2018 Arlington Million international scouting report: Circus Couture
A nephew of globetrotting Group 1 star Jakkalberry, who set an Arlington course record in the 2012 American St Leger, Circus Couture was once an Italian highweight himself. A 10-furlong trip on good ground was a favorable scenario in his prime, but he needs to step up on his current form to take a hand in the Arlington Million (G1).
Circus Couture is by Intikhab, best known for siring dual classic-winning champion Snow Fairy and another female celebrity in Red Evie (dam of Found). His dam, the winning Orpen mare Bois Joli, has also produced Group 1-placed stakes winner Celticus.
Second dam Claba di San Jore has been a prolific producer of five stakes heroes, including three highweights and two Italian classic victors. Aside from Jakkalberry, she is responsible for fellow Italian highweights Crackerjack King (fifth in the 2012 Arlington Million) and Kidnapping (also by Intikhab and thus a three-quarter brother to Circus Couture); Awelmarduk, who scored in the 2007 Derby Italiano (G1), four years before half-brother Crackerjack King won the same classic; and Joyful Hope, almost another classic winner when missing in the 2015 Oaks d’Italia (G2).
Further back in the family, one finds multiple Group 2 winner and sometime rival Kaspersky. Like Circus Couture, he was a notable Italian performer before joining trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam in England. Kaspersky did not win for Chapple-Hyam last year, but he did finish second in the Summer Mile (G2) to Mutakayyef and in the Superior Mile (G3) to Ballet Concerto, and exceeded expectations when fifth at 66-1 in the 2017 Queen Anne (G1).
Unraced at two for Stefano Botti, Circus Couture won five of 10 outings in 2015 to rank as Italy’s highweight three-year-old in the 9 1/2 to 11-furlong bracket. His two stakes scores came in the nine-furlong Premio del Giubileo (G3) over older horses and a mile listed stakes at Rome versus fellow sophomores. His handful of stakes placings featured the Premio Vittorio di Capua (G1), Premio Carlo Vittadini (G2), and most significant to his ranking, a near-miss to older stable star Dylan Mouth in the Premio Roma (G1). No one else was able to challenge the front runner in 1:59.70 for about 1 1/4 miles, and the stablemates pulled 4 1/2 lengths clear of the rest, among them favored French shipper Prince Gibraltar.
Circus Couture hasn’t found the winner’s circle as often as an older horse. After kicking off 2016 with a five-length romp in Milan’s Premio Ambrosiano (G3) over Germany’s Night Wish, he placed in five straight including the Premio Presidente della Repubblica (G2) and Gran Premio di Milano (G2). His lone unplaced effort at four – a fifth behind Potemkin, Robin of Navan, and Elliptique in the Premio Roma – came on heavy going.
A similar pattern held in the first half of 2017. Circus Couture landed the Carlos Vittadini, going last to first handily, and placed in a trio of stakes including the Ambrosiano (as the defending champion) and Giubileo (for the second straight year after winning in 2015). But by last fall, he’d dropped into conditions races, and lost three of four as the favorite.
Circus Couture started 2018 on a winning note in a March 4 event at Rome, his finale for Botti. Purchased by Chapple-Hyam and partner Bryan Hirst, the six-year-old was exported to England and took a couple of starts to find his form.
A distant fifth to Million rival Century Dream in the May 2 Paradise at Ascot, where he lost both front shoes, Circus Couture dipped into handicap company at Nottingham. But shouldering the top weight of 138 pounds proved an anchor on the soft going, and he was a tailed-off fifth of six.
With that profile, it’s no wonder Circus Couture went off at 100-1 under 134 pounds in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot. Quicker conditions brought out the best in him, however, and he did his best work late to snatch third in the 30-horse heritage handicap over a mile. Spot him (blue silks/white sleeves and shadow roll) switch from the group on the right to the gap in the middle approaching the two-furlong graphic:
Circus Couture stepped up in class for Ascot’s Summer Mile (G2), where he rated a 16-1 chance, but didn’t land a blow in seventh. Century Dream, a bit below his peak in fourth, still had a couple lengths on Circus Couture, who beat just one home – early leader Zhui Feng – in a race dominated by alumni of the Queen Anne (G1).
Although Circus Couture has on occasion delivered a bold effort, and the stretch-out should help, the overall impression is that he will find the Million too deep for him. Chapple-Hyam’s been here before with a stronger contender, Mull of Killough, who was only eighth in 2013. American conditions have been known to conjure up improvement (see Fanciful Angel’s improbable second in last summer’s Million), and that’s what his connections will have to rely on if he’s to make his presence felt.
Photo courtesy of Coady Photography