BC Internationals: Mile contender Alice Springs
At this time last year, Alice Springs headed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) in the wake of a smashing success at Newmarket. Fast forward to the present, and the Aidan O’Brien filly once more arrives stateside in career-best form – only this time, she’ll be sure to get her prerequisite fast ground in the Mile (G1).
Despite encountering a rain-affected course at Keeneland last fall, Alice Springs ran a commendable second to Catch a Glimpse. She might have gone a bit closer but for being pinned in tight on the inside in the stretch. That looked more of a psychological than a physical barrier, and she was more comfortable when able to see daylight.
As a May 4 foal, Alice Springs was entitled to blossom over time, and she’s accordingly reached a new level this campaign. The blaze-faced chestnut resumed in Leopardstown’s 1000 Guineas Trial (G3) on heavy going. The leaders had flown, but she kept on for a useful third.
On a much quicker surface at Newmarket, Alice Springs gained a classic placing – and rounded out the O’Brien trifecta – when third to superstar stablemate Minding and Ballydoyle in the 1000 Guineas (G1). That was just the beginning of a blockbuster year for Minding. Although Ballydoyle subsequently went backward, she may have been adversely affected by an illness. Her bloodwork wasn’t right after this, and Ballydoyle never recaptured her old form. To sum up, Alice Springs’ performance looks even better judged against Ballydoyle at her best.
Alice Springs next ventured to Deauville for the French equivalent, the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (G1), where she faded to an uncharacteristic seventh behind unbeaten La Cressonniere. That wouldn’t be the only time she turned out to be a Francophobe.
She proved that run to be all wrong next time in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot. The victim of a maddeningly frustrating trip (watch how she keeps trying to find a gap), she rattled late for third to Qemah. That French filly had also been third in the Pouliches, so Alice indicated that she stacked up a lot better than she had shown at Deauville. With a clear passage in the Coronation, she might have fought out the finish, but Qemah may always have had the upper hand on Ascot’s soft ground.
Alice Springs finally got the right set-up in the Falmouth (G1) over Newmarket’s July Course, and she bounded way from some useful older distaffers. She also broke the course record by speeding the mile in 1:34.42.
Trying another attack on Deauville in the Prix Rothschild (G1), Alice basically said “don’t you ever send me here again” by floundering in eighth behind Qemah. O‘Brien later told irishracing.com that it was “a bit of a disaster in France” on account of “shifty, patchy ground.”
Alice Springs decisively dealt with her nemesis in the Matron (G1) at Leopardstown. Although the ground was yielding, the outer lanes presented better footing (an observation made by Kevin Blake in his Irish Champions blog on attheraces.com). Ryan Moore cleverly picked up on that, and produced Alice Springs wider out. Thus she blitzed them by more than three lengths, leaving Qemah a well-beaten third.
With the Matron being a “Win and You’re In” for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1), Alice Springs may have entertained thoughts of stretching out to 1 1/4 miles. After all, she’s a daughter of Galileo, and her full sister, Criteria, placed in the Ribblesdale (G2) and Park Hill (G2).
But O’Brien’s a master horseman who won’t be diverted from his intended course. He prefers to keep her to a mile at the moment, and accordingly gave her a final prep in the Sun Chariot (G1) over Newmarket’s Rowley Mile. Alice warmed up with a perfunctory success, perhaps saving the fireworks for Santa Anita.
Alice Springs has yet to face males, but the Mile has been very congenial to distaffers over the course of its history. A strongly run mile on firm ground brings out the best in her, and that’s exactly what she’ll get at Santa Anita. Alice Springs therefore rates as a prime win candidate.
Don’t say O’Brien didn’t warn us:
“She's made for the Breeders Cup on fast ground.”
Photo courtesy of Champions Series via Twitter