Keeneland International Scouting Reports: Order of Australia, Empress Josephine
Trainer Aidan O’Brien has dispatched a trio of high-profile runners for Breeders’ Cup preps on Saturday. Since Japan was covered in a recent scouting report, we’ll give a quick update on him before focusing on the two in “Win and You’re In” events at Keeneland – Order of Australia and Empress Josephine.
Japan makes a return trip stateside for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park. Most recently a near-miss runner-up to Gufo in the Sword Dancer (G1) Aug. 28 at Saratoga, Japan is likely to find Belmont a more congenial venue. In the scouting report for the Sword Dancer, I noted the possibility that he could find himself outfooted around the Spa’s tight circuit. Arguably that’s what happened, as Gufo had the gears to make the winning move and put Japan in a pocket. Japan was being asked to pick up before he was strung up in traffic. Once in the clear, he rallied in the final furlong and came up a neck short. The sweeping contours of Belmont will give Japan more time to wind up. With jockey Ryan Moore’s presence required at Newmarket, Wayne Lordan comes in for the ride.
Now, onto the Ballydoyle hopes at Keeneland. Order of Australia returns to the scene of his stunning 73-1 upset in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), but this time as the 7-2 morning-line favorite for the Keeneland Turf Mile (G1). Sophomore stablemate Empress Josephine makes her first transatlantic venture versus older distaffers in the First Lady (G1), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race offering a free ticket to the Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Empress Josephine – First Lady Stakes
The 14-1 upsetter of the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1), Empress Josephine has yet to hit the board in three subsequent starts. But her fourth in the Sept. 11 Matron S. (G1) suggests that she’s headed back in the right direction, and she has claims to get involved at 10-1 on the morning line.
By Galileo and out of multiple Group 1 heroine Lillie Langtry, Empress Josephine is a full sister to one of Ballydoyle’s all-time top fillies, Minding. A seven-time Group 1 winner, Minding most notably turned the 1000 Guineas (G1)/Oaks (G1) double in 2016 and beat older males in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on British Champions Day.
Empress Josephine didn’t race at two, but wasted no time breaking her maiden on her Mar. 28 debut at Naas. The 3-1 favorite rolled from just off the pace in a bulky field, scoring comfortably over a mile on soft going. Fourth in that same maiden was La Petite Coco, now famous for upstaging Love in the Sept. 12 Blandford (G2).
Shortening up to seven furlongs for the Apr. 11 Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial (G3), Empress Josephine tried new tactics to set the pace. The change backfired as she raced too keenly and retreated to 10th. Next she stretched out to about 9 1/2 furlongs for the Victor McCalmont Memorial at Gowran, and more patient handling helped her to a better second-place effort. Empress Josephine advanced into contention but lost ground late, leaving O’Brien to conclude that the trip was a bit too far.
Returning to a mile for the May 23 Irish 1000 Guineas brought out the best in her. Held up on the outside, Empress Josephine still had a few lengths to find as stablemate Joan of Arc and No Speak Alexander grappled down the stretch. But she kicked into gear on the Curragh’s heavy going to mug Joan of Arc at the wire. Jockey Seamie Heffernan commented that Empress Josephine would have won more decisively if she hadn’t been hampered a couple of furlongs out.
Joan of Arc promptly boosted the form by capturing the French Oaks (G1) in her next start. Empress Josephine, however, did not build on her effort. Supplemented to the June 18 Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot, which also came up heavy, Empress Josephine floundered in eighth. Perhaps her busy spring caught up with her.
After about a six-week break between races, O’Brien gave her another chance to go longer in the July 29 Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood. But Empress Josephine fared even worse over 1 1/4 miles. She pulled hard while chasing the pace and ended up being eased home in a tailed-off last. Empress Josephine wasn’t the only one to flop in the Nassau. Reigning Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Audarya was one spot ahead of her in a subpar fifth.
In his Sept. 2 “At the Races” stable tour, O’Brien alluded to the tactical mess of the Nassau, and prescribed the remedy: a cutback to a mile, and settling off the pace, in the Matron. Empress Josephine responded with an encouraging fourth to old foe No Speak Alexander. Gaining steadily on the outside, Empress Josephine just missed snatching third from her badly troubled stablemate Mother Earth. The Matron runner-up, Pearls Galore, just came back to finish second to leading Breeders’ Cup Mile contender Space Blues in the Prix de la Foret (G1) on Arc Day.
Empress Josephine should get the right pace set-up in the First Lady, thanks to the free-wheeling Blowout. Of course, that scenario appeals to a few of her key rivals as well, including 7-2 morning-line favorite Althiqa. Trained by Charlie Appleby, that Godolphin shipper was featured in a scouting report ahead of the Just a Game (G1). Althiqa is now well known to U.S. fans after her victories in the Just a Game on Belmont Day and July 17 Diana (G1) at Saratoga.
Order of Australia – Keeneland Turf Mile
Drawing into last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile as an also-eligible, Order of Australia didn’t have much going for him beyond pedigree and connections. Even so, he was still very much in the shadow of his stablemates and his nearest relations.
Yet to display the star quality of his half-sisters – 2019 Filly & Mare Turf star Iridessa and the smashing debut winner Santa Barbara, who was already fueling mighty hopes for 2021 – Order of Australia lacked the credentials of stablemates Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez.
Clearly Ballydoyle’s third-stringer in the Mile, Order of Australia hadn’t even been competing at the trip. If his unplaced efforts in the 2020 Irish Derby (G1) and French Derby (G1) hinted that he’d appreciate the cutback, class questions still remained.
Yet Order of Australia proved a revelation at the distance. Under a brilliant ride by Pierre-Charles Boudot, the son of Australia worked out the right trip from the far outside post and beat his stablemates to the punch, becoming the biggest longshot ever to win the Mile.
Order of Australia has backed up that performance in his Europe this term. After a forgettable sixth in last December’s Hong Kong Mile (G1), he resumed with a ring-rusty eighth behind the stellar Palace Pier in the June 15 Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot. O’Brien believed that the tactics weren’t right either, as in hindsight they should have let him go early instead of taking a hold.
But Order of Australia was a different proposition second up in the July 18 Minstrel (G2) at the Curragh. Allowed to stride on in the seven-furlong affair, he dismissed his foes in wire-to-wire fashion.
Although Order of Australia tired to fifth in the July 28 Sussex (G1), the unsuitably soft going at Glorious Goodwood was a factor. Still, in a race dominated by three-year-olds, he beat almost all of the other older horses in the line-up, including Space Traveller and Lope Y Fernandez.
Order of Australia soon established his bona fides at the Group 1 level in France, placing to a couple of the most compelling milers around. In the Aug. 15 Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) at Deauville, he raced in the vanguard throughout and succumbed only to the brilliant defending champion, Palace Pier, and Poetic Flare.
The Sept. 5 Prix du Moulin (G1) again saw Order of Australia perform to a high level in defeat. Taking the early lead, he was passed by the keyed-up Novemba and instead settled into the stalking role. Order of Australia was outkicked by unbeaten odds-on favorite Baaeed, but he kept on determinedly, and made the exciting colt look workmanlike to maintain a 1 1/4-length margin.
Order of Australia has beefed up his resume since this time a year ago, and the Keeneland Turf Mile isn’t as daunting a task as he faced here in the Breeders’ Cup. With Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard in post 10, he projects a similarly beneficial trip. The obvious downside is that Order of Australia’s new status is reflected in his price, and he still has the vibe of a runner who needs things to fall just right.