International scouting reports for 2018 Belmont Derby: Hunting Horn and Kingstar
Saturday’s $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) features not only a robust domestic team, but a couple of proper European shippers as well in Aidan O’Brien’s Hunting Horn and Team Valor’s Kingstar.
Recent Royal Ascot winner Hunting Horn brings a profile reminiscent of Aidan O’Brien’s lone Belmont Derby victor, Deauville (2016), in that he competed in a European classic. While Deauville was a subpar 11th on unsuitably softish going at Epsom, Hunting Horn was a respectable sixth in the French Derby (G1) en route to Royal Ascot.
That puts him in a different category from O’Brien’s other Belmont Derby runners who were not classic combatants. Adelaide, the 2014 near-misser, was coming off a second in the King Edward VII (G2). Long Island Sound, sixth to Deauville in 2016, had been a distant third in his Tercentenary (G3) stakes debut. And last year’s duo of Homesman (third) and Whitecliffsofdover (seventh) were unplaced in lesser events at Royal Ascot. Homesman finished fifth in the King George V, a handicap, and Whitecliffsofdover was 15th in the Jersey (G3).
The rub in the intramural comparison, however, is the quality of the opposition. Hawkish and Analyze It have a panache that Deauville’s rivals did not at that time, and Catholic Boy may have more to offer on turf, making for a likely stiffer task. That said, as a progressive O’Brien pupil tested at the highest level, Hunting Horn obviously rates as a prime player
By the red-hot sire Camelot and out of a half-sister to Epsom/Irish Derby (G1) and dual Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero High Chaparral, Hunting Horn shaped with promise in both of his juvenile outings. He made a useful debut when fourth at the Curragh last August, tracking the leaders under tender handling. That maiden turned out to be salty indeed. The victorious Gobi Desert was a future stakes winner; two more were next-out winners (London Icon, later sold to Hong Kong interests, and O’Brien stalwart Threeandfourpence); and the also-rans included future Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3) hero Hazapour and Gallinule (G3) scorer Platinum Warrior.
Hunting Horn clashed with Hazapour next out at Galway, where the latter’s trainer Dermot Weld tends to showcase his well-regarded juveniles. Although Hazapour got first run, and Hunting Horn couldn’t peg him back, he gave game pursuit in an improved effort. The form looks even better now, not only after Hazapour’s classic trial victory, but particularly his gallant fifth in the Derby at Epsom.
It’s significant that Hunting Horn still entertained a Group 1 target as a maiden. He was an intended runner in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1), only to miss his chance when racing was canceled due to an on-track protest.
Not seen again until a Naas maiden April 10, Hunting Horn encountered soft to heavy conditions but came through to edge Joseph O’Brien’s well-regarded Latrobe – the future Irish Derby (G1) winner. Although driven along by Ryan Moore, Hunting Horn was not given a tough time and outfinished his rival, another son of Camelot, willingly.
Two weeks later in the Sandown Classic Trial (G3), Hunting Horn was a sneakily good third. Eased back to last early, he was also steered from the middle of track all the way over to the far rail during a sustained rally. The winner, Sevenna Star, is a most promising prospect for John Gosden. And fourth-placer Chilean had beaten future French Derby (G1) star Study of Man in the Prix La Force (G3) in his prior start.
Hunting Horn wheeled back and stepped up to 12 1/2 furlongs for the Chester Vase (G3), and although third again, it’s a measure of his progress that he reversed form with Sandown runner-up Ispolini. He carved out a stalking trip and just got outkicked by Young Rascal and Dee Ex Bee.
Young Rascal enhances hias reputation with a taking success in the Chester Vase. Has William Haggas got another live Derby hope on his hands? pic.twitter.com/lTvHgPSL0D— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 9, 2018
Like Sandown winner Sevenna Star, Young Rascal ran well below form at Epsom, but Dee Ex Bee upheld the value of the Chester Vase when second in the Derby.
Hunting Horn then turned back in trip for the about 10 1/2-furlong French Derby. In the hunt throughout, he was vying in the stretch until flattening out for sixth in a bunched-up finish.
The victorious Study of Man is very much on the upgrade, with the Irish Champion (G1) on his agenda possibly followed by the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). The French Derby form has been boosted by a couple of other O’Brien also-rans – Rostropovich was just runner-up in the Irish Derby, and Flag of Honour captured the Curragh Cup (G2).
Up to this point, Hunting Horn was performing well without taking that next step, and it was beginning to look as if he were stalling out on that plateau.
But any such thoughts were exploded in Royal Ascot’s Hampton Court (G3), with 1 1/4 miles on quick ground eliciting a new career high. The quibble is that his leading opponents all underperformed. Still, it was a taking performance in a time of 2:03.02, nearly a second faster than Racing Post standard.
Hunting Horn had other options, including the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) on Bastille Day. Yet it’s logical to stick to the Hampton Court distance. And Hunting Horn can handle a range of conditions, so he’s unlikely to be inconvenienced by whatever rain falls in New York Friday.
Hailing from the yard responsible for last year’s Belmont Derby runner-up, Called to the Bar, Kingstar brings a different profile but tantalizing collateral form for trainer Pia Brandt.
Unlike Called to the Bar, who was shortening up from his signature win in the about 1 1/2-mile Prix du Lys (G3), Kingstar remains at a distance comparable to his recent victory. If not a Group winner (yet), he nevertheless has form tie-ins with Hunting Horn and with Andre Fabre’s exciting filly Waldlied.
Kingstar is inbred 4x4 to Miesque, giving him rather more pedigree intrigue than a cursory glance at his obscure sire suggests. By 2008 Horris Hill (G3) winner Evasive (a son of Elusive Quality and descendant of Miesque), Kingstar is out of a mare by King’s Best (by Miesque’s son Kingmambo). Kingstar’s dam, King’s Parody, is herself a half-sister to multiple Group 3-winning sire Panis. This is an American family, as she’s also a half to Texas-bred multiple stakes-winning sprinter Political Whit.
Proven only on soft going so far, Kingstar won’t mind the forecast rain. But he has the action of a horse who’d enjoy quicker conditions too.
Kingstar was unveiled in a newcomers’ event at Chantilly last September, displaying admirable resolve to overhaul a front-running lightweight who was making the most of his six-pound apprentice allowance. Team Valor promptly bought a majority share off that pleasing debut, with Ecurie des Charmes retaining a quarter-interest.
Up to Group class in the Prix de Conde (G3) in his only ensuing start at two, Kingstar turned in the best finish by a male when runner-up to the filly Luminate. She skipped well clear while reveling in the very soft going.
Luminate has not fulfilled her classic hopes this campaign. After opening 2018 with a victory in the Prix Penelope (G3), she was a hampered second (demoted to fifth) in the Prix Cleopatre (G3) and unplaced in the French Oaks (G1).
The Conde third-placer, King of Camelot, is a solid type who offers the collateral form with Hunting Horn. He’s gone on to place in a couple of French classic trials, including a third in the Prix du Lys, where Hunting Horn’s old foe Ispolini was fourth. Of course, the lengthy time span between last fall’s Conde and the May 27 Lys makes any extrapolation more hazardous than usual, but Kingstar’s current form bolsters a favorable view.
In his June 2 reappearance, Kingstar readily justified favoritism in a ParisLongchamp conditions race over a couple of useful rivals in Chailloue and Fuse.
The placegetters have already flattered Kingstar. Consistent runner-up Chailloue (engaged in the Grand Prix de Paris) came back to win a similar contest handsomely at the same venue for Jean-Claude Rouget. The third-placer, Freddie Head’s filly Fuse, was subsequently runner-up in the Prix de Malleret (G2) to Waldlied (Waldgeist’s half-sister pointing to the Prix Vermeille [G1]). She’s not the only quality rival Fuse has bumped into lately. Back on May 18, Fuse was second to Lady Athena, who’s since finished an unlucky sixth in the French Oaks after finding no daylight.
Kingstar had fancy entries himself in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, French Derby, and Grand Prix de Paris, so connections have long believed him up to this level. If his admittedly indirect form is any guide, he’s an intriguing dark horse at 12-1.
Photo of Hunting Horn spreadeagling the field at Royal Ascot courtesy of Champions Series via Twitter