The domination by West Coast horses in the Breeders' Cup could be about to end.
In the past two runnings at warm-weather tracks in Florida and California, five of the seven rich stakes have been won by West Coast-trained thoroughbreds.
But don't be surprised if the balance swings back to the East Coast this year, said New York trainer Shug McGaughey when a record 126 horses, including 33 from Europe, were pre-entered yesterday for the $10 million card to be run Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
"We're on a lot more neutral ground at Churchill," said McGaughey, who has entered three horses, including former two-time Mile winner Lure. Added D. G. Van Clief, the Breeders' Cup executive director: "There's no home-court advantage for the California horses like last year when the races were at Santa Anita."
McGaughey said that the cooler climate in Kentucky and the cuppier racing surface at Churchill Downs compared with the hard, fast Southern California tracks should work to the advantage of East Coast runners.
Even without the presence of East Coast-trained Horse of the Year candidate Holy Bull, who is resting on the sidelines, heavy favorites in four of the seven races are based at New York tracks.
They are the undefeated female thoroughbreds, Flanders in the Juvenile Fillies stakes and Sky Beauty in the Distaff, as well as Lure in the Mile and Paradise Creek in the Turf.
Winners of many of Maryland's premier racing events such as the Preakness (Tabasco Cat), Washington D.C. International (Paradise Creek), De Francis Dash (Cherokee Run), Maryland Million (Sprint winner Prenup), All Along Stakes (Alice Springs), Laurel Dash (Soviet Problem), Laurel Futurity (Western Echo) and Selima Stakes (Stormy Blues) are in the lineups as well as the leading state-bred 3-year-old, Concern, who ranks as the nation's sixth-richest thoroughbred in training.
Concern, owned by Robert Meyerhoff and trained at Pimlico by Dick Small, is among the top 14 horses entered in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, which drew 20 pre-entries, six more than the size allowed in the starting field. The others are ranked on a preference list and can draw into the race if one of the original 14 starters is withdrawn.
The Distaff, which drew 12 horses, is the only Breeders' Cup race that did not draw an overflow field.
Van Clief said: "There's no question we're going to miss Holy Bull. But it seems in the first 10 runnings, the Breeders' Cup has missed some important horses each year. In each case, we lose a little something, and in this particular case, we've lost a star.
"But the Breeders' Cup is not a one-race event, and I think we're helped by the depth and breadth across the board of all the races."
To be eligible for the Breeders' Cup, a horse must be nominated as a foal or a yearling before he ever races. Usually, only the nation's best-bred horses are nominated, and some obscurely bred thoroughbreds that develop into top runners slip through the cracks.
Non-nominated horses can be supplemented to each race at a cost of 12 percent of the winning purse. The supplementary fee for running in the $3 million Classic is $360,000.
Holy Bull, who does not boast a flashy pedigree, was not nominated as a young horse. The prohibitive cost, coupled with the horse's poor experience at Churchill Downs as the 12th-place finisher in this year's Kentucky Derby, prompted the horse's owner-trainer, Jimmy Croll, not to include the Breeders' Cup in his 1994 plans. However, that is expected to change next year, when the Breeders' Cup is at Belmont Park.
Even though two owners each put up $360,000 to nominate Best Pal and Bertrando, respectively, to this year's Classic, Van Clief said yesterday "it's time to review" the supplementary nomination process. "Not only because of the American horses that are left out," he said, "but also the ones from the Southern hemisphere."
Without an overwhelming favorite such as Holy Bull, who went on to win four Grade I stakes after his Derby loss, the Classic is considered by some as a weak race.
But McGaughey said yesterday: "Sometimes a race is a lot more fun if there is no standout and it's not so easy to pick a winner."
Bill Mott, trainer of Paradise Creek, agreed. "The Classic is a good competitive race," he said. "There are a lot of nice European horses in there such as Millkom, who was beaten less than three lengths in the Arc and Grand Lodge, who I've seen in the results of a lot of the big races abroad."
Also in the Classic lineup is Preakness winner Tabasco Cat, one of nine horses that his trainer D. Wayne Lukas, has entered on the card.
Van Clief said he is heartened by the presence of so many European horses.
"I think they were encouraged by the win of Arcangues last year in the Classic and have now come back in force," he said. "Also, it is an easy ship for them to Churchill Downs, and the climate is more suitable to their horses than the hot weather in Florida and California."