Jockey Club Derby international scouting report: Yibir takes on Bolshoi Ballet

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September 16th, 2021

Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby stages another New York invasion on Saturday, with Yibir in the Jockey Club Derby and Creative Flair in the Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park. Yibir will take on the top two from the Belmont Derby (G1), Bolshoi Ballet and Tokyo Gold, as well as Saratoga Derby (G1) runner-up Soldier Rising, in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

The third leg of the Turf Triple, the Jockey Club Derby is also the longest at 1 1/2 miles. Thus it’s no surprise that European shippers had a field day in the 2019 inaugural, as Spanish Mission led home an all-international trifecta. The foreign presence is again formidable in Saturday’s second running, bolstered by French émigré Soldier Rising, who counts as a local based with Christophe Clement.

Before examining Yibir’s credentials, we’ll give an update on Aidan O’Brien’s Bolshoi Ballet, who was covered in detail in the Belmont Derby scouting report along with Tokyo Gold.

Plan B for Bolshoi Ballet

Bolshoi Ballet has had mixed fortunes as the heavy favorite in Turf Triple’s first two legs. He swept from off the pace to win the Belmont Derby, but a forward trip in the Saratoga Derby backfired on him. The pace turned out to be more demanding, and he tired to fourth at the Spa.

The Galileo colt wasn’t originally earmarked for this third leg. Instead, last Sunday’s Prix Niel (G2) at ParisLongchamp was his intended target. But French authorities forced him to scratch due to a problem with his vaccination history. He’s not missing any shots; it’s just reportedly a timing issue that fell afoul of France’s regulations.

That left O’Brien scrambling for a fallback position, and the Jockey Club Derby made sense. Like the Niel, it would gauge Bolshoi Ballet’s proficiency at 1 1/2 miles while remaining in sophomore company. His only prior try at the trip, a seventh in the Epsom Derby (G1), is inconclusive given his mishap in running. On the other hand, the Niel came up pretty light, and his task at Belmont is arguably stiffer.

Eye on the weather

A significantly rain-affected track would be another potential concern for Bolshoi Ballet, depending on how much precipitation the Elmont, New York, area might get. A similar point applies to Tokyo Gold, whose best form is on good going. The added ground of the Jockey Club Derby helps Tokyo Gold, the Italian Derby (G2) winner who was a belated second in the Belmont Derby. But he’ll have to deal with deeper opposition than in the first leg.

If the rain totals are substantial by week’s end, that would redound to the benefit of Soldier Rising. As discussed in the scouting report for the Saratoga Derby, the Frankel gelding was entitled to improve from whatever he did at the Spa, since this race would suit him to a tee. His rallying second over an inadequate 1 3/16 miles at Saratoga is an excellent sign for his chances here, especially if the course has residual moisture in it.


If he weren’t a gelding, Yibir likely would have been a contender in last Saturday’s St. Leger (G1). But the British classics are reserved to colts and fillies only, so the Godolphin homebred has to chase riches abroad rather than prestige at home.

Yibir is a full brother to multiple Group 1 winner Wild Illusion, who was second to champion Sistercharlie in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Both are by the prolific Dubawi and out of Rumh, a daughter of influential German stallion Monsun. Rumh is closely related to 2007 Beverly D. (G1) winner Royal Highness, from the further family of Electrocutionist, hero of the 2006 Dubai World Cup (G1) on dirt in addition to his Group 1 turf laurels.

Yibir won his final two starts of 2020 to stamp himself as a promising juvenile. A frontrunning maiden winner at Sandown in his third try, he followed up by wiring a noted conditions race at Newbury over future Group 3 hero Megallan, in juvenile course-record time for a mile.

Then still a colt, Yibir put his classic aspirations to the test this spring. The chestnut returned in the Apr. 23 Classic Trial (G3) at Sandown that turned out to be key race. Trying to lead throughout, Yibir could not hold off Alenquer and Adayar but fought on for a close third, clear of Lone Eagle. Alenquer’s gone on to take the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot and place in both the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) and Juddmonte International (G1). Adayar has become a superstar, turning a rare Epsom Derby/King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) double.

Yibir was favored next out in the May 6 Dee S. at Chester, but he proved too keen early in an experiment with cheekpieces. Fading to fourth with his head cocked right, he never wore them again.

Up in trip to 1 3/8 miles for the May 21 Cocked Hat S. at Goodwood, Yibir chased Lone Eagle throughout on the soft going. He took a run at the leader in the stretch, but his head carriage was quirky again as he dropped back to a distant second. Lone Eagle, who was turning the tables emphatically from Sandown, nearly upset the Irish Derby (G1) in his next start.

A gelding operation, and good-to-firm ground, brought out the best in Yibir in the 1 5/8-mile Bahrain Trophy (G3) during Newmarket’s July Festival. He also employed new tactics by rallying from several lengths back to score well. Third-placer Dancing King has since won Goodwood’s March S.

Yibir wasn’t as amenable to hold-up tactics in the July 29 Gordon (G3) at Glorious Goodwood, dragging William Buick in an early move to the front. He ultimately paid the price by wilting to sixth on the good-to-soft going.

A hood was added for the Aug. 18 Great Voltigeur (G2) at York’s Ebor Festival, and the equipment had the desired effect. Anchored at the back of the pack, Yibir closed smartly to win in a solid time for about 1 1/2 miles on the course – 2:28.27.

Normally the Great Voltigeur winner would advance to the St. Leger, but that option was off the table for the gelding. Appleby already had the hot favorite for that classic anyway, Hurricane Lane, who won handsomely. While it’s extremely unlikely Yibir would have threatened his stablemate, he could well have placed. The Great Voltigeur runner-up, The Mediterranean, finished third in the St. Leger, implying that a similar effort would have put Yibir in the frame.

Belmont offers a lucrative consolation prize in the form of the Jockey Club Derby. Appleby mentioned it immediately after the Great Voltigeur:

One of our potential plans was to go to North America with him for the Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park next month. I think he would take a lot of experience there – he hasn’t missed a beat this year and is a horse with some constitution. Hopefully, he can become one of those fun international campaigners.

Yibir’s degree of effectiveness on rain-softened going remains an open question. Yet other factors have been at work in his losses on a slower surface, and pedigree hints he can handle it.

Perhaps the bigger question is if Yibir will bring his “A” game. He’s a “cheeky chap who enjoys life,” as jockey James Doyle once described him. The combination of maturity, gelding, and the hood might have him in the right mental place for this venture.