Saturday’s inaugural runnings of the $1 million Jockey Club Derby and Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park proved a much happier hunting ground for Europeans than had the first two legs of their respective turf series. After Edisa topped Wonderment in a French fillies’ exacta in the Oaks, British shipper Spanish Mission nipped France’s Pedro Cara on the line in a Derby head-bobber as San Huberto rounded out the European trifecta.
Although Spanish Mission’s race was a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In,” Team Valor and Earle Mack’s runner isn’t advancing to the Turf (G1) at Santa Anita, with connections looking toward the future for the still-developing colt. The Jockey Club Oaks was not part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, but the Aga Khan’s homebred Edisa is under consideration for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), according to trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre.
Both are Kentucky-breds who went off as favorites in their stateside debuts, and neither had a straightforward path to the winner’s circle.
The 8-5 Edisa, awkwardly away as the gate sprang open, found herself farther behind a slow pace for Flavien Prat. Up front, Romantic Pursuit was carving out splits of :25.10, :51.56, 1:17.50, and 1:42.57 on the good inner turf. Dyna Passer was her nearest attendant until the French played their hand turning for home.
As Prat had to steer Edisa to the overland route, Stephane Pasquier was able to navigate an interior passage for Wonderment, and the two quickly bore down on the leaders. Wonderment made Edisa find more, and the daughter of Kitten’s Joy did to prevail by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 2:17.02 for 1 3/8 miles.
Dyna Passer, the only runner who competed in a prior Turf Tiara race, headed Romantic Pursuit for third. Previously fifth in the Belmont Oaks (G1), Dyna Passer was representing the form of the now-sidelined Concrete Rose, impressive winner of the first two legs in the fillies’ series.
British shipper Love So Deep checked in another 3 3/4 lengths adrift in fifth, and Lady Prancealot, Art of Almost, and a tailed-off Desert Ride rounded out the order of finish.
Edisa was the only one of the Oaks or Derby contestants to race without Lasix.
“She broke slow and I was on the inside,” Prat recapped. “I wasn’t really happy with where I was, and they slowed down a lot up front. They went at a slow pace, but I’m very happy she really gave me a good turn of foot.”
“Her main quality is a quick turn of foot,” de Royer-Dupre noted, “and she was able to show it here today. She was able to track early and when she finished late, she was able to come on strong with her quick turn of foot. It’s a great pleasure to win at Belmont Park today. I was last here in 1985, so it’s great to return and win. It’s a beautiful track and it’s nice to run here and win with a top horse.
“I preferred the good ground today. I was only concerned if the turf changed from good to soft because she’s better on firm.
“She’s well-bred. Her father, Kitten’s Joy, is American and the mother is from a great Aga Khan family for long distance. She takes the speed of the father and the staying of the mother, so it was nice to see today.”
Edisa’s dam, the Rock of Gibraltar mare Ebiyza, captured the 2013 Prix de Royallieu (G2) and hails from the family of Enzeli and Estimate, winners of the Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot in 1999 and 2013 respectively. Their half-sister, 1997 Irish Oaks (G1) and Prix Royal-Oak (G1) queen Ebadiyla, is the third dam of Edisa.
Runner-up to the high-class Mehdaayih in the Prix de Malleret (G2) and to Villa Marina in the Prix de Psyche (G3) last out on very soft going, Edisa earned her first stakes victory in the June 10 Prix Melisande. This lucrative success increased her bankroll to $500,015 from her 7-3-2-1 line.
“I don’t know yet if we’ll go onto the Breeders’ Cup,” de Royer-Dupre added. “We’ll watch the weather during the weekend of the Arc (when she has a trio of possible engagements) and perhaps see if the ground is good. Perhaps we can go on from there and return to Santa Anita, but we’ll put it all under consideration.”
In the Jockey Club Derby, it was no surprise that the 2-1 Spanish Mission got off to a leisurely break and settled at the rear. Also as expected, A Thread of Blue, front-running hero of the Saratoga Derby, dictated the pace through splits of :25.23, :50.77, 1:16.17, and 1:40.01 on the good Widener course.
The plot twist came as the favorite worked his way into contention, and the right rein slipped out of Jamie Spencer’s hand. Considering that Spanish Mission is far from the finished article, that could have had a more deleterious effect on him than on a more mature campaigner.
Meanwhile, Pedro Cara had sliced through in a bold attempt at a 38-1 upset, overtaking A Thread of Blue as his questionable stamina ebbed away. Spanish Mission kept coming for the improvising Spencer, but Pedro Cara wasn’t stopping. The two flashed past the wire in unison in a heads-up, heads-down thriller, with Spanish Mission – rein flopping and all – just denying Pedro Cara by a nose.
San Huberto, outmoved by fellow French raider Pedro Cara on the far turn, stayed on well to take third from A Thread of Blue. Next came Henley’s Joy, winner of the Belmont Derby (G1) as the first leg of the Turf Triple; Current; Kadar; Digital Age, whose middle move backfired; and Tone Broke, another who made an early bid to pressure A Thread of Blue.
“He didn’t break that well,” Spencer said of Spanish Mission, “but I wasn’t too concerned. I was happy he was relaxed and found his rhythm coming along the backside.
“Going into the final turn he was giving me all he had. I dropped my right rein and even though I was using the crop, when you drop your reins in a race, it typically signals to the horse that the race is over. I would’ve been mad with myself had we lost but he got back on his game and finished strong. He was a very game horse today.”
“As the race developed, it was just beautiful to watch,” said Ian Russell, assistant to trainer David Simcock. “The further he went, the better he got into it and he just gets his head down. Jamie dropped his rein, but the horse stayed on and kept to his job. He knows his job and the further he goes, the better he’s going to be. He’s a lovely horse for the future.”
Spanish Mission negotiated 1 1/2 miles in 2:27.58. The Noble Mission colt became the second recent winner of a six-figure race in New York for his young sire, after Code of Honor’s resounding score in the Travers (G1).
Like Code of Honor, Spanish Mission was himself Triple Crown-nominated, but didn’t pursue the option in the wake of his fifth in the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions S. at Kempton. The talented colt took to the European turf instead, bookending a course-record tally in Newmarket’s Bahrain Trophy (G3) with close placings at Goodwood in the Cocked Hat and the Gordon (G3) most recently during the Glorious meeting. Next Saturday’s St Leger (G1) at Doncaster was a logical port of call if not for Belmont Park’s enticements.
Spanish Mission’s connections are plotting a long-term strategy even further afield.
“He’s a good horse. I think he’ll get better with age,” Team Valor impresario Barry Irwin said. “When I bought him (after his first win at Chelmsford last fall), the plan was to leave him in Europe this year and then bring him to America next year. Halfway through the season, I realized this is strictly a European horse and I told my guys, ‘He’s never coming home, but I’ll bring him for this race.’
“We’re looking at the Melbourne Cup (G1) with this horse,” Irwin added, alluding to a year (or possibly two) hence. “Earle (Mack) would rather win that race than anything, and I’d like to win it as well.”
Bred by St. Elias Stables in the Bluegrass, Spanish Mission is a half-brother to Group 2-placed stakes winner Mokarris. They are out of French stakes vixen Limonar, a Street Cry half-sister to ill-fated Grade 1 winner Talco, from the all-star family of Nureyev and Sadler’s Wells. Spanish Mission brought $125,000 as a Keeneland September yearling and RNA’d for 60,000 guineas ($89,422) at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze Up. He sports a mark of 7-3-1-2, $710,517.
The stakes action kicked off on the dirt with another new event, the $294,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational, and 7-5 favorite Marconi led home a Todd Pletcher exacta with stablemate You’re to Blame.
Last out of the gate but already in the lead at the first quarter-mile split in :25.23, the Tapit half-brother to Mucho Macho Man controlled proceedings the rest of the way. Jockey Jose Lezcano rationed out his tactical speed through fractions of :50.51, 1:15.82, and 1:40.15. Marconi spurted away from the tracking Roaming Union on the far turn, reaching the 1 1/4-mile mark in 2:04.17, and saved his best quarter for last to stop the timer in 2:28.07.
“My horse broke a little slow,” Lezcano said. “After that, I had to get him where we wanted to be towards the front. The horse inside didn’t want to go, so I went to the lead and he stayed the same the whole way around. He got into a good rhythm and once he got going, he was comfortable.”
You’re to Blame rallied gamely without posing a threat to the three-length winner while pulling 6 1/4 lengths clear of third-placer Realm. Rocketry was another neck away in fourth, followed by Carlino and Roaming Union. Highland Sky and Maraud were scratched.
Marconi is now two-for-two over this distance at Belmont, having scored his marquee victory in the June 8 Brooklyn Invitational (G2). His resume now reads 12-5-2-1, $625,702.
A $2 million Keeneland September yearling purchase by Bridlewood Farm and Coolmore, the gray placed third in last year’s Withers (G3) but fell off the Triple Crown trail following unplaced efforts in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Blue Grass (G2). Marconi has come good this term with victories in the Skip Away at Gulfstream and Flat Out at Belmont prior to the Brooklyn, and he was most recently a distant second to track record-setting King Zachary in the 1 3/4-mile Birdstone at Saratoga.