ELMONT, N.Y., OCT. 26 -- The seventh Breeders' Cup may not be filled with as many recognized U.S. superstars as previous editions, but it has become more of a true international championship event than ever before.
A powerful contingent of foreign horses, headed by Saumarez, the winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, could easily dominate the two grass races on Saturday's card at Belmont Park. And this year the Europeans are taking serious shots at the dirt races too.
Dayjur, the most acclaimed European sprinter in many years, will take on 13 American speedsters in the $1 million Sprint, and he is expected to be favored, even though he has never raced on dirt before. Go And Go, the Irish colt who shipped here to win the Belmont Stakes, has come back for the $3 million Classic.
The most intriguing human participant in the Cup is coming from Europe too. After serving a year in prison for tax evasion, legendary English jockey Lester Piggott has launched a comeback at the age of 54, and he will ride well-regarded Royal Academy in the Mile.
This is a Breeders' Cup without a single dramatic focus, unlike in the years when rivalries like Easy Goer-Sunday Silence or Alysheba-Ferdinand galvanized national attention. The nominal main event of the day, the $3 million Classic, has drawn an evenly matched field with no clear favorite and, no matter what the result, it is unlikely to produce 1990's horse of the year.
The field is so evenly matched that many experts feel post positions -- rather than the raw ability of the horses -- will determine the winner. The disadvantageous outside posts in the 1 1/4-mile race should hinder morning-line favorite Dispersal and Kentucky Derby-winner Unbridled. Inside posts should boost the chances of contenders such as Izvestia, Rhythm and Flying Continental, the last a colt owned by Jack Kent Cooke.
The confrontation that may command the most interest from U.S. racing fans is the one in the Distaff, where the brilliant 3-year-old filly Go for Wand will face 6-year-old Bayakoa, who won the race last year. However, the Distaff lost some luster today when the third formidable entrant in the field, Gorgeous, was scratched from the race and retired.
When she came back from her morning gallop, Gorgeous was favoring her left front leg, and X-rays revealed a chip fracture.
Even though the Distaff has been reduced, in essence, to a two-horse race, it should be a stirring duel. Without the stretch-running Gorgeous in the field, the jockeys on the two favorites will not have to worry much about being caught from behind. So they may engage in an all-out head-and-head battle from the gate, since both are blessed with high speed as well as stamina.
Go for Wand has been racing so well all season that she will command a great deal of support in horse-of-the-year balloting if she can win Saturday. Yet Bayakoa's owners are confident enough that they paid a $200,000 supplemental entry fee to compete for first-prize money of $450,000.
None of the Breeders' Cup races has inspired more international interest or such sharp differences of opinion as the six-furlong Sprint because of the presence of Dayjur. At Ladbrokes, the giant English bookmaking company, the colt has been heavily bet as a 6-4 favorite.
"He's renowned in Europe. He's the fastest horse we've had in many years," said Mike Dillon, press officer for Ladbrokes.
Americans are skeptical because of the failure of so many European turf runners to adapt to dirt surfaces, and even Dayjur's trainer, Dick Hern, is a realist.
"I am aware that we are entering unknown territory," Hern said. "I'm under no illusions. It will be difficult to win."
Yet Dayjur showed he may not be out of his element when he sizzled a half-mile in 45 3/5 seconds here Thursday. His competition in the 14-horse field includes the first two finishers in last year's sprint, Dancing Spree and the Maryland-bred filly Safely Kept, the reigning champion sprinter.
The $1 million races for 2-year-olds may reveal the identities of the horses who will be stars of U.S. racing next season. The Juvenile appears to boil down to a confrontation between the best colt in the West, Best Pal, and the best in the East, Fly So Free, although neither has generated many superlatives, even from partisans.
The most talked-about 2-year-old in the country is a filly, Meadow Star, who has won all six of her races in New York, demolishing her opposition each time. She may be the shortest-priced favorite in Cup history, making the Juvenile Fillies the one and only race on the card that looks predictable.