September 25, 2018

U S Navy Flag romps in Dewhurst; O’Brien one away from tying Bobby Frankel

U S Navy Flag topped the Ballydoyle superfecta and became the first horse in 35 years to turn the Middle Park/Dewhurst double (Photo courtesy of Newmarket via Facebook)

Trainer Aidan O’Brien took a step closer to Bobby Frankel’s record on Saturday when U S Navy Flag ran his rivals ragged in the Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket. That marked O’Brien’s 24th Group 1 win of the season, with two chances at Woodbine Sunday to tie – or break – the late Hall of Famer’s mark of 25. Rain Goddess picks up the baton in the E.P. Taylor (G1), and Idaho anchors the potentially historic sequence in the Canadian International (G1).

U S Navy Flag’s triumph was particularly meaningful because he topped a clean O’Brien sweep of the superfecta, completed a rare Middle Park (G1)-Dewhurst double, and clocked juvenile course-record time.

A full brother to multiple Group 1 star Roly Poly, who captured last Saturday’s Sun Chariot (G1) here, U S Navy Flag was dispatched as a lukewarm 5-1 second choice. His odds reflected lingering questions from the Middle Park, the historical challenge of taking both of Newmarket’s major juvenile prizes, and most of all the allure of hitherto unbeaten Expert Eye, the early 2000 Guineas (G1) favorite who was hammered into 4-7 in the Dewhurst.

Half of the Ballydoyle squad was friendless in the market. Mendelssohn, the $3 million Scat Daddy half-brother to Beholder, was a 50-1 longshot after trailing behind Seahenge in the Champagne (G2). Seahenge was 9-1 in the rematch, while Threeandfourpence was a 20-1 chance. Yet the entire team performed to finish in that order. Cardsharp was best of the rest in fifth, while the well-regarded Emaraaty (6-1) and Expert Eye shockingly filled the last two places.

According to subsequent report, Expert Eye scoped clean but turned up lame in his right hind leg. The favorite never gave his backers much cause for hope, lathering up and over-racing in pursuit of U S Navy Flag, who bagged the lead and the rail.

The eventual winner was moving better at every stage for Ryan Moore, and left them toiling with a decisive burst. A commanding 2 1/2 lengths clear at the wire, U S Navy Flag covered seven furlongs in a snappy 1:22.37.

Mendelssohn responded well in first-time blinkers to stay on for second, pulling 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Seahenge in a total reversal of their Champagne. They thereby gave late sire Scat Daddy the minor placings. Since fourth-placer Threeandfourpence is by War Front, like U S Navy Flag, that Claiborne patriarch furnished the bookends for O’Brien. All four were bred in Kentucky.

O’Brien is considering the Breeders’ Cup for U S Navy Flag, who became the first juvenile since Diesis (1982) to win the six-furlong Middle Park and seven-furlong Dewhurst. But that stat is just part of the story, as Racing Post provides further historical context. You have to go back before the First World War to scrounge up the only other Middle Park/Dewhurst sweepers of the 20th century, the great Bayardo (1908) and Lemberg (1909).

Out of four-time Group 1 vixen Misty for Me, U S Navy Flag was ending a day of Group 1 frustration for the yard. Stablemate September was unlucky not to take Fillies’ Mile (G1) at Newmarket on Friday. Overnight in Australia, Johannes Vermeer failed to catch front-running Gailo Chop by a head in the Caulfield S. (G1).

“He ran super, he really launched late,” jockey Katelyn Mallyon told racing.com, “and I think he’s a really good chance next week in the Caulfield Cup (G1).”

So whether O’Brien reaches the pinnacle at Woodbine Sunday or not, the master of Ballydoyle will be loaded for next Saturday, especially for Ascot’s Champions Day.

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