January 22, 2021

Under-the-radar European classic hopefuls to watch

Trainer John Gosden watching Enable gallop for the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs (c) Rickelle Nelson/Horsephotos.com

As Great Britain and Ireland are mapping out plans in hopes of resuming racing next month, it’s a good time to scout out 3-year-olds to follow, especially those who were less exposed as juveniles. You might call them under-the-radar by way of shorthand, although depending upon how closely you follow European racing, several of these are probably on your radar.

My personal criteria are that horses must have won already, but not yet tried a Group or listed stakes. Since the potential French candidates are back racing this week, it made sense to focus on the British and Irish-trained contenders. Classic entries are mentioned where available; note the 2000 Guineas (G1) list no longer counts after its postponement, so a few could still be in the mix for Newmarket when entries are re-opened.

With that preamble, here are 12 colts I’m looking forward to, with the fillies to follow in a separate feature. Alphabetical order or else I’d never finish ranking them:

Al Madhar

Richard Hannon trainee made only one appearance at two, but it was a memorable 7-furlong maiden during Newmarket’s July Festival. An 8-1 chance, Al Madhar picked up well to collar Godolphin’s well-backed Al Suhail in a solid 1:23.76. The race turned out quite productive, and Al Suhail graduated from his next-out romp at Yarmouth to place in both the Solario (G3) and Autumn (G3).

By Siyouni and out of the Galileo mare Phiz, a German-bred who was runner-up in the marathon Park Hill (G2) in 2013, Al Madhar sold for 200,000 guineas as a Tattersalls October yearling. The Sheikh Hamdan colorbearer holds entries in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) and its French equivalent, the June 1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains (G1), and it would be no surprise if he’s eligible for Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas. Interestingly, Al Madhar is also in the about 1 5/16-mile Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1), now on July 5.

Brentford Hope

As a son of 2012 English Triple Crown near-misser Camelot, Brentford Hope ideally would have Epsom and the Curragh on his Derby (G1) agenda. Jockey-turned-trainer Richard Hughes isn’t getting too far ahead of himself, but he’s sounded enthusiastic. Indeed, it’s difficult not to be excited by a colt capable of blowing apart a Newmarket maiden on debut. Even allowing for the fact that it was 1 1/4 miles on soft going in October, just watch how the 8-1 shot hacks up under a cheeky Jamie Spencer ride:

Bought by Hughes for €130,000 as an Arqana May juvenile, Brentford Hope races for Bernardine and Sean Mulryan. His dam, the Raven’s Pass mare Miss Raven, is a half to Group 2 queen Beautiful Romance, from the further family of Mastercraftsman.


Overlooked at 25-1 in his Newmarket unveiling for Brian Meehan, Cepheus closed relentlessly up the inside to upstage Appleby’s odds-on Volkan Star. Both colts have considerable scope to develop as progeny of Sea the Stars. Yet the market thought a lot more of Volkan Star, and he duly romped next out. Meehan himself said afterward that Cepheus had been working with the backward sorts. I take it as a measure of Cepheus’ raw talent that he was able to defy expectations first up. Plans called for him to tackle a major juvenile prize, but he came up with a dirty scope, and we didn’t see him again. So far he’s engaged in the French Derby.

G.P.M. Morland’s Cepheus, a €60,000 private sale at Arqana August, is out of the Van Nistelrooy mare Crimson Cheer. Sporting a fascinating pedigree pattern, he descends from the male line of Green Desert, and his second dam, Yousefia, is a full sister to Green Desert. Thus Cepheus is inbred to Green Desert’s sire and dam, Danzig and Foreign Courier (a daughter of blue hen Courtly Dee).


Three-quarter brother to star French miler Ervedya is eligible for the French Derby, so trainer John Gosden isn’t typecasting the Godolphin runner. Encipher was second on debut to his more experienced Charlie Appleby comrade, Path of Thunder, at Haydock. Note the fourth, Boomer, later captured the Prestige (G3) and placed in the May Hill (G2). Encipher likewise improved to prevail smartly over another Appleby, Native Tribe, at Newbury when last seen in July. Jockey Rab Havlin recently mentioned that he’s doing particularly well among the Gosden string at the moment.

A 425,000-guineas Tattersalls October purchase, the Siyouni colt is the second foal from Ervedya’s half-sister, Ennaya. The young Nayef mare is already a black-type producer, with first foal Ebony (by Le Havre) placing in the about 1 1/2-mile Prix de Thiberville and about 1 1/4-mile Prix Occitanie last season.

Highest Ground

“Juvenile course record-setter by Frankel” would be enough of a tagline in itself. Actually watching what Highest Ground did in his lone start, however, makes him even more appealing. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute, the Niarchos Family homebred whiffed the start badly but recovered, traveled well, scythed through the pack, and bounded 2 3/4 lengths clear. His time for 7 furlongs at Leicester, 1:23.33, was the track’s fastest for his age group according to Racing Post. A setback sent him to the sidelines thereafter.

Entered for Epsom as well as the French and Irish Derby, Highest Ground is a half-brother to Group-placed stakes winners Maria Gabriella and Night of Light. They are all out of the stakes-placed Celestial Lagoon, by Sunday Silence.


Sheikh Hamdan’s homebred was one of the most visually impressive youngsters on the all-weather last fall. Shaping with promise when a closing second on debut at Newcastle, Khaloosy won for fun next time going about 1 1/16 miles at Wolverhampton. Trainer Roger Varian has made him eligible for the French classics in addition to his Epsom entry.

As a Dubawi, Khaloosy promises to do better with maturity. The gray was produced by the Dalakhani mare Elshaadin, and his third dam is the prolific Magnificient Style, whose Group 1-winning offspring include Playful Act, Great Heavens, and the best of them all, Nathaniel.

Palace Pier

Trained by Gosden like sire Kingman, Palace Pier has won his two starts by a combined margin of more than eight lengths. The 600,000 guineas Tattersalls October yearling caught everyone’s eye in his debut at Sandown over next-out winner Mascat. Palace Pier was again convincing in a novice over the same course and 7-furlong trip, only to be shelved by injury. The exuberant mover will try to pick up where he left off, and he’s listed for the French classics.

Owned by the other Sheikh Hamdan who is Sheikh Mohammed’s son, Palace Pier is out of Beach Frolic, a Nayef half-sister to Group 2 scorers Joviality and Bonfire. This is the family of multiple Group 1 near-misser Karen’s Caper.

Russian Emperor

One of two Aidan O’Brien-trained Galileos on this list, the Ballydoyle resident did well to rally for third in his premiere at the Curragh last July. Winning stablemate Iberia later placed in the Royal Lodge (G2) and Killavullan (G3), while the seventh in the maiden, Shekhem, was just denied in the Beresford (G2). Russian Emperor was sure to build on that pleasing introduction, but we had to wait until March 23 to see it. His terrific late burst, getting up on the line at Naas, belied the soft-to-heavy conditions. Thankfully Russian Emperor got the maiden out of the way before the COVID-19 clampdown, and he’s entered in everything from the Irish 2000 Guineas/Derby to the French classics, and of course, Epsom.

Russian Emperor’s dam is Australian champion Atlantic Jewel, by Fastnet Rock, so he’s bred on the Galileo/Danehill cross. Herself a half to fellow Thousand Guineas (G1) vixen Commanding Jewel, Atlantic Jewel descends from Irish champion juvenile filly Pass the Peace.


Andy Slattery pupil can claim a similar trajectory, progressing from a hard-charging placing to a fine maiden score, but in a more condensed time frame. A market mover in his Listowel debut, Sunchart shortened from as high as 33-1 to 10-1, and chased home O’Brien hotpot Santiago. The Teofilo colt was accordingly favored in his Oct. 6 follow-up at Tipperary, where he sliced through a narrow gap to win handsomely by 4 1/4 lengths. Sunchart handled 9 furlongs on soft-to-heavy so well that he figures to appreciate upwards of 1 1/4 miles this term, and he’s entered at Epsom and the Curragh.

Although a bargain basement 6,500 guineas Tattersalls December weanling, the Newsells Park-bred has a strong pedigree. His dam, Hometime, is a full sister to the dam of two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) supremo Thunder Snow. By emerging broodmare sire Dubai Destination and out of Group 2 winner Red Slippers, Hometime is a half to 2007 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1) scorer West Wind from the deep family of Balanchine. Slattery picked Sunchart up for €62,000 as a Goffs Orby yearling, and he races for Pat Garvey.

Vatican City

The other Galileo among my dozen, Vatican City was sent to Newmarket for his first taste of the racecourse. Although a well-beaten fifth behind the sensational Kinross, the O’Brien juvenile learned from his checkered trip and at least finished fast to miss third by a neck and a head. Vatican City was still a bit green next time at Dundalk, but it didn’t matter as the 1-2 favorite rolled by 2 1/2 lengths from fellow classic entrant Psyche, who came back to win himself.

A full brother to dual classic-winning champion Gleneagles, Happily, Marvellous, Taj Mahal, and Coolmore, Vatican City aims to be the next in the line of accomplished siblings. Their dam, the Storm Cat mare You’resothrilling, is a Group 2-winning full sister to “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway.

Vintage Rascal

The first winner sent out by Tom Ward, Vintage Rascal would make for a fantastic storyline for his rookie trainer. The son of Nathaniel debuted over a mile at Windsor in October, and the soft-ground novice doesn’t stand out on form. But there was plenty to like about the way a yet-unfurnished Vintage Rascal asserted from the rest, hopefully pointing to bigger and better things as he strengthens up. Epsom and the French classics are in his datebook.

Vintage Rascal, who brought just €27,000 as an Arqana August yearling, is campaigned by Charlie and Julia Rosier. Inbred 4×4 to Roberto, he is out of the Loup Solitaire mare Irish Vintage who has also produced French stakes winner Mocklershill. The steady stream of black-type through the family suggests he’s got a reasonably good chance of adding to the page.


Arguably the most obvious choice on the list, the Kingman half-brother to reigning Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) hero Waldgeist lit up Wolverhampton in December. So great was his momentum rounding the turn, on the wrong lead, that he almost couldn’t organize himself, and Havlin had to call on his skills to steer the Gosden pupil into the stretch. Waldkonig outclassed the opposition by nine lengths with closing fractions in the about 1 1/16-mile novice that impressed sectional guru Simon Rowlands.

Gestut Ammerland and Newsells Park Stud’s Waldkonig commanded 600,000 guineas at Tatteralls October. Aside from champion Waldgeist, Waldkonig is also a half to Group 2 victress Waldlied. Their dam, the Group 3-winning Monsun mare Waldlerche, is herself a half to 2011 St Leger (G1) winner Masked Marvel from a superb German family.