Mecca's Angel takes wing, surpasses Acapulco in Nunthorpe

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August 21st, 2015

For a good part of Friday's Nunthorpe (G1) at York, the Wesley Ward-trained Acapulco appeared to be dominating her older rivals with her blazing speed. But nearing the end of the five-furlong dash over ground that still had plenty of moisture in it, the two-year-old began to labor, and backers of the 13-8 favorite had their first cause for concern. Meanwhile, soft-ground aficionado Mecca's Angel began to close in, overhauled Acapulco, and drew off to a two-length decision. The four-year-old filly had no difficulty lugging 136 pounds, 24 more than Acapulco.

Mecca's Angel is a machine when she gets her ground, as evidenced by her convincing wins over older males in last fall's Scarbrough at Doncaster and World Trophy (G3) at Newbury, as well as in the May 10 Prix de Saint-Georges (G3) in her Longchamp reappearance. Her final time of :57.24 in the Nunthorpe suggests that the course wasn't too soft. Yet the daughter of Dark Angel was upset last time out in the Sapphire (G2) at the Curragh, where the ground had apparently dried out too much for her liking. Her performance here, combined with that of Max Dynamite earlier on the card -- a hurdler who crushed classy stayers in the Lonsdale Cup (G2) -- implies that the underfoot conditions were slow enough.

Based even farther north in County Durham, Mecca's Angel was giving trainer Michael Dods, and jockey Paul Mulrennan, their first Group 1 win.

"It's very special to do it here," Mulrennan said. "It's our local track and we've told people all year how good she is.

"She's proved today she's the real deal when she can get her toe in.

"I got a great lead off the American horse -- I always had my eye on her. Because the American horse had such a low weight I didn't want to give too much rope."

Dods was delighted that Mecca's Angel finally got the opportunity to prove her Group 1 mettle, having missed a tilt at the King's Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot due to unsuitably quick conditions.

"We went to Ascot and we thought we had a chance of winning, but we took her out because of the ground. We took her to Ireland and I wished I'd hadn't run her on the ground, " the trainer said.

"It was too quick and I wasn't happy with her for a few days, but credit to the yard. Everyone got her right.

"Last week I didn't think she'd get her conditions (at York), but thankfully the rain came. I think she will be better with more juice than there was here, but it was fine and I was never going to take her out -- she's shown what she can do when she has her conditions."

Mecca's Angel may now take in the September 13 Flying Five (G3) at the Curragh prior to her main goal, the October 4 Prix de l'Abbaye (G1) on Arc Day at Longchamp.

Acapulco's upcoming targets are to be determined, and Ward was rightly pleased with his pupil's bold effort.

"I was very proud of her," Ward told Racing Post. "Any time you get a two-year-old filly up against older horses like this. She made the running and finishing second is a little tough to swallow, but she is a lovely filly and she has done everything right. To come back and forth twice (to England) and run as big as she did, it was an amazing run.

"(Jockey) Irad Ortiz (Jr.) said, and I agree with him, that the ground was a little soft today and that maybe was something that she is not quite used to and she would really prefer firm ground. But we got beat on the square. There are no real excuses. It would have been great to win, but I am really proud of her.

"I will talk with everybody at Coolmore and we will make a plan but she has got a big future. She is very sound and she has got a world of speed. I think she has got some big days coming in the future."

Acapulco handled the occasion well, despite a delay at the start caused by Take Cover, who broke through the gate, unseated jockey Pat Smullen along with his saddle, and ran off down the course. Before they finally caught him, almost the entire field had been backed out of the gate. Acapulco looked eager to go, tossing her head and circling behind the gate, both prior to the initial loading and the secondary loading. But the Scat Daddy filly took it all in stride, and on good to firm going, she might well have won. Even so, she beat all bar the high-class Mecca's Angel, and left Mattmu two lengths back in third.

To be fair, Acapulco wasn't the only one who would have preferred the rain to stay away. Defending champion Sole Power was a brave fourth on ground that would have blunted his kick, and you could say the same for the close fifth and sixth, Goldream and Muthmir. Muthmir's earlier victory in the Prix du Gros-Chene (G2) on good-to-soft going at Chantilly hinted that he may not be too inconvenienced, but connections' concerns about the ground ultimately proved valid.