ANOTHER ACTION-PACKED WEEKEND
Yet another superb weekend is in store for fans of the International Turf, with over a dozen high class contests pencilled in on Saturday, September 29th alone. In Great Britain, two-year-olds take centre stage at Newmarket with a pair of Group 1 events and the usually informative Royal Lodge Stakes, a Group 2 event. A few hours later at least ten Graded Stakes will test a range of runners at Belmont Park, Churchill Downs and Santa Anita across the Atlantic.
First off at 1:50 p.m. local (6:20 p.m. in India) is the Royal Lodge Stakes (8 fur.) at Newmarket, a race that has showcased the talent of the likes of Frankel and Roaring Lion in the past, not to forget stallions in India like Admiralofthefleet and Royal Kingdom. In the absence of a strong Ballydoyle challenge this appears likely to be snared by the ubiquitous John Gosden/Frankie Dettori team through the Scat Daddy colt Beatboxer, a $650,000 purchase who is unbeaten from 2 starts for HRH Princess Haya.
Stepping up a notch 35 minutes later, we find 11 leading juvenile fillies engaged in the 6 fur. Juddmonte Cheveley Park Stakes (6 fur.). The pair of Pretty Pollyanna (by Oasis Dream) and Signora Cabello (by Camacho) are renewing their rivalry from the Gr.1 Darley Prix Morny last month, when the former came out on top by three-parts of a length. There is no reason to expect a different result this time, unless the going changes. As the other nine participants are all well-exposed, they do not offer any hope of a dramatic improvement in ability, and seem well-held.
The equivalent event for colts is the 6 fur. Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes, which has attracted 8 runners. The much-touted Ten Sovereigns (by the exciting new sire No Nay Never) has looked imperious in his two starts so far and is not surprisingly an odds-on chance at 8/11. Trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, he is to be ridden by the schooler’s son, Donnacha, as Ryan Moore will be away in the USA. The colt faces a number of high-calibre opponents, all within 4 points in the ratings. These include Emaraaty Ana (by Shamardal), stablemate Sergei Prokofiev (by Scat Daddy), John Gosden’s Legends Of War (also by Scat Daddy)and Cheveley Park’s new acquisition Rumble Inthejungle (by Bungle Inthejungle). Sheikh Hamdan’s unbeaten Jash (by Kodiac), who displays a similar profile to the public choice, could make things interesting.
Although a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this piece, one must briefly mention that the next race on the card is the traditional 9 fur. Cambridgeshire Handicap. The event has drawn the maximum field of 35 runners, and the favourite is quoted at 10 to 1! No less than 16 of the runners are rated 117 or better by Racing Post, so it’s a pretty high class renewal.
Across the Atlantic, the principal meeting is at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. The traditional Gr.1 dash, the Vosburgh Stakes (6 fur.) (4:09 p.m. local, 1:39 a.m. on Sunday in India) is likely to be a pointer to the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Sprint in early November at Churchill Downs. The form favours Imperial Hint (by Imperialism) to such an extent that Javier Castellano’s mount is expected to start at 1 to 5! The shortest priced of his six opponents is Mr. Crow (by Tapizar).
Thirty-three minutes thereafter, a compact field of 8 turf specialists will face the starter for the Gr.1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (12 fur.). The Chilean ace, Robert Bruce (by Fast Company), fresh off a scintillating effort in the Arlington Million, bids fair to extend his excellent North American run. The chief rivals for the mount of Irad Ortiz, Jr., are fellow South American Hi Happy (by Pure Prize), Canadian-bred Channel Maker (by English Channel), Pennsylvania-bred Spring Quality (by Quality Road) and Kentucky-bred Sadler’s Joy (by Kitten’s Joy). It’s rare to find a runner that boasts of Ryan Moore in the saddle go off at around 15 to 1 but that may be the fate of Tom Dascombe’s ambitious raider Teodoro (by Teofilo).
That sets the stage for the 100th running of the historic Jockey Club Gold Cup (5:50 p.m. local, 3:20 a.m. in India on Sunday), nowadays contested at 10 furlongs (since 1990). This was once a two-mile race that provided a stern test for the upper echelons of US racing – it was won in its heyday by Kelso (five consecutive times!), Shuvee(twice), Buckpasser, Damascus, Arts And Letters, Forego,Nashua, Gallant Man and so on.
Some aver that the decline in the durability and stamina of the American-bred began when the race was brought down in distance to 12 furlongs (in 1976). Even at this reduced trip, names like Affirmed, Exceller, John Henry, and Slew O’Gold carried the flag but one can only think of Cigar and Curlin as measuring up in the 28 years since it was further shortened.
That said, it’s a competitive 8 runner line-up that will await the starter’s flag. The ultra-consistent 5-year-old New York-bred gelding Diversify (by Bellamy Road), whom this writer saw annexing the Gr.2 Suburban Stakes over course and distance in July, took home the prize last year and is odds-on to repeat for trainer Richard Violette, Jr., and Irad Ortiz, Jr. He is best when leading or pressing the pace.
Potentially standing in his way is the 4-year-old Thunder Snow (by Helmet), the hero of the 2018 Gr.1 Dubai World Cup. Godolphin’s enigmatic colt did not have a good experience at his last American foray – he was pulled up in the 2017 Kentucky Derby – but has the capacity to pose a challenge here. Saeed bin Suroor’s ward, who had a lung opener on turf last month when he finished last of eight, has his usual partner Christophe Soumillon astride.
A pair of 3-year-olds, both in receipt of 4 pounds, must also come into consideration. One is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Coolmore hope, Mendelssohn (by Scat Daddy), to ride whom Ryan Moore has flown in to New York, giving up potential winning rides in the Middle Park Stakes and Cambridgeshire Handicap back at his home base of Newmarket. That must count for something! Third in the Gr.3 Dwyer Stakes on the same afternoon as Diversify won the Suburban, Mendelssohn showed glimpses of his best form when second to Catholic Boy in the Gr.1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga last month and will need to progress as much again to make an impact here.
The transplanted Gronkowski (by Lonhro) raised expectations when second in the Gr.1 Belmont Stakes (to Justify) on his initial US start but blotted his copybook when a dismal eighth in the aforementioned Travers where he was 10 lengths in arrears to Mendelssohn. Trainer Chad Brown has reverted to the use of Jose Ortiz at the controls – he was on board in the Belmont – replacing Joel Rosario, who is just as talented.
Overall it promises to be a fascinating 12 hours of non-stop action that ought to provide several clues to the rankings as the 2018 racing season draws to a close in a couple of months.