Lumiere lights up July Festival again; watch for ‘Gatsby’ at Breeders’ Cup

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

July 8th, 2016

Thursday’s opening day of the Newmarket July Festival featured Group race victories by tough stayer Big Orange, classy juvenile Mehmas, and St Leger (G1) prospect Housesofparliament, but Lumiere arguably upstaged them all in the listed Sir Henry Cecil Stakes.

This wasn’t the first time that Lumiere lit up July Festival day one. On the corresponding date last summer, the Mark Johnston filly turned in one of the most jaw-dropping debut romps you’ll ever see. Although runner-up next time in the Lowther (G2) at York, Lumiere bounced back to wire last September’s Cheveley Park (G1) over Newmarket’s Rowley Course, showing equal measures of raw speed and inflexible determination. That made the daughter of Shamardal a proper contender for the 1000 Guineas (G1), but stepping up in trip for that May 1 reappearance, she was an abject flop in last.

The obvious reaction was to question her capacity at a mile, especially in light of the pace she’d shown in all of her past starts at six furlongs. But there were other reasons to hold out judgment. On pedigree, she ought to get a mile, and even if stamina were an issue in the Guineas, surely that wasn’t the primary reason she finished 32 lengths behind Minding. File that under the “too bad to be true” column.

The next likely step would have been to cut back in trip, and if Lumiere were back on song, revisit the mile. And that was Johnston’s initial idea, but he just wasn’t satisfied with her well-being. Skipping Royal Ascot’s Commonwealth Cup (G1), Lumiere began to come around recently, and Johnston saw the opportunity to try her again at a mile here.

Although the Sir Henry Cecil Stakes pitted Lumiere versus the boys, they weren’t as tough as the older distaffers in Friday’s Falmouth (G1), and she obviously likes the course. This was the nearest thing to a controlled experiment, and the dashing gray left no doubt about the answer. Instead of zipping to the front, she traveled on the bridle near the leaders, conserving her energy early, and simply blew them away in the closing stages to win by six lengths from Cymric. And her final time of 1:35.74 was swift on this course.

Runner-up Cymric, Group 1-placed last year and a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) participant, was most recently fourth as the pacemaker in the St James’s Palace (G1), and fourth-placer Kentuckyconnection had been fifth in the 2000 Guineas (G1). Not that they can be taken as iron-clad form indicators, but those colts have been deemed worthy of running at the very highest level, and she annihilated them.

Lumiere now has all options open to her, from using her early dash over shorter to tackling Group 1 opponents at a mile. Her early entries include the 7-furlong Lennox (G2) versus older males at Glorious Goodwood July 26, the Celebration Mile (G2) at the same track August 27, and the one-mile Matron (G1) at Leopardstown September 10.

Also auditioning for that September weekend was the Aidan O’Brien-trained Housesofparliament, who ran himself into St Leger consideration when kicking on best of all in the 1 5/8-mile Bahrain Trophy (G3).

Of course, given the depth of the Ballydoyle team, Housesofparliament isn’t near the top of their pecking order for the Doncaster classic yet. But the son of Galileo and Grade 1 heroine Sharp Lisa is a May 19 foal who’s entitled to need time to catch up. And as jockey Ryan Moore commented, he’s been inconvenienced by rain-softened ground all year, putting into perspective his third in the Dee Stakes, and fourths in both the Gallinule (G3) and King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot. The combination of a better surface and added ground – as well as the total non-effort on the part of disappointing favorite Prize Money – worked to his advantage.

Another stepping up from a Royal Ascot loss was Mehmas. Best of the rest behind the imperious Caravaggio in the Coventry (G2), the Richard Hannon Jr. juvenile franked the form with a straightforward stalk-and-pounce verdict in the July S. (G2).

Hannon, who observed that the Acclamation colt is likely to be at his peak at two, mentioned the July 28 Richmond (G2) at Glorious Goodwood (or the August 7 Phoenix [G1] at the Curragh) as possible targets. Given his precocious profile, it would be no surprise if Mehmas finds more rivals besides Caravaggio too hot to handle as the season progresses.

July runner-up Intelligence Cross is a case in point. Fresh off his Curragh maiden win for O’Brien, the War Front colt was a bit tardy away from the gate here and spotted Mehmas too big a tactical advantage. Moore also had to nudge him, not because he lacked run, but to get the message across that he had to get into contention. When the light bulb went off, Intelligence Cross picked up well and reduced Mehmas’ margin to a half-length.

In Mehmas’ defense, Hannon believes he was idling, and his time was a snappy 1:10.92 (almost as fast as Dancing Star’s 1:10.51 posted in the 3-year-old heritage handicap.) Still, if a 7-1 chance from the O’Brien yard can run him to a half-length already at this point in the summer, you’ve got to wonder if Mehmas is nearing his high water mark.

Both divisions of the juvenile fillies’ maiden were much slower than Mehmas, particularly Hawana in the first division, but Godolphin’s Easy Victory stamped herself as one to follow with a smooth debut success in the second division. Aside from the visual impression of her striding right away late, the Saeed bin Suroor trainee has the pedigree to improve with maturity and distance. To put it more bluntly: a Dubawi half-sister to Mount Nelson (and Monitor Closely) wouldn’t be expected to break her maiden at 6 furlongs during the July Festival. The daughter of 2001 Sun Chariot (G2) winner Independence could be seen next in the August 18 Lowther (G2) at York.

Finally, as teased in the headline, I get to The Grey Gatsby, who was a better-than-appears second to repeat winner Big Orange in the Princess of Wales’s (G2).

Last year, Big Orange dictated on the front end and fought like a lion to prevail. Fast forward to Thursday, and the Michael Bell trainee was allowed to set a leisurely, uncontested pace once again. His Australian-based jockey James McDonald had the proverbial clock in his head, winding Big Orange up steadily over the second half of the 1 1/2-mile contest until he’d gone beyond recall. There was just no catching such a strong stayer, the reigning winner of the 2-mile Goodwood Cup (G2) and near-misser in the Dubai Gold Cup (G2), in these made-to-order circumstances.

The Grey Gatsby needs a stiff pace to set up his closing kick, and accordingly never had a chance. Reserved near the rear by Jamie Spencer (ironically, the rider aboard Big Orange in the 2015 Princess of Wales’s who opted for “Gatsby” here), the 10-furlong aficionado went into overdrive to gain as much ground as he did. Add in that this was just his second start off the bench, and first try at 1 1/2 miles in two years, and this was an even more creditable effort.

Trainer Kevin Ryan was rightly happy with the 2014 Irish Champion (G1) and French Derby (G1) star, who’s now bound for York’s August 17 Juddmonte International (G1) for the third straight year. Ryan added that the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita is Gatsby's ultimate objective, and 1 1/2 miles on a firm course with a likely decent tempo is right in his wheelhouse.

Lumiere photo courtesy of Newmarket Racecourse via Twitter