January 20, 2022

First turn 8-20

Last updated: 10/22/04 11:44 AM



Kitten’s Joy leads America’s turf ranks

by James Scully

The Arlington Million (G1) was the main focus of Saturday’s
International Festival of Racing and generated plenty of
controversy when the stewards made a poor decision to take down
the best horse in the race, but the Secretariat S. (G1) featured
the premiere American turf horse two races later. KITTEN’S JOY (El
Prado [Ire]) displayed a dazzling turn on the far turn to swoop
past all of his rivals into the stretch of the Secretariat and
easily won the 1 1/4-mile event under wraps.

The Dale Romans-trained three-year-old is America’s best hope
for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Kitten’s Joy earned his fifth
graded win (all on turf) and ran the same distance two-fifths of
a second faster than older horses in the Million. His only career
defeat on the grass came by a hard-fought head against a quality
foe, and he’ll be difficult to beat the rest of this year against
older horses. Fellow sophomores BLACKDOUN (Fr) (Verglas [Ire])
and ARTIE SCHILLER (El Prado [Ire]) also both appear capable of
defeating their elders.

There aren’t any older horses to fear in the entire world with
the possible exception of DOYEN (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells).

The Americans take turns beating each other. Kicken Kris,
BETTER TALK NOW (Talkin Man), METEOR STORM (GB) (Bigstone [Ire]),
REQUEST FOR PAROLE (Judge T C) and STROLL (Pulpit) have all won
major events and all proven very beatable. But while it may be
fair to knock our older turf division, don’t be fooled into
believing the Europeans are much better.

We only have to look at the King George VI & Queen
Elizabeth Diamond S. (Eng-G1) on July 24 for the perfect example.

HARD BUCK (Brz) (Spend a Buck) captured the Gulfstream Park
Breeders’ Cup H. (G1) by a head over BALTO STAR (Glitterman),
with Kicken Kris third, in late February, but he dropped his next
three outings, including a loss to SENOR SWINGER (El Prado [Ire])
in June. Following his dull fifth-place finish in the July 3
United Nations (G1), one would be hard-pressed to rate Hard Buck
among the best five turf horses in the United States.

Three weeks later he’s at Ascot challenging Doyen inside the
final quarter-mile in one of England’s most prestigious summer
events, finishing second and beating SULAMANI (Ire) (Hernando [Fr])
and other highly regarded Europeans like WARRSAN (Caerleon), who
defeated Doyen earlier this year, and VALLEE ENCHANTEE (Peintre
Celebre) in the Diamond.

Once again, Hard Buck was over in England last month making
most of his rivals look bad in one of their biggest races for
older horses.

Sulamani, who was no factor when fifth in last year’s
Breeders’ Cup Turf, came back to win Tuesday’s Juddmonte
International S. (Eng-G1) at York. And he didn’t catch a weak
Group 1 field in that event either. The undefeated and highly
regarded BAGO (Nashwan), a three-time Group 1 winner, was the
heavy favorite on Tuesday but could do no better than third.

Doyen is now riding a two-race Group 1 win skein and easily
handled Hard Buck by three lengths at the end of their only
meeting. He certainly looks very formidable the rest of the year,
but I wouldn’t get too carried away singing his praises because
his best races have both come at Ascot. Let’s see him reproduce
that form elsewhere. The rest of the Europeans look capable of
beating each other on any afternoon.

That includes POWERSCOURT (GB) (Sadler’s Wells), who came
across the Atlantic to trounce his opponents on Saturday. The
outcome of the Million would’ve been the same whether he ran
straight or not, and his connections probably got a raw deal
because he was clear when coming over in the stretch.

A tiring EPALO (Ger) (Lando [Ger]) freaked when a clear
Powerscourt crossed over in front of him. As a result, an
inconsequential situation arose as Epalo bore into Kicken Kris,
who bumped into the rail as a result of the contact. He quickly
recovered to be a clear-cut second, but Kicken Kris never had a
prayer of catching the first-place finisher. Powerscourt, who was
behind Kicken Kris entering the stretch drive, sped by everybody
like they were standing still and continued strongly to the wire.

Winner of the Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-G1) in his first start
this year, Powerscourt finished a solid second to RAKTI (Polish
Precedent) in the Prince of Wales’s S. (Eng-G1) next out and then
came home fifth behind REFUSE TO BEND (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells) in
the Coral-Eclipse S. (Eng-G1). He tuned up for the Million with a
runner-up showing in a German Group 1 event and is now hitting
his best stride for conditioner Aidan O’Brien. The improving four-year-old
shouldn’t be dismissed as a European second stringer and could
take a turn with a major success later this season overseas.

European best turf horses might hold an edge over our older
horses, but they’ll have their hands full if they come over to
face our three-year-olds. I would take Kitten’s Joy right now
over any turf horse in the world.

The chestnut has earned BRIS Speed ratings of 110 and 108
while cruising to highly impressive scores going 10 furlongs in
his last two starts. He wasn’t seriously threatened either time
and owns room for more improvement. Distance doesn’t look like
any kind of an impediment, and Kitten’s Joy is poised to win the
Breeders’ Cup Turf this year if he keeps getting better as

Blackdoun looks special. He won his U.S. debut in commendable
fashion, taking a division of the Oceanside S. in a stakes-record
1:33 2/5, and then overcame trouble and exploded to win the La
Jolla H. (G2) on Saturday. The Julio Canani trainee hasn’t faced
quality competition like Kitten’s Joy, but the talented colt
could be any kind in the future.

Artie Schiller is also going very well presently, with the
only setback from his last four turf stakes being a runner-up
finish to Kitten’s Joy in the Virginia Derby.

I’d rank the American turf horses in the following order now:

1   Kitten’s Joy
2   Blackdoun
3   Artie Schiller
4   Kicken Kris
5   Hard Buck