September 25, 2018

Breeders’ Cup candidates Rhododendron, Happily turn Group 1 double for O’Brien

Happily is the first filly to take the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere since 1986 (Photo courtesy Irish Champions Weekend via Twitter)

The Breeders’ Cup is likely on the agenda for the Aidan O’Brien fillies who produced a thrilling exacta in the about 1 1/4-mile Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day at Chantilly – Rhododendron and Hydrangea.

Rhododendron, the 2016 Fillies’ Mile (G1) romper over Hydrangea, was second as the favorite in two classics — to Winter in the 1000 Guineas (G1) and Enable in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom. But she had a difficult experience in her last visit to Chantilly when pulled up in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1). Rhododendron reportedly bled that day, and obviously needed the run in her comeback seventh to Hydrangea and Winter in the Matron (G1). Ryan Moore opted for Hydrangea in their Opera rematch, leaving Seamie Heffernan the plum pick-up mount on the 9-1 winner.

The two Galileo offspring fought hammer and tong in the stretch. Rhododendron might have said to Hydrangea, “You’ve already got your Filly & Mare Turf (G1) ticket from the Matron; I need mine,” as she outdueled her in the “Win & You’re In.” Last fall’s Filly & Mare Turf victress, Queen’s Trust, was a subpar eighth, but the soft ground wasn’t in her favor.

Rhododendron handed O’Brien his 22nd Group 1 win of the season, just three behind the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 in a calendar year. She was also furnishing him (and sire Galileo) an Arc Day double after Happily notched number 21 in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) under Moore.

The first filly since Danishkada in 1986 to beat the boys in France’s marquee race for juveniles, Happily was gaining a measure of revenge for the disqualification of full brother Gleneagles in the 2014 Lagardere. The last-out Moyglare Stud (G1) heroine mastered Olmedo and Godolphin’s Masar in the final yards.

While Happily’s 10 points on the “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” aren’t likely to factor in her 2018 plans, she could still accept her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) “Win & You’re In” offer from the Moyglare.

O’Brien’s Moyglare near-misser Magical didn’t uphold that form in the Arc Day opener, the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1), where the 7-5 favorite wound up fourth to Godolphin’s 15-1 shot Wild Illusion.

Supplemented in the wake of her third in the Prix d’Aumale (G3), the Charlie Appleby pupil stalked in second early before forging clear for James Doyle. The Dubawi homebred, clearly responding to first-time cheekpieces, reeled off the metric mile in 1:37.47 – noticeably faster than Happily’s 1:38.51 in the Lagardere. The hitherto unbeaten Polydream finished belatedly for runner-up honors.

The Boussac was a “Win & You’re In,” but Wild Illusion is politely declining the Juvenile Fillies Turf berth. Appleby suggested that she’d now head into winter quarters.

In the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1), Sheikh Hamdan’s Battaash put on the kind of raw speed exhibition we’d hoped to see in the Nunthorpe (G1). The son of Dark Angel had lost his cool at York, finishing a tame fourth to Marsha and Lady Aurelia, but was a different animal here. Zooming four lengths to the good of defending Abbaye champion Marsha and Profitable, the 3-1 Battaash clocked about five furlongs in :57.59.

Both trainer Charlie Hills and jockey Jim Crowley revealed that Battaash, whose previous career high came in the King George (G2) at Glorious Goodwood, was the fastest horse in their personal experience. And as a three-year-old gelding, he’s eligible to be around for a long time.

Any hopes of a rematch with Lady Aurelia at Del Mar, though, were quickly squelched. Hills reported that Battaash wouldn’t be seen in action again this fall, but he added that the 2018 Breeders’ Cup could be a target. Of course, he also spoke of Australia’s Everest (G1) for this time next year, so the summertime King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot could be the place to give us that Lady Aurelia-Battaash showdown.

Marsha is doubtful for the Breeders’ Cup, indeed questionable for any other upcoming race, with her next public appearance likely coming in the sales ring at Tattersalls December.

If the about seven-furlong Prix de la Foret (G1) has any Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) implications, it won’t involve the victorious Aclaim. Escaping from the pocket courtesy of a quick decision by jockey Oisin Murphy, the 3-1 chance held sway in 1:25.75 in his seasonal finale. The 32-1 So Beloved got up for second, nipping game pacesetter Karar, who is possible for the Mile.

Trainer Martyn Meade indicated that Aclaim’s future is to be determined. With the all-important Group 1 finally on his resume after scores in the 2016 Challenge (G2) and the Park (G2) last out, and a close second in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1) two back, the Acclamation colt might be whisked off to stud.

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