December 7, 2022

European Road to Kentucky Derby: Bye Bye Hong Kong takes Cardinal with U S S Michigan fourth

King Power Racing’s Bye Bye Hong Kong parlayed a great trip into victory in Thursday’s Cardinal Conditions race at Chelmsford City, but at this writing, the denouement of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby is uncertain.

The only two Triple Crown nominees in this final scoring race in Europe finished off the board – U S S Michigan from the Aidan O’Brien yard wound up fourth as the favorite, and pacesetter Shir Khan faded to eighth of nine.

While Bye Bye Hong Kong would garner the Derby invitation as the European Road winner with 30 points from his Cardinal coup, connections would have to supplement the non-nominated colt for $200,000. Trainer Andrew Balding indicated that the Kentucky-bred son of Street Sense does not have designs on the Kentucky Derby, but rather the May 12 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) (G1), according to Ron Flatter via Twitter.

If Bye Bye Hong Kong formally declines, the invitation would go to Cardinal runner-up Antilles, ironically not one of O’Brien’s battalion of Triple Crown nominees. Thus his owners, the partnership of Coolmore and the Niarchos Family’s Flaxman Stables, would have to pay the $200,000 to make him eligible.

It would sum up the unexpected twists and turns of the 2019 Derby trail if the unheralded Antilles, a 33-1 longshot in the British market for the Cardinal (64-1 in North America), were to accept the European Road invitation. Churchill Downs’ Senior Director of Communications, Darren Rogers, reports that no other invitations would be extended on the European Road if Antilles declines. American-based horses trying to make the 20-horse field await that decision with bated breath, after Japan Road invitee Master Fencer has already taken up one spot.

Bye Bye Hong Kong was dispatched at 7-2 based on his juvenile form, including a second in the Tattersalls (G3) at Newmarket and a fifth to Too Darn Hot in the Champagne (G2) two back. Under Silvestre de Sousa, he tracked Shir Khan and Barys before punching down the lane.

Both O’Brien runners were held up off the pace with contrasting results. U S S Michigan’s inexperience may have told when he didn’t get away cleanly, but he worked his way into a reasonable position on the inside, and had every opportunity to kick on.

Less-fancied stablemate Antilles, last seen breaking his maiden in a Naas nursery, was the one rallying boldly late on the outside. Godolphin’s Dark Vision likewise challenged, but Bye Bye Hong Kong would not be denied. Crossing the wire a neck to the good of Antilles, with Dark Vision another head astern in third, Bye Bye Hong Kong finished the Polytrack mile in 1:36.90.

Dark Vision ran himself into 2000 Guineas (G1) consideration in a solid third. U S S Michigan still appears a work in progress, understandably for a May 22 foal making his third career start. Next came Certain Lad, Barys, Fanaar, Shir Khan, and Battle of Waterloo.

Bye Bye Hong Kong, bred by WinStar Farm, RNA’d for $70,000 at Keeneland September. The bay turned into a hot commodity at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up, commanding 575,000 guineas (approximately $857,000). Third as the favorite on debut at Newmarket, he obliged next out in a Windsor novice before graduating to Group company.

The first foal from the unraced Light and Variable, a Tiznow half to Grade 2 winner Nonna Mela, Bye Bye Hong Kong comes from the family of Grade 1 winner and dual classic-placed Bluegrass Cat as well as 2010 Derby hero Super Saver. A Street Sense colt from such a maternal line would be intriguing on the dirt at some point.

None of the prior European Road races gave rise to Kentucky Derby prospects. O’Brien took three of the four scoring races last fall – with Mohawk in the Royal Lodge (G2), Japan in the Beresford (G2), and Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1) – all European classic hopefuls who weren’t going to dabble on the dirt.

Godolphin’s Royal Marine created interest in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) on Arc Day, but the bubble burst when he was beaten on the Meydan dirt during the Dubai Carnival. So did the chance of Jahbath, successful in the March 6 Road to the Kentucky Derby conditions race at Kempton, when he flopped in the UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup night. The March 6 Patton S. at Dundalk went to Playa del Puente, who’s bound for Hong Kong.

That’s why the Cardinal was to be decisive for the European Road. If not Bye Bye Hong Kong or Antilles, there’ll be no representative from Europe in Derby 145.