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Friday, November 1
Lost in America




Michael Kinane is a good -- maybe even great -- European rider. The same can be said for Kieran Fallon. They win big races, rarely make mistakes and have earned the right to ride some of the best horses around. But on Breeders' Cup Day at Arlington Park -- a long way from The Curragh or Ascot -- both looked hopelessly lost and delivered some terrible rides.

That should not have come as a surprise. European riders are completely out of their element in the Breeders' Cup or, for that matter, any races held on American soil. They ride over courses that are nothing like the American tracks with their tight turns and short stretches and in races that are run with an entirely different, less speed-oriented style than the U.S. brand. The point is: European trainers would be a lot better off using American riders in American races.

Maybe after what unfolded Saturday, Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien and his cohorts will start to see the light.

While Azeri, Storm Flag Flying and Volponi have been showered with well-deserved praise for their Breeders' Cup efforts, the most impressive horse on the day may have been a loser–the O'Brien-trained Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock broke slowly, which seemed okay by Kinane. He let him settle into last down the backstretch behind a relatively slow pace and made no effort to improve his position until the top of the stretch. By then he was hopelessly far back and stuck behind a wall of horses. Once he was finally in the career and after he had dodged the fallen Landseer (not Kinane's fault), he unleashed an explosive move that nearly overcame the impossible situation he was put in. Kinane rode as if the stretch was a half-mile long and he had all day to pass a dozen or so horses.

(The irony is that the winning rider was a French jockey, Thierry Thulliez, who rode a brilliant race. Go figure).

Two races later, it was Fallon's turn. From just out of the gate until the field his the first turn, he had the Michael Stoute-trained Islington in a jam. The filly was steadied repeatedly until things settled down on the backstretch. She got bumped a little at the top of stretch before unleashing her stretch run. But it was too late. She appeared spent, understandable considering how much trouble she had early on.

"A horse cut in front of me at the start and it cost me the race," Fallon explained. "Turning for home, I'm right on the heels of the winner and the second horse. I'd rather had her just off the pace like I did in the Arc de Triomphe because she steers really well. I couldn't do that today."

Fallon was at it again in the Juvenile. Riding the O'Brien-trained Hold That Tiger, he broke in the air, settled into last and then raced seven wide when making a belated and hopeless late move to get up for third. For good measure, Kinane also got left on Tomahawk, another runner from the O'Brien stable.

At least the day was not a complete loss for Kinane, who won the Turf aboard High Chaparral Give him some credit for that, but don't forget that he was riding the best horse in the race. In the Classic, Kinane got Hawk Wing off slowly and was six wide on the far turn. It hardly seems worth mentioning in comparison to the other horror shows.

Their rides joined a growing lists of Breeders' Cup worsts, but they have plenty of company, mostly from fellow Europeans. Who can forget Frankie Dettori whipping madly with his left hand as Swain bore out through the Churchill Downs stretch in the 1998 Classic. How about Michael Roberts fighting with a rank Indian Skimmer throughout nearly the entire running of the1988 Turf. Then there was Greville Starkey getting left and hopelessly blocked when he rode Rousillon in the 1985 Mile. There are more. I think I've blocked them from my memory, my way of dealing with pain.

Aidan O'Brien, Saeed Bin Suroor, Michael Stoute and others like them in Europe will be back for many Breeders' Cups to come and will win some races. But probably not as many as they should. Would someone please give them Jerry Bailey's phone number.




 




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