BC Internationals: Mile contender Roly Poly
Although Roly Poly was pre-entered with a first preference for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), the Coolmore/Ballydoyle brain trust ended up choosing the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) for the scrappy three-year-old filly.
Aside from scrapping the Filly & Mare Turf storyline about her trying to succeed where her four-time Group 1-winning dam, Misty for Me, just failed at Churchill Downs in 2011, the switch has also complicated the pace scenario for Roly Poly. If an honest pace in the distaffers’ race was guaranteed by Avenge, the Mile pace figures to be even swifter. The rerouting of Midnight Storm from the Dirt Mile to the turf Mile only adds to the front-end fracas with Godolphin’s Home of the Brave and Heart to Heart. Given Roly Poly’s forward style, she’s going to be in the cauldron in her first start against older males.
It’s worth recalling that the Aidan O’Brien trainee tired to a subpar ninth, as the favorite, in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) – likely as the result of chasing the ferocious pace of Lull.
Of course, that was a year ago, and the three-year-old model of Roly Poly may be stronger and better able to cope. And it’s not as though she were guaranteed to see out the nine furlongs of the Filly & Mare Turf either. As explained in her international profile for the Juvenile Fillies Turf, the War Front filly’s calling card has always been speed. In a choice between a step up in trip versus a deep and talented cast, and trying to sort out the tactics at her proven trip, I can see why they’d prefer to hazard the Mile.
Roly Poly took a couple of starts to gain traction this season. In her reappearing seventh in the Nell Gwyn (G3) at Newmarket, she lost position, but then kept on again. Maybe it was more of a concentration issue since she added cheekpieces next time, and she’s sported them ever since.
Sent to Deauville for the French 1000 Guineas (G1), Roly Poly struck the front before weakening on the very soft going.
Roly Poly was a much better second in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) to her high-flying stablemate Winter. In a tactical change-up, she was reserved in last early, and got up in a three-way photo over Hydrangea.
Underscoring the merit of the form, the same trifecta held sway in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot. Roly Poly showed commendable resolve to come again for runner-up honors.
Roly Poly finally broke through in a “Winter-less” Falmouth (G1), leading throughout over Newmarket’s July Course. Finishing an excellent second in her comeback was Wuheida (whose Filly & Mare Turf profile is forthcoming).
Back to Deauville for the July 30 Prix Rothschild (G1), Roly Poly displayed both her trademark early speed and her game attitude. First she had to win the pace battle with the classy older mare Usherette, then after putting her away, Roly Poly dug deep to hold Via Ravenna, Siyoushake, and defending champion Qemah.
Roly Poly thrives on her racing, so she may have needed the September 9 Matron (G1) off the six-week break. She went to the front, but tired down the lane in sixth behind stablemates Hydrangea and Winter.
Returning to Newmarket for the Sun Chariot (G1), Roly Poly moved forward significantly. She was once again in the firing line throughout, repelling Persuasive and edging away at the line, in a snappy 1:34.88 over the Rowley Mile.
The Sun Chariot form was flattered twice over in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day. Persuasive upstaged BC Mile contender Ribchester and Classic (G1) hopeful Churchill, while Nathra, who was third in the Sun Chariot, finished fourth in the QEII.
Roly Poly’s hard-trying resilience, tuned to perfection by O’Brien, has propelled her to a triple Group 1-winning campaign, a resume that wasn’t exactly predictable as late as June. But the Breeders’ Cup presents an entirely different kind of test.
She’s yet to face males this season, and every three-year-old filly who’s won the Mile so far (Miesque in 1987, Ridgewood Pearl in 1995, Six Perfections in 2003, and Goldikova in 2008) had already won a Group 1 versus older males before the Breeders’ Cup. In fact, the only Mile heroine who hadn’t previously beaten males was Tepin (2015), by that point reaching the form of her life at the end of her four-year-old campaign, over a Keeneland course she’d excelled upon in her prior start.
The Del Mar track is the other point to note about Roly Poly. Not only have her wins come on straight courses, but when she does take a turn, she’s fared better at the right-handed Curragh and Ascot than at left-handed Santa Anita and Leopardstown. As explained above, other factors were in play there too, but she’s yet to produce her typically good effort turning in our direction.
Still, her chief quality – her “great heart,” as O’Brien put it – can compensate for quite a lot. And Ryan Moore has opted for her, leaving Seamie Heffernan to pilot her stablemate in the Mile, Group 1 bridesmaid Lancaster Bomber.
As a footnote, it must be pointed out that her two-year-old full brother, U S Navy Flag, is facing an even taller order at Breeders’ Cup 2017. Instead of lining up in his first preference, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), he’s taking the plunge on dirt in the Juvenile (G1) (with a forthcoming profile).
Photo courtesy Newmarket via Facebook