International scouting report for 2018 Belmont Gold Cup, New York Stakes

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

June 7th, 2018

The European raiding party for Friday’s $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup (G2) is only half of the size of last year’s six-strong phalanx that swept the superfecta, but all are Group performers, and one in particular brings a rich vein of form.

Even the most rabid republican would recognize The Queen’s homebred Call to Mind, a son of supersire Galileo, as that form horse. A promising young stayer likely looking for this step up to two miles, the William Haggas pupil comes off a better-than-appears third in the Yorkshire Cup (G2). He was the only one to chase the fast pace and stick around for a placing. The tempo is reflected by the final time of 2:55.15, .85 faster than Racing Post standard for 1 3/4 miles at York.

The impressive winner, Stradivarius, is currently the second favorite in the antepost market for the Gold Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot. Stradivarius had beaten last year’s Gold Cup hero, Big Orange, in the Goodwood Cup (G1) (receiving a substantial weight break as a sophomore last summer). Yorkshire Cup runner-up Desert Skyline is himself an emerging player in the staying ranks who upended elders in last September’s Doncaster Cup (G2). There’s no disgrace in finishing third to them, especially given the race shape.

Call to Mind is building upon the foundation laid during his three-year-old season. Justifying 6-4 favoritism with a late thrust in his Newbury debut over a mile, he’s been competing in stakes company ever since. The onetime Derby (G1) entry was staying on dourly between horses in the 1 1/4-mile Fairway at Newmarket, but was unable to maintain his position and backed up to third. Call to Mind may have been slightly intimidated in close quarters; considering that the thoroughgoing stayer Desert Skyline was beaten a whisker in that race, I suspect there was a little more to it than simply being outkicked.

Haggas stepped him up in class and trip again for the 1 1/2-mile King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, where he compromised his chances with a tardy start. Then Call to Mind had to alter course for running room in the stretch and finished with interest for sixth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by ill-fated Permian. Next in the 1 3/8-mile Glasgow at Hamilton, he was no match for the rapidly progressive Defoe, but kept on for third in the manner of a horse wanting more ground.

Given his first opportunity over 1 3/4 miles, Call to Mind promptly scored his breakthrough in the March S. at Goodwood, picking up well to defeat the useful Count Octave.

Call to Mind concluded his campaign in the Prix Chaudenay (G2) during Arc weekend at Chantilly, where he was just outdueled by Ice Breeze after a battle royal. That result looked even better when Ice Breeze came right back to upset French staying star Vazirabad, the odds-on favorite seeking a three-peat, in the Prix Royal-Oak (G1).

In light of his distance prerequisite, Call to Mind did not appear likely to contain Defoe in their mutual reappearance in the April 21 John Porter (G3) at Newbury. He was accordingly a one-paced fourth to Defoe in that 1 1/2-mile affair, but improved at York last time and stands to move forward again here.

Call to Mind doesn’t have the gears of his full brother Recorder, a highly regarded Acomb (G3) winner for Haggas who unfortunately never ran again. Recorder had the juvenile panache of their dam, Memory, heroine of the 2010 Cherry Hinton (G2) (now the Duchess of Cambridge) and Albany (G3).

But Call to Mind is just beginning to carve out his niche in the staying ranks, and his 115-pound impost will feel negligible after carrying a minimum of 126 pounds in all prior starts. He’s got the tactical speed to put himself in a good early position for Javier Castellano, if he can quicken well enough from there.

Conversely, France’s Funny Kid has a turn of foot – if he can answer a lingering class question while giving Call to Mind six pounds. The Wertheimer et Frere homebred was risked in a claimer over Chantilly’s Polytrack last November, but turned the corner on the British all-weather, and continued his climb in the Prix de Barbeville (G3) last out for Christophe Ferland.

Funny Kid started out with Andre Fabre, winning both juvenile starts in the French provinces, and showed enough to be given an early entry to the Grand Prix de Paris (G1). But he was sidelined through the heart of 2016, switched to Ferland, and didn’t have a full campaign until 2017. Although Funny Kid was stuck at the conditions level before trying handicaps, and descending into that claimer (in which he was third, not even favored), a case can be made that he’s finally fulfilling his early promise.

Rebounding in a Deauville Polytrack handicap in late November, Funny Kid was upped in trip to about 2 1/16 miles for a Wolverhampton “fast-track qualifier” for the lucrative All-Weather Championships. He missed by a neck to front-running Watersmeet in a course-record 3:31.92, with Godolphin’s Group 1 performer Frontiersman (the son of Dubawi and Ouija Board) third. Funny Kid turned the tables on Watersmeet, getting up at the line in a more slowly run Marathon on the March 30 All-Weather Championships card at Lingfield.

Funny Kid carried that form forward for a new career high in the Prix de Barbeville. Proving himself more than a winter all-weather creature, he scored a cozy half-length win over Doha Dream with Ice Breeze, Call to Mind’s old nemesis, in third.

But before jumping to hasty conclusions about the formline, note that Funny Kid was receiving 10 pounds from Ice Breeze. That weight break was on top of his race-fitness advantage. Ice Breeze had not run in the six months since toppling Vazirabad, so Funny Kid’s victory smacks of opportunism at the expense of rusty comebackers.

That said, Funny Kid is a very well-bred five-year-old in the form of his life, and possibly just the type to thrive in American conditions. The Kentucky-bred is by Lemon Drop Kid and out of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Pitamakan, a descendant of Broodmare of the Year Courtly Dee.

Prince of Arran, the outsider of the trio at 12-1, is the only European to add Lasix in the Gold Cup. The Charlie Fellowes charge has yet to earn a stakes laurel, and in another departure from the top two invaders, he’s unplaced more often than in the frame.

But two miles on firm ground is right in Prince of Arran’s wheelhouse. Arguably his two most significant performances came in these conditions. He was second to Sweet Selection in the 2017 Sagaro (G3) at Ascot, his lone stakes placing. (Interestingly the third-placer in the Sagaro, Nearly Caught, was nearly in Friday’s Belmont Gold Cup. He captured the “Win & You’re In” Oleander-Rennen [G2] on May 20, only to be controversially disqualified and miss out on his invitation to Belmont Park. The promoted winner, Sound Check, obviously didn’t come.)

Prince of Arran won his most valuable race, a $160,000 handicap, over two metric miles at Meydan on February 15. The form isn’t terribly interesting though.

Unable to land a blow later in the Dubai Carnival, Prince of Arran was a long-way eighth in the Nad al Sheba Trophy (G3) (Fellowes said the addition of a visor backfired). He was eighth again, but a more characteristic one, in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) when beaten about 5 3/4 lengths by Vazirabad on World Cup night.

Prince of Arran has raced once since returning home to England, and his sixth in the 2 5/16-mile Chester Cup was a sneakily-good effort considering his top weight of 135 pounds. He faced an insurmountable task trying to give Melbourne Cup (G1) contender Magic Circle six pounds in the historic handicap, so going down by 8 3/4 lengths was creditable. (Watch him in the purplish silks rallying at left of frame after steering around the blaze-faced horse in the yellow and black.) By way of comparison, Nakeeta – last year’s Ebor winner and fifth in the Melbourne Cup – carried 133 pounds to a 10th-place finish in the Chester Cup.

Hence Prince of Arran exits the Chester Cup with a career-best Racing Post rating of 109. That’s enough to put him in the mix here, if the inconsistent type runs up to his best for Irad Ortiz Jr.

Bonus on the preceding New York S. (G2)

The European shipper in the New York, Snowy Winter, looks up against it on form. Last year, trainer Archie Watson did a great job developing Absolute Blast from an all-weather handicapper into a multiple Group performer, but this is a tough spot to accomplish that objective for Snowy Winter.

The Darley-bred by Elusive Quality was culled by Godolphin for a scant €7,500 as an unraced three-year-old at Goffs February. Watson has poured 19 races into Snowy Winter since her belated debut last July, and she’s thrived on her busy calendar. Gradually climbing from low-level handicaps, especially over long distances on all-weather, she earned black-type when third to Fabricate and Autocratic in the March 31 Magnolia S. at Kempton (click link for video).

Snowy Winter was a tad fortunate to place to those useful older males, leading early in a five-runner field. Ignore Snowy Winter’s intervening run on softish ground at Goodwood, where she was eased. Last time out on good-to-firm, she was back on song with a second in the Rothesay S. at Ayr, scooping up more black-type. Yet she was 14-1 in that weak affair featuring fellow handicappers/borderline listed runners, and far more is required in a solid renewal of the New York.

If there is a Euro angle outside of the compelling (and obvious) Sistercharlie, it’s fellow import Esquisse, who has longshot appeal at 20-1. A fast-closing winner of last July’s Prix de Bagatelle at Maisons-Laffitte, the Wertheimer et Frere homebred was fourth to Lady Frankel in the Prix de Lieurey (G3). Lady Frankel went on to finish third in a three-way Prix de l’Opera (G1) tussle with Aidan O’Brien stars Rhododendron and Hydrangea.

More than her bare European form, however, Esquisse is a worth a shot on pedigree. She’s by Dansili and out of Legerete, whose marquee wins in the Prix de Malleret (G2) and Prix de Royaumont (G3) came at about 1 1/2 miles. In other words, Esquisse is entitled to take a leap forward on the stretch-out for Graham Motion.

Photo of Call to Mind at Belmont Park by Photos by Z