By Robert Kieckhefer
horses haven't been doing real well on the international scene lately. The
connections of Si Sage hope to strike a more positive note in Sunday's
Singapore Airlines International Cup (Sing-I). But, if not, they're having a
good time anyway.
Meanwhile, Meydan Racecourse in Dubai is getting busy replacing its
Tapeta surface with real dirt. While they don't say so out loud, this is at
least in part a reaction to the precipitous decline in American fortunes -- and
participation -- on World Cup night.
look at Singapore first.
is the owner of Red Baron's Barn, the Southern California operation that
campaigns Si Sage. As would any owner, he smiled when he picked gate No. 4 for
the 4-year-old, French-bred gelding.
Jed Cohen shows souvenir plate that held gate No 4 for his runner in Singapore Airlines International Cup.
the favorable draw, Si Sage will be an outsider in a tough field of 12 that
includes last year's 1-2 finishers -- the imposing Hong Kong duo of Military
Attack and Dan Excel. Si Sage, by contrast, has but three wins from his 14
career starts and all of those came in France.
to Cohen. The horse will have all four hooves on the track, just like all the
others, and he will have David Flores in the irons. And, like any good owner,
Cohen figures Si Sage had excuses for his third-place finish in the Sir
Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita last Boxing Day and for a runner-up
showing behind Vagabond Shoes in February in the San Marcos (gr. IIT).
nothing good happens on the track Sunday at Kranji, Cohen, 81, a Los
Angeles-area investment advisor, said he will have enjoyed the experience
Si Sage, photo courtesy of Singapore Turf Club.
family is here with me," he said. "I've traveled many places around
the world and people started asking me where I'd like to go that I hadn't been.
I thought about it and I said, 'Singapore.' And then this came up."
long-time trainer, Darrell Vienna, said a Singapore recruiter came around the
backstretch at Santa Anita looking for potential runners and he put two and two
together -- eventually coming up with gate No. 4.
looking for his first overseas win, though he came close when Echo Eddie
finished second to Caller One in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) 12 years ago.
speaking of Dubai, some of the international racing fraternity gathered in
steamy Singapore are scratching their heads over the surface switch at Meydan,
scheduled to be in place in time for the start of the 2015 Carnival in January.
Al Tayer, chairman and CEO of the Meydan Group said the switch "will be
best for the future of Meydan racing and the Dubai World Cup Carnival. In the
coming year we will celebrate the 20th running of the Dubai World Cup and the
track will be the natural surface that proved so successful during the first 14
years of this magnificent race day."
Runners from most parts of the world other than the United States would
argue the existing Tapeta surface proved plenty successful for them during the
past few years but that wasn't the topic up for discussion.
Through the World Cup meeting's first 14 years at the old Nad al Sheeba
track, starting with Cigar's victory over Soul of the Matter, American horses
were, if not dominant, at least consistently in the mix. Silver Charm, Captain
Steve, Pleasantly Perfect, Curlin and Well Armed all lifted the World Cup for
the American side and space prohibits detailing the long list of other U.S.
horses who succeeded in the rich supporting races.
Not so much after the move to Meydan and its Tapeta surface.
Animal Kingdom's victory in 2013
was an exception but he was an exceptional runner. But beyond that, the list of
American also-rans, including Royal Delta and Game On Dude, runs on. This year,
only a trio of -- with apologies -- secondary-rank U.S. horses even bothered to
make the trip to the United Arab Emirates.
While many owners and trainers from the rest of the world loved the
Tapeta, it just didn't seem to suit the American runners. Why? There have been
plenty of theories, including the observation that even the relatively gentle
desert heat of March could make the surface sticky enough to cling to the soles
of a human's shoes. Although that would be true for all the competitors,
Whatever the reason, it would seem the flight of the Americans finally
got through to Meydan officials, likely through Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasheed al
Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, master of Godolphin Racing and generally the boss.
American horses put this event on the map when Jerry Bailey booted Cigar across
the line first in 1996 and that helped put Dubai itself on the map.
Will the new dirt surface help bring Americans back to Dubai? Would any
of the current crop -- Will Take Charge, Game On Dude, etc. -- have made the
trip this March for different footing? Conversely, will the switch discourage
prospective World Cup runners who mostly compete over grass in their homelands?
Much of the feeling in Singapore is that it's risky to tip the scales
back in favor of American runners when, in fact, the rest of the world seems to
be producing better competitors for the international stage. Of course, there
aren't that many Americans in Singapore, other than the Cohen-Vienna bunch, so
the sample is skewed.
Take a look at the replay of the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), run
on a synthetic track at Santa Anita. You'll see Curlin, winner of the Dubai
World Cup just seven months earelier on the Nad al Sheeba dirt, taking the lead
turning for home, only to be swallowed up in deep stretch by grass-running
Euros Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator.
Does that prove anything? Nah. There will be a nice contingent of U.S.
horses at Royal Ascot next month and they make an impression. Verrazano could
run well in his first start in England. And maybe Si Sage can surprise everyone
and scramble the thinking a little bit with an upset on Saturday at Kranji.
If not, having a good time might continue to be the best reason to take
American horses overseas.