugural Marathon, which is run on the main track.

Goldikova was particularly dazzling in the Mile, and enabled her trainer, Freddy Head, to become the first person to both ride and train a Breeders' Cup winner. Head rode Miesque to victories in the Mile 1987 and 1988.

Midnight Lute became the first two-time winner of the Sprint, and only the eighth horse to win two Breeders' Cup races, joining Bayakoa, Da Hoss, High Chaparral, Lure, Miesque, Ouija Board, and Tiznow.

Garrett Gomez was the riding star of the day with three victories, including Midnight Lute.

Like Gosden, Bob Baffert, the trainer of Midnight Lute, won two races. Baffert also scored with Midshipman in the Juvenile.