Team Europe has three go to bat against a fierce North American squad in the E.P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine Sunday and the best value of them could be Blond Me at 6-1. Hitting her prime this campaign at five, the Andrew Balding mare beat Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) star Queen’s Trust on rain-softened going in her first two outings of 2017. Blond Me scored her signature win on British soil in the May 18 Middleton (G2), where she did her best work late to make a mockery of her 11-1 price.
Blond Me causes a bit of an upset for in-form Andrew Balding in the Betfred Middleton Stakes pic.twitter.com/4PzlRxeVFs
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 18, 2017
But her most tantalizing result came in defeat. Not seen again until the August 3 Nassau (G1) in desperate conditions at Goodwood, Blond Me closed for second to Aidan O’Brien’s star Winter. The next across the line have advertised its merit. Third-placer Sobetsu returned to win the Prix de la Nonette (G2), and fourth Hydrangea subsequently upset Winter before just getting outdueled by Breeders’ Cup-bound stablemate Rhododendron in the Prix de l’Opera (G1).
What a filly! Winter pockets the Nassau, her fourth Group 1 this season. How many more will there be for this Ballydoyle superstar? pic.twitter.com/qI7f6I9IAW
— Champions Series (@ChampionsSeries) August 3, 2017
Unfortunately, Blond Me had an awful experience when herself trying to follow up in France in the Prix Vermeille (G1). Since she suffered costly interference on the far turn (an incident prompting a stewards’ inquiry with no change), it’s best to toss that forgivable run. Otherwise she sports a pretty rich vein of form going into the E.P. Taylor.
From the deep family of two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Conduit, Glass Harmonium, and Arab Spring, Blond Me has experience in taking her game on the road. Last year, she landed the International Topkapi Trophy (G2) over lesser males at Istanbul’s Veliefendi, and at three, she was a late-running second in the Sands Point (G2) at Belmont, edging Miss Temple City. Her record also has a couple of flops, but considering her improvement this term from years past, I don’t think she can be bound by them at this point in her career. I’d surmise that the real Blond Me would turn up at Woodbine, and she won’t mind the rain.
Nezwaah deserves 5-2 favoritism as the only Group 1 winner in the field, and like Blond Me, she’s reached the peak of her powers this season. Hence her seventh in the 2016 E.P. Taylor (G1) isn’t to be held against her, especially since she broke slowly and raced further back than ideal.
As a daughter of Dubawi and the Dansili mare Ferdoos, who earned her stakes win at four, Nezwaah was entitled to improve with age for trainer Roger Varian. She duly built upon her solid three-year-old season, highlighted by a victory over her elders in the Hoppings S. and a near-miss to So Mi Dar at Yarmouth, this year. Nezwaah was supposed to kick off 2017 in the Dahlia (G2) at Newmarket, only to be scratched at the gate after breaking prematurely. She didn’t need to be pitch-perfect to flick aside outclassed rivals next time in the Rothesay at Ayr May 24.
Interestingly, Varian gave her an entry in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) versus Highland Reel, Decorated Knight, and Ulysses at Royal Ascot. Nezwaah swerved that ambitious spot and remained in her own division for the July 2 Pretty Polly (G1) at the Curragh, where she swept to a 3 1/4-length decision over Rain Goddess. As good as that looks on paper, with the likes of Zhukova, Smart Call, and Journey all well adrift, it must be noted that they did not run their race, while the top two did.
We would have gotten a clearer read on Nezwaah in the Nassau, but she was withdrawn due to the bottomless going. Upped in trip to 1 1/2 miles for the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), she was no match for superstar Enable in fourth. Yet she didn’t miss second by much in a three-way photo with Coronet and Queen’s Trust, both of whom had better early position.
Watch Enable capture her second #WinandYoureIN victory of 2017, the Darley Yorkshire Oaks for the #BC17 F&M Turf. Congratulations! pic.twitter.com/ri4NDYmtYn
— Breeders’ Cup (@BreedersCup) August 24, 2017
Nezwaah should prosper back in her 1 1/4-mile wheelhouse, but for two quibbles. First is if the ground gets really soft, particularly in light of her scratch from the Nassau. Pedigree indicates she’d handle a softish course, although she’s yet to race on anything worse than good-to-soft. Second, there’s the more speculative question of how much to rely on the Pretty Polly form, littered with subpar performances. Was it Nezwaah’s perfect storm, or can she duplicate it?
Aidan O’Brien’s Rain Goddess can’t be discounted if judged by her best form, but she may have reached her high-water mark earlier this summer. Unplaced in her first three starts of the spring, including a fifth in the French 1000 Guineas (G1), Rain Goddess then turned in three straight runner-up efforts, each better than the preceding. She was caught late by Wesley Ward’s Con Te Partiro in the Sandringham at Royal Ascot, yielded only to Nezwaah when tackling elders in the Pretty Polly, and finished second to Enable in the Irish Oaks (G1). Had she maintained that level throughout, she’d be a prime threat.
Her last three, though, haven’t been as compelling. American fans may recall that Rain Goddess next shipped for the Beverly D. (G1) and wound up eighth after chasing the pace at Arlington. Back home at the Curragh and getting class relief in the Snow Fairy (G3), Rain Goddess had to work to get the job done by a half-length.
Runner-up in the Pretty Polly and Irish Oaks, it’s a deserved success for Rain Goddess in the Group 3 Snow Fairy Stakes at @curraghrace: pic.twitter.com/gKLnlRAuOA
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) August 27, 2017
Last time out in the Blandford (G2) over the Pretty Polly course and distance, she was a non-threatening third to Shamreen.
Rain Goddess has a likeable attitude as a hard trier, yet a minor award appears likelier than a top-level breakthrough. She couldn’t cope with Nezwaah when in receipt of 10 pounds, and now she gets only five. And although O’Brien is homing in on Bobby Frankel’s record of Grade/Group 1 wins in a single season, her trainer has yet to win the E.P. Taylor in his storied career.