OCTOBER 17, 2006
by Kellie Reilly
In our final installment before the Breeders' Cup, I'll review the recent European prizes that could have an impact on the November 4 festivities at Churchill Downs. This month's edition will then wrap up with a quick look at Australia to mention a few Northern Hemisphere invaders taking part in the Melbourne Spring Carnival.
Europe's most prestigious fall contest, the October 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1), produced a thrilling finish, but not the one I was anticipating. Juddmonte Farms' homebred RAIL LINK (Dansili [GB]) unleashed a potent turn of foot in the stretch to overhaul Japan's (and my) hero, DEEP IMPACT (Sunday Silence), and then held on by a neck from the fast finishing mare PRIDE (Peintre Celebre). Going into the Arc, Rail Link had to rank as the third of horseman Andre Fabre's threesome, but the improving three-year-old put his better fancied stablemates HURRICANE RUN (Montjeu [Ire]) and SHIROCCO (Ger) (Monsun) in the shade. Hurricane Run could do no better than fourth, while the forwardly placed Shirocco faded to wind up a disappointing last of eight.
Deep Impact was valiant in defeat, beaten just three-quarters of a length in third, but I will always have the gnawing suspicion that he wasn't given the chance to deliver his best effort. Those who have seen replays of his Japanese races will recall that he usually canters well off the pace, with Yutaka Take nearly standing up in the irons as Deep Impact settles into his powerful, rhythmic stride. His trademark is circling the field on the final turn, settling the issue in a few imperious strides and clocking a sizzling time for his last half-mile. The pity was that he never got the opportunity to do that at Longchamp. Instead, Deep Impact was taken out of his game from the beginning as he closely stalked the early pace, and although he struck the front in the straight, he was unable to finish as strongly as is customary.
If Deep Impact had been allowed to lope along further back with Rail Link and Pride, it's arguable that he could have employed his ruthless late kick and outsprinted those two to the line. We'll have to consign that opinion to the tantalizing "What ifs?" of history, as the superstar will conclude his career in Japan this autumn and will take up stud duties in his homeland in 2007.
On a more hopeful note, Rail Link will race next year as a four-year-old, with a second tilt at the Arc on the horizon. Hurricane Run and Shirocco are possible for the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1), but Fabre has sounded very iffy about it, worrying about a likely lack of pace for Hurricane Run and mentioning the November 26 Japan Cup (Jpn-G1) as an alternative for both of them. Moreover, the trainer told the Racing Post Shirocco could be retired without taking part in either race.
The Arc form was upheld in no uncertain terms when Pride and Hurricane Run returned to action on only 13 days' rest in Saturday's Champion S. (Eng-G1). The date -- October 14 -- marked the 940th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, when William, Duke of Normandy, was transformed into the "Conqueror" after his successful cross-channel invasion of England that destroyed the Anglo-Saxon monarchy. Given the world-historical significance of the day, then, it was entirely fitting that the French-bred Pride humbled a field of first-rate males on the hallowed ground at Newmarket.
Pride has been a terrific campaigner at the highest level for the past two seasons, as noted in last month's edition of the International Diary. In the 1 1/4-mile Champion, she got the soft ground that she loves, and the six-year-old bay took full advantage, storming past Hurricane Run and this season's Epsom Derby (Eng-G1) hero SIR PERCY (Mark of Esteem [Ire]) en route to a comprehensive, three-length triumph. For the third time this season, Pride had conquered Hurricane Run.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained ROB ROY (Lear Fan) finished well for second, finally hinting that he's ready to fulfill his early promise and marking him as a horse to watch in 2007. Hurricane Run found himself on the early lead and didn't really enjoy that role, but he did show his battling qualities by preserving third in a race that's a bit short for him. Sir Percy, making his first start since Epsom, retreated to a poor seventh. He will be pointed toward the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-G1) in March.
Pride probably won't grace the Breeders' Cup stage, preferring to await the December 10 Hong Kong Cup (HK-G1) to make her final curtain call. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre told the Racing Post Monday, however, that there's still a chance she could be supplemented to the Turf or Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Whether in the Breeders' Cup or in Hong Kong, Pride may be on a collision course with OUIJA BOARD (GB) (Cape Cross [Ire]), whose trainer Ed Dunlop wisely skipped the Champion when the ground came up soft. Ouija Board is heading straight for the Filly & Mare Turf before winding up her illustrious career in the Far East.
The Arc/Champion form has two other ramifications for the Breeders' Cup. First, it bolsters the appeal of RED ROCKS (Galileo [Ire]) in the Turf. The J. Paul Reddam colorbearer, who has been cited a few times in previous International Diaries, had finished second to Rail Link in the July 14 Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-G1). Red Rocks has another suggestive connection to the Arc winner as well. Two starts back in the August 22 Great Voltigeur S. (Eng-G2), Red Rocks was just caught by YOUMZAIN (Sinndar), who himself gave Rail Link a tussle when finishing a close runner-up to that foe in the September 10 Prix Niel (Fr-G2). Youmzain then went on to defeat older horses in the September 24 Preis von Europa (Ger-G1) at Cologne. In sum, Red Rocks can claim serious international form.
Second, Pride had gone down fighting to Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) contender DAVID JUNIOR (Pleasant Tap) in last year's Champion, beaten three-quarters of a length. Of course, David Junior faces the searching question of whether he can transfer his world-class turf form to dirt, but Pride's accomplishments this year underscore just how good her conqueror is.
Brilliant miler GEORGE WASHINGTON (Danehill) will be asked the same question in the Classic, according to The Independent. The Aidan O'Brien colt would have been very difficult to beat in the Mile (G1), but the Coolmore maestros have their hearts set on testing the dirt. Unlike David Junior, who is already accomplished at 1 1/4 miles, George will be stepping up beyond a mile for the first time. Factoring in the unfamiliar surface along with the two-turn debut, it's an awful lot to ask, even if there were no Bernardini (A.P. Indy) or Lava Man (Slew City Slew) in the field. If George can pull this off, he would have to be a true equine genius.
In George's stead, Coolmore will be represented in the Mile by French Two Thousand Guineas (Fr-G1) and Shadwell Turf Mile S. (G1) hero AUSSIE RULES (Danehill) and Queen Anne S. (Eng-G1) winner AD VALOREM (Danzig), third in the Woodbine Mile S. (Can-G1) last time out.
Also on target for the Mile is the Jeremy Noseda-trained ARAAFA (Mull of Kintyre), who may be the best invader judging by his strong form line with George. Araafa defeated that Ballydoyle star in the Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-G1), albeit in bog-like conditions, and is coming off an honorable runner-up effort behind George in the Queen Elizabeth II S. (Eng-G1).
Godolphin has decided to send LIBRETTIST (Danzig) and ECHO OF LIGHT (Dubai Millennium) for the Mile, according to the Racing Post. Librettist had captured the Prix Jacques le Marois (Fr-G1) and Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (Fr-G1) prior to his disappointing sixth in the QEII. Although he exited that effort lame, he reportedly recovered quickly. Echo of Light was in action on Arc weekend, scoring a two-length success in the September 30 Prix Daniel Wildenstein (Fr-G2). That wasn't a particularly deep field, considering that PICARESQUE COAT (Jade Robbery), Deep Impact's traveling companion who's an allowance horse in Japan, finished second. Still, the royally bred Echo of Light is a later developing sort who's on the upgrade and deserves to take a chance. Not only is he a son of the late, great Dubai Millennium, but he is also out of a full sister to highweight and three-time classic victress Salsabil (Ire) (Sadler's Wells).
As far as the Turf is concerned, O'Brien has ruled out DYLAN THOMAS (Ire) (Danehill), last seen failing to cope with dirt in the Jockey Club Gold Cup S. (G1). He has been shelved and will look ahead to his four-year-old campaign.
Ballydoyle's flag will still be flown in the 1 1/2-mile affair, courtesy of the fascinating SCORPION (Montjeu [Ire]). This was a horse I really liked last year. Scorpion made Hurricane Run work hard to beat him in the Irish Derby (Ire-G1), and he followed up with victories in the Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-G1) and St. Leger (Eng-G1) before finishing 10th in the 2005 Arc. After suffering a pastern injury that cost him most of this season, Scorpion returned with a respectable runner-up effort in the October 8 Finale S. at the Curragh. He figures to move forward off that 1 1/2-mile contest on soft-to-heavy ground, and I think he'll be a major player in the Turf. Scorpion's much better than stablemate ACE (Ire) (Danehill), who was second in last year's Turf.
Dylan Thomas wasn't the only classic winner that O'Brien has withdrawn from Breeders' Cup consideration. His triple Oaks queen ALEXANDROVA (Sadler's Wells) will miss the Filly & Mare Turf in the wake of her third in the October 1 Prix de l'Opera (Fr-G1). That Longchamp prize was won in smart style by Princess Zahra Aga Khan's talented MANDESHA (Desert Style), who will remain in training next year with her ultimate goal being the Arc.
Opera runner-up SATWA QUEEN (Muhtathir [GB]) is the only potential Filly & Mare Turf candidate to emerge from the 1 1/4-mile event. The four-year-old has been better than ever in 2006, capturing the August 20 Prix Jean Romanet (Fr-G2) over a pair of Group 1 winners. In the February 24 Balanchine S. at Nad al Sheba, she was second to Team Valor's champion IRRIDESCENCE (Caesour), but Satwa Queen turned the tables when Irridescence trailed her home in the Opera. While the Filly & Mare Turf is shaping up to be a tough race, Satwa Queen is eligible to crack the top three at a handsome price.
As we focus on the Breeders' Cup at this time of year, in Australia, all eyes are watching the Spring Carnival. For the first time, an American horse will take part -- HONOR IN WAR (Lord at War [Arg]), who will line up in the October 28 W. S. Cox Plate (Aus-G1) at Moonee Valley. I hate to downplay this milestone, but Honor in War hasn't been a bona fide Grade 1 campaigner for quite some time. He's a grand old battler, to be sure, but I can't imagine him threatening in this about 1 1/4-mile contest that also marks the Down Under debut of Irish classic hero GREY SWALLOW (Ire) (Daylami [Ire]). According to Australian press reports, the ex-Dermot Weld charge is training well for his new connections.
Leading Australia's home team in the Cox Plate is four-time Group 1 king RACING TO WIN (Encosta de Lago). At the top of his game at present, the gray recently joined a very elite club of horses who have won the Doncaster H. (Aus-G1) and Epsom H. (Aus-G1) in the same year. EL SEGUNDO (Pins), a dual Group 1 victor, had ranked as the antepost favorite for the Cox Plate before being upset in the Yalumba S. (Aus-G1) last time out. His trainer has faulted himself for not having the horse fit enough and expects El Segundo to be sharper at Moonee Valley. Both Racing to Win and El Segundo are contemplating a trip to Hong Kong later in the year.
In the November 7 Melbourne Cup (Aus-G1) at Flemington, the O'Brien-trained YEATS (Ire) (Sadler's Wells) ranks as the 59-kilogram highweight. The impressive winner of the Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-G1) and Goodwood Cup (Eng-G2) this summer, Yeats was just collared late in the September 16 Irish St. Leger (Ire-G1) by the Aga Khan's KASTORIA (Selkirk). (Note that Kastoria will likely turn up in Sunday's Canadian International S. (Can-G1), according to the Daily Racing Form.)
Godolphin will also be represented in the two-mile "race that stops a nation" by the classy IMPERIAL STRIDE (Indian Ridge), who defeated the redoubtable Powerscourt (GB) in a Group 2 contest last season. Out of action for more than a year, he made a winning reappearance in the September 20 Foundation S. at Goodwood. Imperial Stride is expected to contest Saturday's Caulfield Cup (Aus-G1) on the way to his rendezvous with Yeats at Flemington.
Next month's installment will turn the spotlight on Japan as its season reaches a crescendo.
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