- Bill Finley
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When Point Of Entry (Turf) and Wise Dan (Mile) run in this year's Breeders' Cup they'll be out not just to win seven-figure purses but to prove that American grass horses aren't complete punching bags for their European foes.
The Europeans don't even send their best horses to the Breeders' Cup anymore. We get Dangerous Midge, a Group 3 winner before he won the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2010, who hasn't won since. Last year, St. Nicholas Abbey won the Turf after being soundly beaten in the Arc de Triomphe. He's gone 1 for 7 since. They win. We lose.
The decided class advantage European grass horses have over U.S. grass horses was summed up perfectly by English trainer Davis Simcock, whose I'm A Dreamer is a top-class horse when racing here and just another filly when racing in Europe.
I hope that doesn't sound disrespectful, but in England she is generally a Group 2 horse and here she is a Group 1 horse.
”-- English trainer Davis Simcock
"I'm going to be brutally honest, she is racing against a slightly lower level of opposition in the U.S." Simcock said of his filly after she won the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington Park. "I hope that doesn't sound disrespectful, but in England she is generally a Group 2 horse and here she is a Group 1 horse."
With so many lucrative races available to them around the world, European trainers have been less inclined in recent years to send their stars to the Breeders' Cup. Just two weeks prior to our big event, European superstar Frankel will race instead in the Champion Stakes at Ascot. The race is part of Champions Day, a card consisting of five major races worth a combined $4.8 million. Champions Day was inaugurated last year and it has become a major impediment to the Breeders' Cup attracting European stars.
The list of Europeans headed to the Turf this year doesn't include many big stars. St. Nicholas Abbey, off an 11th-place finish in the Arc, is expected to come back, as is last year's runner-up Sea Moon. The latter was eighth in the Arc and sports nothing better on his record this year than a Group 2 win in the Hardwicke Stakes.
In Point Of Entry, they should have their hands full. The best U.S. distance turf horses since English Channel, the last American to win the Turf, he has won five straight and three Grade 1 stakes in a row. With trainer Shug McGaughey doing a masterful job with the late-developing son of Dynaformer, Point Of Entry should be able to beat his European rivals on raw ability.
If there's a better grass horse in North America than Point Of Entry it is Wise Dan, who is headed to the Mile. A very fast horse, he is so versatile that there was some conjecture that he would start in the mile-and-a-quarter Breeders' Cup Classic on the dirt. Instead, he will go in the Mile, where he will be the strongest American challenger since Lure.
Point Of Entry and Wise Dan, or perhaps even someone else, can restore some pride to American grass racing, particularly in the Turf. English Channel last won for the Americans in 2007 and Europeans have won that race six of the last seven years. Or they can further add to the embarrassment. We'll see.
EYE ON NEW YORKERS: Another story to watch at this year's Breeders' Cup will be how the New York stables fare. For whatever reason, when their horses come to California for Breeders' Cups they struggle mightily. New York trainers Shug McGaughey, Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott , Christophe Clement and Kiaran McLaughlin are a combined 3 for 59 (5 percent) in Breeders' Cups runs in California. The three winners are Lure, Ajina and Theatrical, all short-priced horses. Those stables will be well represented this year in an effort to change their luck out West.
SIZZLING BAFFERT: Since he won the Aug. 25 Test at Saratoga, Bob Baffert has won seven Grade 1 stakes over a 43-day period. Even more impressively, he has won the last six Grade 1 races he has entered, the Del Mar Debutante, the Del Mar Futurity, the Frontrunner, the Chandelier, the Awesome Again and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. His only Grade 1 losses over that time have come with horses beaten by stablemates in the above races.
JUST WONDERING: If Wise Dan and Point Of Entry both win their Breeders' Cup races, who is the male turf champion? Amazing that one of them would actually have to be denied that title.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at email@example.com.