Updated on 09/16/2011 8:49AM

Traveling the globe to whip up some action


Al Skywalker will represent the United States at Cheltenham next Saturday in the $117,000, Grade 2 Bula Hurdle. Being at Cheltenham on the second weekend in December has become something of an American tradition in recent years, but the race we usually send a runner to is the Sport of Kings Hurdle.

Trainer Ricky Hendricks sent Tres Touche in the Sport of Kings last year, and he finished third. Security Prayer was third for Bruce Miller in 1996. Irish Approach was fourth and T.V. Gold last for Jonathan Sheppard in 1994, Motorcade was fourth for Joe Gillet in 1993, and Lonesome Glory won it for Miller in 1992.

The Bula, however, is a different kettle of fish. Formerly known as the Cheltenham Trial Hurdle, it was renamed the Bula after the mare who won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham's National Hunt Festival in March of 1971 and 1972. The Bula now serves as an early season prep for the Champion, which rates as the best hurdle race in the world.

Trainer and co-owner Jennifer Majette is doing the sporting thing in sending Al Skywalker, a 9-year-old son of Skywalker, to Cheltenham. He won the Grade 3 Appleton Hurdle over the Bula distance of 2 1/8 miles last time out on Oct. 19 at Far Hills, but the almost-level Maryland track with its tight turns is a far cry from what he will face at Cheltenham.

Hills, the likes of which are unknown in American jump racing, and stiff competition will provide Al Skywalker with his sternest test. His regular rider, Irishman Tom Foley, will have to be aware to start his run for

home - which begins at Cheltenham down the hill three jumps from the finish - much earlier than in most hurdle races.

Excessive whipping or punishment?

Foley must also beware of the very long arm of the British law, as stewards in England continue to mete out draconian punishment for perceived misuse of the whip.

This week Dean Mernagh and apprentice David Nolan ran afoul of the dreaded Instruction H9, the rule that warns against excessive use and force of the whip.

Of course, that all depends on what your definition of the word "excessive" is. In British racing, it means hitting a horse no more than four times and never raising your whip hand above the shoulder.

Mernagh was set down for 14 days for his "misuse" of the whip aboard Supreme Salutation in Division 1 of the Littlewoods Bet Direct All-Weather Trainers Championship Selling Stakes at Southwell on Nov. 20. The severity of his penalty was caused in large part by the fact that he had already accumulated 15 days for similar offenses in the past year.

Nolan got 18 days for his ride aboard Waterline Spirit in Division 2 of the Littlewoods Bet Direct All-Weather Trainers Championship Maiden Stakes at Wolverhampton on Nov. 11. He had already totaled 15 previous days for whip offenses in the last year, prompting the length of his enforced vacation.

Nolan apparently hit Waterline Spirit 20 times in a race the stewards deemed was lost to him two furlongs from home. This is a perfect example of blaming a guy for trying. Even Waterline Spirit's trainer, David Evans, did not escape the stewards' wrath, being hit himself with a $315 fine for failing to give young Nolan the proper instructions concerning proper use of the whip.

John Maxse of the Jockey Club admitted that Waterline Spirit "was not injured or marked," but as the lords of British racing genuflect at the altar of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, they must have their scapegoats.

Their time would be better spent seeking ways to finance racing that would preclude the necessity of finding sponsors whose names make a mockery of the game, witness the Faucets for Grohe Eurostyle Hospital Fittings Median Auction Maiden Stakes run at Lingfield on Nov. 13.

Americans take shots in Hong Kong

Al Skywalker will not be the only American-trained runner in action overseas next weekend. On Sunday, there will be five American horses going in the four races that make up the Hong Kong International Race Day at Sha Tin.

Foremost among them is Sarafan, the unlucky runner-up by a nose to Falbrav in the Japan Cup on Nov. 24. He will be tested in the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup by Grandera from the Godolphin stable and defending champ Eishin Preston.

Nuclear Debate will try Breeders' Cup Mile winner Domedriver in the Hong Kong Mile, while Falcon Flight and Delta Form run in the 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase against top French filly Aquarelliste and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Ange Gabriel.

Texas Glitter, recent winner of the Hollywood Turf Express, will try to succeed where Morluc has failed by a nose and a head in the last two runnings of the five-furlong Hong Kong Sprint. A Todd Pletcher-trained speedster, Texas Glitter will go up against Morluc's two-time Australian conqueror Falvelon as well as British Group 1 winners Malhub and Continent.

The U.S. is winless at this international festival since the Hong Kong Jockey Club consolidated its program in 1999, but Sarafan and Texas Glitter stand excellent chances of getting the American side off the Sha Tin schneid.