December 13, 2018

Capri fends off challenges from Crystal Ocean, Stradivarius in St Leger

Capri could tackle the Arc after becoming the first Irish Derby winner since Nijinsky II to add the St Leger (Photo courtesy Doncaster via Twitter/Facebook)

A deep renewal of the world’s oldest classic turned out to be elegant in its simplicity, as form choice Capri justified 3-1 favoritism in Saturday’s St Leger (G1) at Doncaster. Last seen landing the Irish Derby (G1), the Aidan O’Brien trainee became the first winner of the Curragh classic to prevail in Doncaster’s test of stamina since the legendary Nijinsky II in 1970.

Jockey Ryan Moore was winning his first St Leger, thus completing a career sweep of all the british classics. That accomplishment was a reward for choosing wisely, for he had previously guided Crystal Ocean to a breakout victory in the Gordon (G3). But he wasn’t totally convinced that Sir Michael Stoute’s up-and-comer had the requisite staying capacity for the 1 3/4-mile, 115-yard St Leger.

Capri, on the other hand, appeared to have bottomless stamina in the Irish Derby, where he stalked the rabbit and stayed on remorselessly to hold Cracksman. When Crystal Ocean loomed late in the St Leger, Capri dug in, and Moore’s judgment proved impeccable.

The stage was set by the Ballydoyle pacemaker The Anvil, who sprinted far ahead in the early going. Stablemates Douglas Macarthur and Venice Beach led the main body of the field, with Capri tucked in fourth. Next came the John Gosden pair of Stradivarius and the filly Coronet, whom Frankie Dettori had chosen in preference to Stradivarius. In this case, though, the choice wasn’t the right one, for Coronet ultimately couldn’t keep pace.

Capri cruised up to take the baton in the straight, while Stradivarius kept on boldly on the inside. Actually cutting back in trip after downing two-time champion Big Orange in the Goodwood Cup (G1), Stradivarius threatened until Capri got the better of him.

Then Crystal Ocean played his hand. New rider Jim Crowley, aware of the stamina concerns, dropped him well back to conserve energy as long as possible. The tactic nearly worked. Still on the bridle for a long way, Crystal Ocean threw down a stiff challenge to Capri, but could not sustain it. Capri kept finding more to hold his rival by a half-length, finishing in 3:04.04 on the good-to-soft course.

Stradivarius just missed runner-up honors in a photo. Rekindling rallied from the rear to grab fourth from Coronet, who was followed by Count Octave, Raheen House, Venice Beach, Douglas Macarthur, Defoe, and The Anvil.

Capri could now advance to the October 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), O’Brien suggested. A leading juvenile with scores in the Beresford (G2) and Canford Cliffs, the gray also placed third in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1). He resurfaced with a fourth in the Ballysax (G3), progressed to a neck third in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3), and finished a creditable sixth in the Derby (G1). While Epsom didn’t pan out for him tactically, the Irish Derby was a different story, and now he’s a dual classic winner.

By Galileo and out of the winning Anabaa mare Dialafara, Capri hails from the same family as fellow staying sophomore Desert Skyline, who just beat older horses in Friday’s Doncaster Cup (G2).

O’Brien turned a Group race double at Doncaster with two-year-old Seahenge getting up in a three-way scrum in the Champagne (G2), edging Hey Gaman and hitherto unbeaten favorite Mythical Magic. His son Donnacha was aboard, for Moore instead rode Mendelssohn, the $3 million half-brother to Beholder and Into Mischief, who ended up an eased last.

Seahenge, a debut winner at Naas, was most recently fifth to early 2000 Guineas (G1) favorite Expert Eye in the Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood. Others have come out of that race to flatter the winner – third-placer Mildenberger subsequently captured the Stonehenge at Newbury, and the fourth, James Garfield, missed by a nose in the Acomb (G3).

A $750,000 Keeneland September yearling by Scat Daddy, the Kentucky-bred Seahenge is out of the stakes-winning Not for Love mare Fools in Love, herself a half-sister to multiple Grade 2 scorer International Star.

Seahenge now has the Dewhurst (G1) on his itinerary.

In the day’s first stakes, the Martyn Meade-trained Aclaim finished fast with Oisin Murphy to deny the filly Nathra in the Park S. (G2). Favored Home of the Brave, a Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) hopeful, was third.

Aclaim, winner of last fall’s Challenge (G2) over this seven-furlong trip at Newmarket, was coming off a close second in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1). He’s penciled in for the Prix de la Foret (G1) on Arc Day.