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Homeracing

Is Mutakayyef this year’s Mondialiste in the Woodbine Mile?

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

September 12th, 2016

That headline’s a bit cheeky, since the task faced by European shippers in this year’s Woodbine Mile (G1) is entirely different. Last year, there was a solid – but not formidable – North American cast for Mondialiste to beat, but on Saturday, you’ve got Tepin.

Looking strictly at their profiles, however, British raider Mutakayyef is reminiscent of Mondialiste, in that the formerly underachieving blueblood has gotten his act together and arrives at Woodbine in career-best form. In fact, his formline is considerably stronger than what Mondialiste brought to bear a year ago, a prerequisite for rating as a proper challenger to Tepin.

Ironically, Mutakayyef was the horse just nabbed by Mondialiste in the 2015 Strensall (G3) at York, his stepping stone to glory in the Woodbine Mile. Mutakayyef’s near-miss second was commendable, considering it was his comeback from a 10-month layoff, and he hooked a race-fit Mondialiste on the rise.

But in what used to be his frustrating pattern, Mutakayyef didn’t improve for the tightener. The William Haggas trainee just failed to give the useful Scottish six pounds in last September’s Doonside Cup at Ayr, and watching the stretch run, you wondered how much (or whether) Mutakayyef really wanted it. Adding blinkers for his 2015 finale in the Darley (G3) at Newmarket, he frittered away too much energy early and tired to third.

That was pretty much par for the course for the beautifully bred son of Sea the Stars and Group 3 winner (and twice Group 1-placed) Infallible, who cost Sheikh Hamdan $437,619 as a Tattersalls October yearling.

Mutakayyef had similarly settled for minor awards during his sophomore campaign in 2014. The chestnut was a close, if unlucky, second in the Newmarket Stakes to inquiry-surviving Barley Mow (now a smart performer in Hong Kong under the name of Helene Happy Star). Mutakayyef was second again, this time to Cannock Chase, in the Tercentenary (G3) at Royal Ascot. (Finishing behind Mutakayyef on both occasions was a raw Dubawi colt by the name of Postponed.) Mutakayyef maintained his bridesmaid status in his final two outings of 2014 when placing in the Darley and the James Seymour.

So what has transformed him from zero to hero this season? A gelding operation.

Mutakayyef wasted no time in showing his new attitude. In his reappearance in the June 11 Ganton at York, his sense of purpose was almost palpable as he saw off Sovereign Debt. Not only did Mutakayyef collar him, but when Sovereign Debt came again, Mutakayyef surged again in response. It’s doubtful that he would have done so as a colt.  

The July 9 Summer Mile (G2) at Ascot was even more emphatic. Handling a field with real authority for the first time since his maiden win, Mutakayyef stormed clear of subsequent Lennox (G2) winner Dutch Connection. Fifth-placer Richard Pankhurst later advertised the form in the Hungerford (G2).

Connections flirted with the Arlington Million (G1), but instead decided to give Mutakayyef a shot against the red-hot Postponed in the Juddmonte International (G1). Traveling with his customary verve, Mutakayyef rallied boldly on the stands’ side, only to have Postponed drift right across his path. While it would be going beyond the evidence to suggest that Mutakayyef would have threatened Postponed, you can make the case that he may have outfinished runner-up Highland Reel.

 

Bad luck aside, his bang-up third in a deep renewal of the Juddmonte proved that Mutakayyef is a bona fide Group 1 animal. He was under serious consideration for Irish Champions Weekend. In addition to mulling the Irish Champion (G1), Mutakayyef was in the mix for the Boomerang (G2) over a mile. But Sheikh Hamdan already had Awtaad penciled in for the Boomerang (which he won handsomely), and Mutakayyef became the right piece for the global chessboard.

Mutakayyef’s effective from a mile up to around 1 1/4 miles, so Woodbine’s one-turn mile with a lengthy stretch should suit him well. He can cope with some give in the ground, but he’d prefer a firmer course. His tactical speed implies he won’t let Tepin get too far ahead of him early. And to complete the picture, Woodbine reports that Dane O’Neill regains the mount. Mutakayyef is two-for-two with O’Neill in the saddle, including his Summer Mile.

***

Qatar Racing Ltd. is responsible for the other two Woodbine Mile internationals, Arod and Mr. Owen. Both were prominent on the list for last year’s running, but Arod was dispatched to Australia instead, and Mr. Owen wound up sixth behind Mondialiste.

Arod has competed with some of the best of his generation, and on his day, can put up a big performance. Initially pegged as a Derby (G1) hopeful, the $219,300 Goffs Orby yearling was a fine second to The Grey Gatsby in the 2014 Dante (G2) before checking in fourth to Australia at Epsom.

Trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam was of a mind to shorten him up in 2015. Caught late in the nine-furlong Earl of Sefton (G3) (in which Mondialiste was third), Arod was beaten a length when third in the Lockinge (G1) to Night of Thunder (best known for his 40-1 shock of Kingman and Australia in the previous year’s 2000 Guineas [G1]):

 

Arod then sprang to life. The son of Teofilo peaked with superb front-running victories in last summer’s Diomed (G3) and Summer Mile, and he forced the streaking Solow to dig a little deeper to see him off in the Sussex (G1):

 

On paper, Arod had the look of a horse suited to Australia’s prestigious Cox Plate (G1). He has good early speed, the agility to whip around turns, and enough stamina to handle the about 1 1/4-mile trip at Moonee Valley. Unfortunately, Arod was a shadow of himself Down Under, retreating down the field in the Cox Plate and in the Emirates (G1) over a metric mile at Flemington. The venture deteriorated into a misadventure, and there was nothing else to do but to bring him back home and regroup.

With that background, Arod can be forgiven for tiring to third in his comeback in the April 27 Paradise at Ascot. He was entitled to need the race, as was fourth-placer Decorated Knight (the Arlington Million hopeful who was scratched.)

But Arod went on to endure a tough summer. He tried his hand at sprinting in the July Cup (G1), where he was tailed off in last, and came down with the bug that’s bedeviling Newmarket. Arod returned to action in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) at Deauville, where he was in contention for much of the way before lack of fitness told, and he wasn’t persevered with:

 

Arod hinted he’s rounding back into form with a gritty third in the Celebration Mile (G2) at Goodwood. The victorious Lightning Spear (whom he’d dismissed in last year’s Summer Mile) had been third to Tepin in the Queen Anne (G1).

If Arod takes a step forward in his third start since being sick, he’s worth a look. He’ll be forwardly placed throughout, and as Chapple-Hyam pointed out to Woodbine publicity, Arod is much better suited to a one-turn than a straight mile. His record over the last two seasons is conclusive on that point.

Mr. Owen was profiled in this space ahead of the 2015 Woodbine Mile, when he found the occasion too much as a sophomore taking on elders, and on ground that didn’t favor him.

The son of 2007 Prix Vermeille (G1) and E.P. Taylor (G1) heroine (and Woodbine course record-setter) Mrs. Lindsay had decent form at three, placing third in the French 2000 Guineas (G1) and winning a listed race at Deauville. But his form may turn out to be stronger this year, and trainer Francois Rohaut has told Woodbine publicity that Mr. Owen has himself strengthened up at four.

Resurfacing in the May 1 Prix du Muguet (G2), Mr. Owen was in a pocket and had to wait for Ervedya to go before he could lengthen stride and took third. Neither was a match for Andre Fabre’s well-regarded Vadamos:

 

Mr. Owen went to Royal Ascot for the big mile heritage handicap, the Royal Hunt Cup, where he flopped in 13th of 28. The prevailing soft ground didn’t help. At any rate, it’s worth remembering that Mondialiste was also unplaced in the Royal Hunt Cup last year before turning the corner.

In his only subsequent start, Mr. Owen was stuffed by Vadamos again in the Prix Messidor (G3) on July 17. The merit of this performance is unclear, since he beat an out-of-form Territories and an obviously subpar Dariyan.

 

The Vadamos form itself has stood up quite well. Just outpointed by Ribchester in the Marois, Vadamos captured Sunday’s Prix du Moulin (G1), and Fabre is talking Cox Plate, Queen Elizabeth II (G1), or Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

While Mr. Owen has more potential than accomplishment, it wouldn’t be a shock if he gives Vadamos’ stock a boost.

Mutakayyef photo courtesy Ascot Racecourse via Twitter

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