BC Internationals: Turf contender Decorated Knight
Decorated Knight has come a long way since last summer, when he shaped as a dark horse in the 2016 Arlington Million (G1) and stayed that way when having to scratch the morning of the race. Now the Galileo blueblood returns stateside, no longer under the radar, but as a triple Group 1 winner.
Part of his success is due to the clever management by trainer Roger Charlton, who had Decorated Knight cranked for a couple of early-season Group 1s. But the Al Homaizi and Al Sagar homebred was no opportunistic flash in the pan, for he ran a mighty race in defeat at Royal Ascot and most recently upstaged the Irish Champion (G1).
Cross-entered to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) (as his first preference) and the Mile (G1), Decorated Knight must choose between trying 1 1/2 miles for the first time and taking on specialist milers on a tight track. Since Europe’s past Mile heroes have all been proven at that game (or shorter), I think connections’ first preference to step up for the Turf is the right one. Del Mar won’t put a premium on stamina, but on turn of foot, and he has that in spades. Of the two options, he has a better shot of factoring in the longer event.
Decorated Knight’s dam, Pearling, is a full sister to Giant’s Causeway and to the prolific broodmare You’resothrilling, who’s produced five Group 1 performers to the cover of Galileo. That list includes dual classic-winning champion Gleneagles and current Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) threat Happily. Since Decorated Knight is by Galileo as well, they’re intensely related. His ability therefore doesn’t come out of the blue.
His Arlington misadventure cost him the remainder of 2016, and Decorated Knight didn’t resurface until the February 4 Winter Derby Trial over Lingfield’s Polytrack (click link for replay). Under considerate handling by Andrea Atzeni, he out-moved Arab Spring and beat a few decent all-weather mainstays.
That wasn’t so much his trial for the Winter Derby as a prep run for Dubai. The about nine-furlong Jebel Hatta (G1) appealed as a very winnable spot to boost his stallion profile. Nightmarish traffic almost defeated the purpose for going, but Decorated Knight flew once in the clear to nab Godolphin’s improving Folkswood. The form looked better as Folkswood went on to place in a trio of Group races, most significantly when third in Winx’s Cox Plate (G1) three-peat.
Decorated Knight went for the double in the Dubai Turf (G1) over the same course and distance on World Cup night, only to wind up sixth in a far deeper field on yielding ground. Just touched off in third is Ribchester (whose Mile profile is forthcoming).
Back in Europe, Decorated Knight coped with rain-softened ground more effectively in the 1 5/16-mile Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1). The May 28 Curragh feature lost its star attraction in Minding, and Decorated Knight took full advantage to beat Somehow and Deauville.
The acid class test would come in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot, where Decorated Knight would face such formidable foes as Highland Reel and Ulysses. Overlooked at 10-1, he proved capable of holding his own in that august company when splitting the pair, and fighting hard to outduel Ulysses for second. Note that fourth-placer is Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Queen’s Trust.
Unfortunately, Decorated Knight’s ascent was halted by a problematic trip in the Eclipse (G1). He was bothered on two different occasions, first when Taj Mahal unceremoniously cut across as the pacemaker, causing Decorated Knight to check and instigating a chain reaction that sawed off Cliffs of Moher. Then in the stretch, Eminent bumped (and tried to bite) Decorated Knight as he commenced his rally. Although working his way to the fore, Decorated Knight couldn’t maintain his move after all that and faded to sixth.
In his rematch with Ulysses in the Juddmonte International (G1), Decorated Knight never threatened in fifth. It was later revealed that he’d tweaked his muscles.
Shrugging that off more quickly than might have been expected, Decorated Knight lined up in the September 9 Irish Champion. Several marquee names were missing – e.g., Highland Reel, Ulysses, Barney Roy – but Churchill was on the premises. Decorated Knight, ignored at 25-1, was making what might have been his swan song. He delivered in style, swooping from last to first to proclaim he wasn’t done.
Although it’s easy to crab the result because of the high-profile absentees, Decorated Knight defeated a Sir Michael Stoute improver in Poet’s Word, who came back to finish best of the rest behind Cracksman in the Champion (G1) at Ascot. Obviously it wasn’t the all-star Irish Champion of 2016 in which Almanzor beat Found, Minding, and Highland Reel, but the winner still put up a strong effort to pass the entire field in the stretch.
Aside from the point about the relative merits of Decorated Knight’s high-level wins, the other concern is the length of his campaign. When you start off in February on the Lingfield Polytrack, you’re not exactly forecasting a trip to Del Mar in November. Credit to Decorated Knight for taking his astute connections to this point, and he may have another surprise in store. Yet I’d be tempted to see him as more of a place chance in the Turf.
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders' Cup via Twitter