BC Internationals: Juvenile Turf contenders
On paper, the international squad for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) doesn’t boast a headliner like Happily or September in the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Although the North American home defense may accordingly have the upper hand – which is why I put Untamed Domain on top when forced to choose in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Betting Guide – the invaders are capable of finding more around a firm-turf mile at Del Mar.
As with the mini-profiles for the Juvenile Fillies Turf, here are the international two-year-olds in order of preference.
A breakthrough runner on the Flat for noted National Hunt horseman Gordon Elliott, who proudly remains a “jumps man,” Beckford brings an alluring profile. The athletic colt travels at a rate of knots, quickens well, and boasts a pair of Group 1 placings. By the top-class sprinter Bated Breath (off to a hot start at stud), Beckford is out of a Danehill Dancer half-sister to the progressive Poet’s Word, runner-up in the Irish Champion (G1) and Champion (G1) in his last pair. You’d never know it from his predominantly six-furlong races. After sweeping from off the pace in his good-looking debut at the Curragh (click link for replay), Beckford was purchased by Newtown Anner Stud. He promptly repaid the investment, and proved himself at a substantially higher level, when beating Jim Bolger’s highly regarded Verbal Dexterity in the Railway (G2). To be fair to Verbal Dexterity, he was shortening up from seven furlongs, and Beckford simply had too many gears for him on the cutback.
Favored in his first Group 1 attempt in the Phoenix (G1), Beckford was finishing fastest of all, but couldn’t get up in time to catch Coolmore’s Sioux Nation, who’d previously won the Norfolk (G2) at Royal Ascot. By a diminishing half-length, Sioux Nation chalked up a 16th (!) Phoenix win for Aidan O’Brien.
Beckford appeared ready to try seven furlongs, conveniently the distance of the next marquee race at home, the Vincent O’Brien National (G1). The favorite following the withdrawal of O’Brien’s Gustav Klimt, he took command in the stretch, but could not resist Verbal Dexterity inside the final furlong. While Bolger’s colt would probably have outstayed him on any ground, the desperate going at the Curragh turned it into a much tougher slog for Beckford. Turning back to six furlongs for the Middle Park (G1), Beckford was favored again but could do no better than a mildly closing fifth at Newmarket. If there was a silver lining, he was one spot ahead of Sioux Nation, and not the only one to disappoint. The victorious U S Navy Flag, only fourth behind Sioux Nation and Beckford in the Phoenix, turned the tables.
Perhaps Beckford, whose previous experience was limited to the Curragh, was coming to grips with Newmarket’s undulations. Or perhaps it was just the fact that the leaders didn’t come back to them. On a sharp, flat track, Beckford could be seen to much better effect. His ownership also booked jockey Joel Rosario to ensure he’s ridden to suit the American racing style, and I think he’s the type to enjoy it.
As a son of new Approach and Khawlah – still the only filly to win the UAE Derby (G2) (2011) – and from the further family of Galileo and Sea the Stars, Masar likely won’t reach his peak until next season. But the Godolphin homebred has enjoyed a productive enough juvenile campaign for trainer Charlie Appleby. He looked beaten in his Goodwood debut before catching fire and edging the very useful Invincible Army at six furlongs. Up to seven for the Chesham at Royal Ascot, he was pretty readily beaten by Juvenile Fillies Turf threat September, but just missed second in the photo with trailblazing filly Nyaleti. Appleby reportedly gave him a holiday by design. Masar didn’t resurface until the Solario (G3) at Sandown September 2 and duly obliged as the 11-8 favorite. Judging by how he grinds on, he’ll need to sharpen up here:
Next seen in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) on Arc Day, Masar was battling with French colt Olmedo when Happily cut them both down in an historic victory for a filly. Soft ground didn’t play to Masar’s strengths at all, so even though he lost his private war with Olmedo and was relegated to third, his effort represented another step forward. That’s the key question revolving around Masar’s chances here. While the firm turf suggests he’ll continue his upward curve, I’m not sure how quick his responses will be in a two-turn mile coming at him pretty fast. His form makes him impossible to ignore, even as his overall profile could be pointing to a minor award. The obvious comparison is with Appleby’s 2013 Juvenile Turf hero, Outstrip, who shaped more as a professional two-year-old than Masar, who is engaged in next year’s Derby (G1) at Epsom and the Irish Derby (G1).
Like Beckford, James Garfield smacks of a real two-year-old type, the primary difference being that Beckford has been tested at the Group 1 level and James Garfield hasn’t. That’s my only tiebreaker because otherwise there’s plenty to like about the George Scott trainee. By outstanding juvenile sire Exceed and Excel (responsible for the aforementioned Outstrip), James Garfield is out of 2004 Chesham winner Whazzat. This is the immediate family of French import Uni, this year’s Sands Point (G2) winner, and the extended tribe includes top sire Invincible Spirit. Doing well to take third after a slow start in his unveiling at Leicester, James Garfield was tardy again on the cutback to five furlongs in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot. But he turned in a herculean effort, beaten just over a length by Godolphin’s Sound and Silence (who runs in Saturday’s Juvenile Turf Sprint) in third. Reverting to a maiden at Doncaster as the 1-3 favorite, James Garfield now jumped on terms with the field and blew them away by six lengths. He tried seven furlongs in the Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood, winding up fourth behind the devastating Expert Eye. Although he was deprived of third late, James Garfield was clear of O’Brien’s fifth-placer Seahenge, who subsequently won the Champagne (G2) and finished third in the Dewhurst (G1). James Garfield almost added to that tally in his ensuing start in the Acomb (G3), only to get mugged on the line by Wells Farhh Go on soft ground at York.
Newbury’s Mill Reef (G2) finally proved the spot for James Garfield, not just to earn a personal breakthrough, but to give Scott a first Group win of his fledgling training career. Appearing to shrug off contact with a rival, he picked up strongly to collar Nebo and deny favorite Invincible Army.
In the process, James Garfield broke the juvenile course record by speeding six furlongs in 1:10.64. The time backs up the solidity of the form, with the placegetters both being regular Group performers. Jockey Frankie Dettori was reportedly bullish on his Breeders’ Cup chances prior to the Mill Reef, and the youngster goes there with an eminently logical case. The one caution is that he’s not the only one with form through Invincible Army and Nebo. Hint: See Sands of Mali below.
It feels very strange to express anything but enthusiasm for a colt with his pedigree, connections, and potential, but the operative word is potential. The $3 million Scat Daddy half-brother to Beholder and Into Mischief has been a work in progress for Aidan O’Brien, and I’m not sure how he’ll cope – especially from the rail where he might get trapped. His eighth on debut to stablemate The Pentagon is perfectly understandable for a Ballydoyle youngster being brought along patiently, and Mendelssohn made good second time out at the Curragh. Note that was over a mile in August. The fact he was looking for that distance already, over a far bigger track, must prompt the question if he’s sharp enough for Del Mar’s two-turn version. He also drifted out across the course in front. With O’Brien emphasizing how babyish the May 17 foal was, he intended to go slowly with him and maybe not try the Group route yet. So I was surprised when Mendelssohn turned up in the Champagne at Doncaster, where he came up empty behind Seahenge, and Ryan Moore wrapped up on him. Maybe he was still too unfurnished to cope with the softish ground.
Mendelssohn got no class relief, but added blinkers, for the Dewhurst (G1), and the equipment helped conjure a turnaround. Although he couldn’t quicken when stablemate U S Navy Flag achieved separation from the field, Mendelssohn stayed on well for runner-up honors, and gained an emphatic revenge on Seahenge.
Mendelssohn is clearly going the right way, and O’Brien initially wanted to try the Juvenile on dirt. Concerns about his ability to deal with all that the dirt entails at this point prompted the more conservative route of the Juvenile Turf. (And coincidentally may have had the effect of putting U S Navy Flag in the Juvenile.) Mendelssohn is definitely good enough in principle; it’s just a case of whether the still-developing colt can put it all together in such a competitive heat around a tight track.
SANDS OF MALI
Ribchester’s trainer, Richard Fahey, has made no secret of his regard for Sands of Mali, so he rates as a possible rebound candidate. After underperforming on debut at York, the son of lesser-known French stallion Panis (by Miswaki) bolted up over soft ground at Nottingham. Runner-up Eirene, who gave him a tussle before finishing a pole ahead of the rest, came back to win the St Hugh’s and missed by a neck in the Dick Poole Fillies’ S. (G3). Back at York on better ground for the Gimcrack (G2), Sands of Mali turned in a front-running tour de force, finding extra to pull away again. The 14-1 shot thereby gave his Yorkshire-based trainer a long-coveted win in York’s storied race for juveniles:
Like James Garfield, Sands of Mali beat both Invincible Army and Nebo in the Gimcrack, albeit in a contrasting style. Unlike James Garfield, Sands of Mali subsequently ventured into Group 1 company in the Middle Park, and he flopped as the 9-2 second choice. It’s not fair to say he was found wanting because he was beaten a long way out, as if something might have been amiss. Whether he could have gone on to challenge U S Navy Flag or not, surely he’s better than a 10-length last. Fahey keeps faith that Sands of Mali is a “very good horse” and believes that Del Mar may agree with him. If he’s right, Sands of Mali has bomb potential at 30-1, from post 3, with Flavien Prat.
After a promising start to the season for rookie trainer Richard Spencer, Rajasinghe has dropped his last two, and his chances of getting back on track here took a hit in post 14. By sprint supremo Choisir, he stamped himself as one to watch with a four-length debut victory over Newcastle’s Tapeta. Rajasinghe was among several smart youngsters with a chance in the Coventry (G2) at Royal Ascot, and despite a sluggish start, he came out on top of them all in a tight finish.
While Rajasinghe’s attitude was commendable, the horses nearest him haven’t upheld the form. Near-misser Headway was a well-beaten third to Sands of Mali in the Gimcrack, third-placer Murillo was dismissed by Beckford in the Railway, fourth Brother Bear has been exposed as an early-season type who hasn’t kept up with the pages of the calendar, seventh Romanised was beaten by Masar in the Solario. The exceptions finished well down the field – our old pal Nebo (ninth) has been rewarded for his long labors by winning the Horris Hill (G3) last Saturday, and the 14th-placer was a not-ready-for-prime-time U S Navy Flag.
Rajasinghe returned with a third to another mainstay, Cardsharp, and U S Navy Flag in the July (G2) at Newmarket, where he was toting a three-pound “penalty” for his Coventry win. Off until the September 30 Middle Park, he couldn’t get involved either from off the pace and ended up 11th, beating only Sands of Mali. Spencer attributes the lackluster display to the good-to-soft going, so he’s very much looking forward to the firm course here. He also prescribes blinkers, and like all of the internationals in the Juvenile Turf, Rajasinghe adds Lasix. We’ll have to see whether that’s enough to overcome his post, and the form questions surrounding the Coventry.
Beckford photo by Lauren Pomeroy/Horsephotos.com