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Homeracing

American St Leger scouting report: Clondaw Warrior

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

August 11th, 2016

Irish shipper Clondaw Warrior adds another dimension to the American St Leger (G3), as a useful hurdler who’s adept in marathons on the Flat.

The nine-year-old is trained by jumps maestro Willie Mullins, Ireland’s perennial leading National Hunt trainer. Aside from his numerous successes in major jumps races, Mullins has brought dual-purpose performers to notable results on the Flat – e.g., Simenon came within an ace of beating The Queen’s Estimate in the 2013 Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, and last year, Max Dynamite aired in York’s Lonsdale Cup (G2) prior to just missing in the Melbourne Cup (G1).

Mullins recently launched an American invasion for the May 14 Iroquois Hurdle (NSA-G1) at Percy Warner, where his Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon finished second and third. 

Clondaw Warrior has a jumps-oriented pedigree himself, but his sire Overbury was bred for the Flat – and scored a significant victory right here at Arlington. A beautifully bred son of the Nijinsky II stallion Caerleon, Overbury dead-heated (with Vaudeville) for the win in the 1994 American Derby (G2). He also placed second in the German and Italian Derbies and later landed the 1996 Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Hong Kong. Overbury had stout bloodlines on top and bottom, hailing from the family of legendary Vintage Crop, the first European-based horse to win Melbourne Cup in 1993. So it's not surprising that at stud, Overbury found success as a National Hunt stallion.

Since transferring to Mullins for his 2014 campaign, Clondaw Warrior’s taken his game to a new level. He captured a premier handicap over 15 furlongs at Leopardstown, and reverted to hurdles to finish third in a Grade 3 at Cheltenham.

His breakout season came in 2015. After placing over the jumps at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, Clondaw Warrior was dispatched as the favorite in the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Stakes (a conditions race) on opening day at Royal Ascot. He duly obliged by besting Fun Mac, earning his highest-profile win on the Flat. Clondaw Warrior made it two in a row in a lucrative premier handicap going nearly 12 furlongs on the Flat at the Galway Festival, where he rallied up the rail.

Those efforts made him a leading fancy for last summer’s Ebor at York, but Clondaw Warrior didn’t perform up to his best and weakened to 12th. Frankie Dettori wrapped up on him when it was obvious that he just didn’t have it on the day, so his beaten margin can’t be taken literally.

Clondaw Warrior proved the point when wheeling back for the Doncaster Cup (G2). With the hood back on, he rallied boldly from the rear to finish second to the high-class Pallasator. To me, this remains his finest piece of form on the Flat:

 

Clondaw Warrior ended the year on low notes when trailing as the favorite in Longchamp’s Prix du Cadran (G1) on Arc Day and being well beaten in the British Champions Long Distance Cup (G2) (subsequently disqualified and placed last for his jockey weighing in at less than his assigned weight).

So far in 2016, however, Clondaw Warrior has been on his game every time. Back over hurdles for his reappearance at Fairyhouse March 29, he fearlessly took the inside path to record his first notable win in that discipline. In the Grade 2 Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr April 16, Clondaw Warrior checked in a fine third under co-top weight. His favored stablemate, Ivan Grozny, was fifth.

Clondaw Warrior made a return appearance at Royal Ascot, this time for the June 18 meet finale, the about two-mile, 5 1/2-furlong Queen Alexandra conditions race, and soldiered on for third.

His summer itinerary likewise brought him back to the Galway Festival, but for a different target: the Galway Hurdle, the most lucrative National Hunt prize in Ireland, and he swept to victory under a plum ride by Ruby Walsh. As you watch him save ground near the back early, angle out at the right juncture, pounce and hold on in an exhibition of perfect timing, remember that Walsh’s wife, Gillian, is part of Clondaw Warrior’s syndicate of owners:

 

In assessing his American St Leger chances, the obvious question is whether Clondaw Warrior is as effective over this relatively shorter trip in this kind of company. He’s shortening up from two miles at Galway, and his most significant Flat performances have come at upwards of that distance. It could also be worth noting that he bombed out in the 1 3/4-mile Ebor after his highs at Royal Ascot and Galway at the same point a year ago.

Clondaw Warrior’s rating is too high for another crack at the Ebor, and Mullins is cleverly giving him a shot at a $300,000 pot at Arlington rather than trying his luck in his other upcoming entries, the August 20 Irish St Leger Trial (G3) or the August 21 Prix Kergorlay (G2) at Deauville. He’s also got fancy engagements in the September 11 Irish St Leger (G1) and the British Champions Long Distance Cup.

But the in-form Clondaw Warrior brings athletic maneuverability, a sustained closing kick, and a preference for the quick ground he’ll encounter at Arlington. Used to packing hefty weight, Clondaw Warrior will find 123 pounds a feather. And as a late runner, he’ll appreciate having a genuine tempo. Indeed, if they go a little too hard early, the American St Leger could turn into a thoroughgoing test of stamina, and Clondaw Warrior would like that very much.

Photo courtesy Champions Series via Twitter

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