Racing people on both sides of the Atlantic have been fond of criticizing the Breeders' Cup, but when entries for the Nov. 2 event were announced yesterday, this was clear: the Breeders' Cup, in its second year, is becoming a true international championship series of races.
The one-day series consists of seven races, one of them worth $3 million, one worth $2 million and the other five offering purses of $1 million each.
Almost all of the top European stables are sending top horses here for the $2 million turf race at 1 1/2 miles and the $1 million mile race on the grass at Aqueduct in New York. Although they traditionally have been reluctant to jeopardize the reputations of well-established stars, European horsemen had to be encouraged by the 1984 victory of Lashkari -- who had been something of a second-rated horse in France -- in the rich Breeders' Cup Classic.
Plenty of first-stringers are coming this year. Pebbles, Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum's brilliant 4-year-old filly who beat colts in two Grade I English stakes this year, heads a contingent of six Europeans in the 14-horse lineup for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Rousillon, a French-raced colt owned by Prince Khaled Abdullah, might be a standout in the Breeders' Cup Mile. The winner of four graded stakes, he is considered the best miler on the continent. The five foreign entries are expected to dominate here, too.
The two turf races, with their strong international flavor, actually look like more interesting races than the nominal centerpiece of the program, the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic. That race has drawn a field of nine, but it essentially is another rematch of the horses who took turns beating each other in New York's major stakes this fall -- Chief's Crown, Gate Dancer, Track Barron and Vanlandingham.
The Loblolly Stable, which owns Vanlandingham, had to pay a $600,000 fee to make its colt a supplementary nominee, but figured that he could earn the horse-of-the-year title by adding the Classic to his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
The other horses in the Classic field are Proud Truth, Imperial Dancer, Turkoman, Bounding Basque and Strawberry Road II, the latter a good European horse who has done all of his previous racing on the grass.
In the other Breeders' Cup events:
*Fourteen 2-year-old colts, none of them a standout, will contest the $1 million Juvenile. The race became wide open when undefeated, highly promising Ogygian was sidelined by an injury.
*A field of 12 has been entered in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies, and there is no clear leader of the group. Family Style, I'm Sweets and Twilight Ridge are among the strongest entrants.
*The Breeders' Cup Sprint might prove to be the most contentious of all the races on Nov. 2, with Fighting Fit, Mt. Livermore and Precisionist among the 14 speedballs in the lineup.
*Trainer Wayne Lukas, who is strongly represented in other Cup races, has a virtual lock on the 1 1/4-mile Distaff. His filly Lady's Secret has won her last eight starts, and if she needs help, Lukas also has Life's Magic and Alabama Nana in the lineup.