Are the Europeans ready?
The people from over there are over here, looking for big things in the big town. The Euros have arrived at Belmont Park, bringing planeloads of the Old World's star thoroughbreds for Saturday's Breeders' Cup. Making the long trip to Long Island were the winners of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Epsom and Irish Derbys, 2,000 Guineas, King George, St. Leger and dozens of other Group I events.
Horses based in England or Ireland may be favored in four of the eight races -- Classic, Turf, Mile and Filly & Mare Turf. If they can't get it done, a few French shippers might.
Geoffrey Gibbs, the handicapper for England's Jockey Club, is impressed. "Godolphin and Coolmore have a team of uncommonly high-quality horses that would have a shot in most races," he said.
The bookmakers in England agree. "We've been guilty of being overly optimistic before," Coral spokesman Simon Clare said, "but I can't remember a stronger European team than we've assembled this year, full of champions elect."
True, the horses' records are spectacular, but we've been through this movie many times. It seems that Europe produces a Horse of the Century every spring, and we've seen plenty of them go down on Breeders' Cup day. Anybody remember Mile flameouts Warning or Sonic Lady? How about Dancing Brave, one of four Arc winners to fail in the Turf? Then there were Classic clowns Halling and Swain. For every Pebbles and Sheikh Albadou, there have been dozens of touted flops from across the pond.
Part of the problem is that the Breeders' Cup often has been an afterthought following a distinguished but grueling European campaign. Even the great ones have only so much to give, and when they get stale, they can lose to opportunists who are fresh and have been pointed to the Cup. Here a few quotes to make you wonder if Sakhee and Galileo (both in the Classic) will be able to show their best form this weekend.
Aidan O'Brien, trainer of Galileo: "It will be very hard for him to reach another peak, but he is an exceptional horse and we hope it's possible."
Simon Crisford, racing manager for Godolphin, on Sakhee: "Hopefully, the Arc [a 6-length romp] hasn't really taken too much out of him. When a horse gives you that much in a race, however well they win, it would have had to have taken something from him."
While handicapping and planning your action for the big day, consider which horses may be over the top. Even if they're superstars, their long seasons and short odds make them bet-againsts. Smart players don't take a skimpy price on a name horse that's likely to bounce.
Interestingly, the notoriously chauvinistic Brits have been betting down some of the American horses this week. Getting significant action in the future book at William Hill, one of Britain's biggest bookie firms, were Irish Prize and Affirmed Success in the Mile; With Anticipation (Turf); Starine (Filly & Mare Turf) and You (Juvenile Fillies).
Eddie Mac at the Track is a longtime connoisseur of European racing, having played the horses at 18 tracks in England, Ireland and France in the past 18 years. I've made Breeders' Cup scores on Pebbles, Ridgewood Pearl and Eltish and have been an Euro-sucker more times than I care to recall. Here are the Europeans I'll be considering as bets, mainly because they combine talent and value: Volga and Spring Oak (Filly & Mare Turf); Banks Hill (Mile); Milan and Fantastic Light (Turf).
Galileo is a reputation horse who will be overbet. Lailani, the likely chalk in the Filly & Mare Turf, may be over the top and offers no value. Even though they're trained by the Irish genius, O'Brien, I can't take the brilliant Mozart in the Sprint or the unbeaten Johannesburg in the Juvenile. Noverre (Mile) is tough but not too appetizing at 3-1 or 7-2, and Mutamam (Turf) may regress off his tough Canadian International win.
If my tips steer you away from losers and send money your way, say "Eddie Mac sent me" to the teller as you cash your tickets.