December 18, 2017

Nezwaah spearheads European brigade in E.P. Taylor

Nezwaah earned her Group 1 laurel in the Pretty Polly over Rain Goddess (Photo courtesy of The Curragh via Twitter)

British shipper Nezwaah, beaten only a couple of lengths in seventh here a year ago, gets another chance at Sunday’s C$500,000 E.P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine. The 5-2 morning-line favorite, the Roger Varian trainee tops a three-strong raiding party comprising Blond Me from the Andrew Balding yard and Rain Goddess for record-seeking Aidan O’Brien.

Nezwaah has improved since her last Canadian visit, winning her first two starts of the season including a convincing display in the Pretty Polly (G1). The Dubawi daughter readily handled runner-up Rain Goddess at the Curragh that day, over this 1 1/4-mile distance, and giving her 10 pounds as well. Nezwaah tried 1 1/2 miles last time out in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), but checked in fourth after being held up well behind the pace set by Enable. Varian indicated that Nezwaah would revert in trip, and regular partner Andrea Atzeni comes along for the ride.

Blond Me was in the form of her life before a debacle in the Prix Vermeille (G1), where she was hampered on the far turn, and jockey Oisin Murphy wrapped up thereafter. But her first-up victory in the Middleton (G2), and her excellent second to Winter in the Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood, put Blond Me squarely into win contention here as a 6-1 shot. The seasoned traveler, who was runner-up in the 2015 Sands Point (G2) at Belmont and sixth in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland, beat males in last fall’s Topkapi Trophy (G2) in Istanbul.

Rain Goddess could help O’Brien tie or break Bobby Frankel’s single-season record of 25 Group 1 wins, pending the weekend action at Newmarket and Caulfield. The hardy filly has already raced nine times during her sophomore campaign, compiling runner-up efforts to Enable in the Irish Oaks (G1) and Nezwaah in the Pretty Polly before earning her first stakes victory in the Snow Fairy (G3). Yet Rain Goddess must reach a higher level to reverse form with the favorite, especially since her previous North American venture resulted in an eighth in the Beverly D. (G1). Third in the Blandford (G2) in her latest, the Galileo filly will maintain her teamwork with Ryan Moore at 9-2.

Leading the North American-based hopes is an import herself – Quidura, a British-bred for German-based Gestut Fahrhof. After opening 2017 with a third to Dickinson and Lady Eli in the Jenny Wiley (G1), the Graham Motion filly was runner-up in the New York (G2) and a head second to Lady Eli in the Diana (G1). She deserved to regain the winner’s circle after that brave near-miss, and the Canadian (G2) proved the right spot for it. As another by Dubawi, Quidura could be part of an E.P. Taylor exacta for the Darley sire with Nezwaah.

It wouldn’t be a major turf stakes without Chad Brown, and he’s doubly represented by Rainha Da Bateria and Fourstar Crook. Rainha Da Bateria brought results similar to Quidura – a close third in the Diana and a Canadian score – into last year’s E.P. Taylor, winding up a close fifth. During a more limited campaign this season, she dead-heated for the win in the Dance Smartly (G2) over this course and distance and rattled home from last for fourth in the Beverly D. Rainha Da Bateria has the look of a 10-1 overlay. Stablemate Fourstar Crook merits respect for winning nine of her last 10, including the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3) in a rare foray outside of New York-bred company. Considering how handily she’s won the past two runnings of the nine-furlong John Hettinger, the extra furlong shouldn’t be a problem. She also keeps Javier Castellano.

Kitten’s Roar hails from the connections of 2016 E.P. Taylor heroine Al’s Gal, as a Ken and Sarah Ramsey colorbearer trained by Mike Maker. The Kitten’s Joy filly has been competing well in a series of marquee events, from her fourth in the Jenny Wiley, a third in the New York, and a fifth in the Beverly D., before lording it over her rivals in the Ramsey Farm at Kentucky Downs. Since both of her stakes scores have come on rain-affected courses, Kitten’s Roar may move up the most if the turf comes up softer.

Sassy Little Lila looms as the controlling speed, and she nearly wired last December’s American Oaks (G1) and the June 10 Just a Game (G1). A tiring fifth versus males in the Fourstardave (G1) on a yielding course at Saratoga, the Brad Cox pupil was a well-beaten second in the Noble Damsel (G3) in her latest. Perhaps the Artie Schiller half to Group 2-winning highweight Pomology can use that tactical foot to better effect at this distance, as she did in a Belmont allowance last October. Florent Geroux will know how to nurse her along.

Puca, the Big Brown half-sister to Grade 1-winning millionaire Finnegans Wake, went to Suffolk to earn her stakes breakthrough in the restricted Steve Pini Memorial. Although more is required on form, she wasn’t beaten far when fourth to Dickinson in the Suwannee River (G3) in her last graded attempt for Bill Mott.

The six-furlong Nearctic (G2) has lured one European shipper, Cotai Glory, whose third to Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1)-bound Marsha and Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe (G1) leaps off the page. Although a five-furlong specialist on a straightaway at home, Woodbine’s contours may help him navigate the extra furlong for trainer Charlie Hills. The near-misser in the 2016 King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot has been installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

His rivals include Christophe Clement’s sophomore White Flag, who made it three in a row in his Allied Forces stakes debut; White Flag’s former stablemate Dowse’s Beach, runner-up in the Play the King (G2) and a claiming success story for Cox; well-bred Yorkton, a three-time stakes winner over both surfaces at Woodbine this season; Ikerrin Road, who reverts to turf after his Tapeta score in the Bold Venture (G3); the Mark Casse pair of Conquest Tsunami and Field of Courage; and Circle of Friends.

Sunday’s lone stakes on the Tapeta is a more than usually intriguing edition of the C$125,000 Ontario Derby (G3). Queen’s Plate victress Holy Helena aims to get back on track after an eighth in the Alabama (G1). Ken McPeek’s Preakness (G1) third Senior Investment is the last horse to beat West Coast when catching him napping in the Lexington (G3). Queen’s Plate runner-up Tiz a Slam, Prince of Wales upsetter Cool Catomine, the admirably consistent filly Grizzel, and American Derby (G3) and Arlington Classic (G3) runner-up Gorgeous Kitten are others to note in the 1 1/8-mile test.

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