December 13, 2018

Nelson has Herculean task in Royal Lodge, BC Challenge race on European Road to Kentucky Derby

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Nelson ranks as the even-money favorite in Saturday’s Royal Lodge (G2) at Newmarket, but you might say he faces a “Herculean” task. That’s because Herculean, a fellow son of Frankel, is nipping at his heels in the market for the race won by their all-time great sire in 2010. (Friday update: Unfortunately, Herculean is out after a dirty scope.)

The one-mile Royal Lodge, a Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” for the Juvenile Turf (G1), also serves as a points race on the new “European Road to the Kentucky Derby.” That separate scoring system, offering a Derby spot to the top point-getter from a total of seven designated races in Europe, began with Saxon Warrior winning the September 24 Beresford (G2) at Naas. Like his Ballydoyle stablemate Saxon Warrior, Nelson is much more in the mold of an Epsom Derby (G1) contender than one for Churchill Downs.

A Frankel three-quarter brother to 2016 Epsom Derby runner-up US Army Ranger, and son of 2008 Irish Oaks (G1) heroine Moonstone, Nelson has taken a few starts to hit his stride. But he’s dominated his last two over a mile at Leopardstown, breaking his maiden by three lengths and capturing the Willis Towers Watson Champions Juvenile (G3) by the same margin. In the process, Nelson earned a berth in the Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar, but O’Brien was quick to nominate the October 28 Racing Post Trophy (G1) as a likelier target. Ryan Moore takes over at the helm here.

Juddmonte homebred Herculean steps up from a debut maiden victory going seven furlongs at Ascot, where he was piloted by Moore. Trained by Roger Charlton, he is a full brother to stablemate Fair Eva, who peaked at two with a smashing score in the Princess Margaret (G3). Herculean and Fair Eva are by Frankel and out of Group 1-winning highweight sprinter African Rose. Andrea Atzeni picks up the mount on the early second choice.

John Gosden has a fascinating contender in Qatar Racing’s Roaring Lion, a Kitten’s Joy colt who is unbeaten from two starts. Victorious over a mile on Newmarket’s July Course (as opposed to this Rowley Mile), the Kentucky-bred followed up by routing his foes on the Kempton Polytrack. The son of Grade 1-placed Vionnet, and grandson of talented racemare and prolific producer Cambiocorsa, has massive upside.

Mildenberger brings an eye-catching formline into the Royal Lodge, having finished third to early 2000 Guineas (G1) favorite Expert Eye in a hot renewal of the Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood. That remains his only loss from four starts, and the Mark Johnston pupil has since come back to take the Stonehenge in a photo at Salisbury. Considering that the Teofilo colt scored his biggest-margin win over softish ground at Newbury, he may even be better suited to these good-to-soft conditions.

Petrus, a distant fourth to Expert Eye in their mutual debut, prevailed next time out at Sandown, and now tries stakes company for Brian Meehan. Rounding out the six-horse field is Midnight Wilde, outclassed on paper and reaching for the blinkers in hopes of improvement.

Post time for the Royal Lodge, the 1ST on a blockbuster card on Cambridgeshire Day at Newmarket, is 8:50 a.m. (EDT).

Next comes the Cheveley Park (G1) for two-year-old fillies over six furlongs, featuring O’Brien’s Duchess of Cambridge (G2) winner Clemmie. Lowther (G2) heroine Threading seeks to remain undefeated for Johnston, while Queen Mary (G2) victress Heartache, last seen beating the boys in the Flying Childers (G2), tries an extra furlong, and Albany (G3) upsetter Different League comes off a third versus colts in the Prix Morny (G1).

The Middle Park (G1) pits Morny hero Unfortunately against an O’Brien posse led by Phoenix (G1) winner Sioux Nation and Round Tower (G3) romper U S Navy Flag; Railway (G2) scorer Beckford, runner-up in both the Phoenix and Vincent O’Brien National (G1); Gimcrack (G2) victor Sands of Mali; Coventry (G2) winner Rajasinghe, third in the July (G2) last out; and Johnston’s July hero Cardsharp, subsequently third in both the Richmond (G2) and Gimcrack.

Watch and wager on the Newmarket action at TwinSpires.com.