May 25, 2024

War Decree enters Breeders’ Cup Classic picture after flawless Diamond

War Decree, pictured beating Thunder Snow in last summer's Vintage (Photo courtesy Goodwood via Twitter)

After a lackluster beginning to the season and a summer holiday, War Decree returned with a vengeance in Friday’s Diamond (G3) at Dundalk, setting himself up for a big autumn that could include a trip to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

With trainer Aidan O’Brien pursuing a first BC Classic victory, as well as the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Grade/Group 1 wins in a calendar year, it will be awfully tempting to roll the dice with the high-class War Front colt. And for whatever it’s worth, O’Brien’s other Diamond winner by War Front was Declaration of War, beaten all of a neck in third in the 2013 Classic at Santa Anita.

Campaigned by breeder Andrew Rosen in partnership with Coolmore, War Decree was a leading juvenile who defeated Thunder Snow in last summer’s Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood. He was put away for the year, and over the winter, nominated to the US Triple Crown. War Decree instead looked toward a European classic campaign, which got off to a rocky start with a sixth as the 9-4 favorite in the Craven (G3) at Newmarket. He did better in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1), showing late interest for fifth, but wasn’t seen again until Friday.

War Decree was sent off as the 7-2 second choice in this first try on Polytrack, with 7-4 favoritism going to Sir Michael Stoute’s filly Abingdon. Traveling conspicuously well for Donnacha O’Brien, War Decree was nestled just off the pace established by Abingdon, alongside stablemate and defending champion Long Island Sound in the second flight. O’Brien’s third string, De Coronado (Zenyatta’s underachieving full brother), prompted the leader early. When Long Island Sound could no longer maintain his position, War Decree smoothly crept up into a ground-saving third, his sights right on the top two.

De Coronado challenged Abingdon in earnest turning for home and in upper stretch, but War Decree was just cantering under a chilly Donnacha. It was a case of point-and-click from there, as War Decree skipped away from them with apparent ease. The Kentucky-bred bay drew off by 2 1/4 lengths, in hand, and completed 1 1/4 miles and 150 yards in 2:12.66.

The genuine Absolute Blast outfinished Abingdon for runner-up honors, and the 50-1 Santa Monica rounded out a female sweep of second, third, and fourth. De Coronado faded to seventh, and Long Island Sound was a tailed-off last in his first appearance since March.

The Breeders’ Cup is more than idle speculation, as Donnacha’s postrace quotes make clear that the idea has already been floated.

“War Decree has a lot of ability but getting it out of him can be hard at times,” he told Racing Post’s Brian Sheerin. “He loved that surface and hard ground is what he needs.

“He had a little break after his run in France, and that was a lovely prep run for him if he did go down the Breeders’ Cup route. I would say that would suit him as he likes quick ground.”