May 28, 2020

Victor Ludorum flaunts classic potential in Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere

Victor Ludorum with Mickael Barzalona after winning the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com)

“If I would dare, I would say that he is a bit of a Mill Reef type horse.”

If a less experienced trainer uttered those words, you’d be right to look askance. But when French master Andre Fabre says it, pay heed.

Fabre invoked Mill Reef after Victor Ludorum justified favoritism in Sunday’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) on Arc Day. While the metric mile test serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and as a scoring race on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, its true significance lies on the European classic scene.

The Godolphin homebred had looked an exciting prospect in his first two starts, sweeping from well off the pace to win handily in both a newcomers’ event at ParisLongchamp September 1 and in a Chantilly conditions race 13 days later. But Fabre freely voiced his concern about how Victor Ludorum and his other juvenile favored on Arc Day, Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) entrant Savarin, would handle the very soft going. Savarin struggled home in seventh, and Victor Ludorum’s turn at the plate came next.

Not only did the well-named colt prove once more a “winner of the games,” but he imposed his will despite a less favorable race shape. The German colt Alson dictated a more leisurely pace than the front runner had in the Boussac, and the stalking Armory and Ecrivain kept on one-paced in pursuit. The Lagardere was turning into a merry-go-round race until Victor Ludorum rallied to overhaul the early leaders. The only other runner to improve his position, Helter Skelter, closed from last but got no nearer than fifth.

Regular rider Mickael Barzalona reiterated the team’s high regard for Victor Ludorum in the postrace quotes on france-galop.com:

“This one can really move (laughs). He’s a really interesting horse because of his character. He can be a bit tricky before and after the race, but nevertheless he knows what needs to be done. He doesn’t pull and has a gradual acceleration that always gives you a good feel. I have never been able to ride him like that, because of his temper before the race.

“I have never dared to ask him to follow a certain pace at the start of the race. Today, everything was in the cards for us, tracking Armory who was the best horse in the pack. There weren’t sure that he would like the ground, he had lots of gas, but he didn’t want to make his effort too soon and then fade in the last 100 meters. I gave only one crack of the whip because he still had a lot left in store.”

Fabre’s reaction on godolphin.com:

“I was very impressed with Victor Ludorum because of his style. He is a very easy-going horse, who never shows much but is quiet and relaxed. He is easy to ride, like all the good horses.

“He is not too big, not too small and everything is neat. He has a beautiful action and, if I would dare, I would say that he is a bit of a Mill Reef type horse.

“We will obviously have to discuss things with Sheikh Mohammed, who has a good bunch of two-year-olds. Personally, I would aim Victor Ludorum at a French Classic campaign, with the French Guineas (Poule d’Essai des Poulains) and the Prix du Jockey Club.”

The third of Godolphin’s unbeaten juvenile stars by Shamardal, Victor Ludorum has a slightly different profile from Pinatubo and Earthlight who both came to hand sooner. The Charlie Appleby-trained Pinatubo debuted May 10, and his finishing speed over six furlongs has carried over even more resoundingly in his smashing seven-furlong performances in the Chesham, Vintage (G2), and Vincent O’Brien National (G1). He’s expected to put his streak on the line in Saturday’s Dewhurst (G1). Fabre stablemate Earthlight scored first out at about 5 1/2 furlongs on June 19, and his sequence of wins going six include the Prix Morny (G1) on heavy and the Middle Park (G1) on good.

In contrast, Victor Ludorum didn’t make his first appearance until September, and all three of his races have come at a metric mile. That program hints of scope to develop into a classic contender going farther.

All three have some claim stamina on the dam’s side, although it’s debatable if they’ll share that aptitude in the same degree. Pinatubo is out of the Dalakhani mare Lava Flow, winner of the 2013 Prix de la Seine at about 1 3/8 miles. Yet his deep female line has also produced brilliance characterized by Invincible Spirit, and currently, Uni. Might Pinatubo inherit more of the dazzling heritage than long distance capacity?

Earthlight was produced by Winters Moon, the third-placer in the 2014 Fillies’ Mile (G1). The New Approach mare is a half to Mandaean and Wavering, both French Group 1 winners in the vicinity of 1 1/4 miles for Fabre. The pedigree angle leads Fabre to believe that Earthlight could stay further than the mile that is surely within his compass.

Victor Ludorum could well have the greatest distance potential of the three. His dam, past Fabre trainee Antiquities, spent her entire eight-race career in the narrow span of 2000 to 2100 meters (about 1 1/4 to 1 5/16 miles). The daughter of Kaldouneeves was runner-up in a trio of stakes, most notably the 2008 Prix Cleopatre (G3) to Leo’s Starlet. (She’s the “Starlet” alluded to in the name of Starlet’s Sister, now famous as the dam of champion Sistercharlie and Sottsass.)

Antiquities is responsible for three winners prior to Victor Ludorum, including Mary Tudor (by Dawn Approach) who captured the Salsabil and placed third in the Irish Oaks (G1) last season. Victor Ludorum’s full brother, Ancient History, won at about 1 1/4 miles for Fabre. (His distance capacity has shortened since his export to Australia, but that’s probably not too much of a pointer for his brother.)

Victor Ludorum’s most intriguing pedigree angle is the Rasmussen Factor of duplicating a superior female. Antiquities descends from Helen Street, the 1985 Irish Oaks star who produced Street Cry and Helsinki, the dam of Shamardal. Thus Victor Ludorum is inbred 3×3 to Helen Street.

To come full circle to the Mill Reef reference, that all-time great Derby (G1) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner doesn’t appear in this pedigree. But there is a whiff of commonality through Helen Street.

Mill Reef was bred on a similar cross to Helen Street’s broodmare sire, Riverman. Both sons of Never Bend were out of *Princequillo-line mares. Mill Reef’s dam was by *Princequillo out of a mare by Count Fleet, while Riverman was out of a mare by Prince John (himself by *Princequillo out of a Count Fleet mare). Is it too tenuous to imagine that the genetic magic that produced Mill Reef could lurk in the make-up of Victor Ludorum, magnified through the close inbreeding to Riverman’s granddaughter Helen Street?

Whether you want to meander down that fanciful garden path or not, Victor Ludorum shapes up as an exciting French classic contender….and possibly more.