Million-dollar Keeneland yearling purchase seeks Breeders’ Cup ticket in Lagardere

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

October 1st, 2016

Sunday’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) might not be as jam-packed as its Arc Day companion for fillies, the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1), but for that very reason it could be the place for Whitecliffsofdover to repay his $1.15 million price tag.

Purchased by Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the Claiborne-bred blueblood has future stallion prospect written all over him: he’s by War Front out of a full sister to Pulpit. As if that’s not enough, this is the star-studded family of Tale of the Cat and Johannesburg.

A major win would secure his spot on the Coolmore stallion roster, and a Group 1 as a juvenile would be particularly welcome. Whitecliffsofdover can go a long way toward fulfilling the business plan on Sunday, and earn a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).

Fourth in an Irish Derby Day maiden won by future Group performer Intelligence Cross, Whitecliffsofdover made the forecast improvement in his second start to wire a Naas maiden. He stepped up in class for the September 22 Somerville (G3) at Newmarket and finished an encouraging second to Larchmont Lad.

Whitecliffsofdover was in the front rank throughout, but wandered a bit (not the first to lose his focus on the Rowley Mile’s undulations). Just when he appeared ready to backpedal into third, Whitecliffsofdover suddenly regained his balance and came again with a purposeful finish to claim second. Likely to be savvier this time, and perhaps happier at Chantilly anyway, Whitecliffsofdover can be expected to move forward again.

Aside from Whitecliffsofdover’s own merit in a field lacking a standout, the law of averages has to swing back in O’Brien’s direction in this race sooner or later. The master of Ballydoyle used to win the Lagardere with regularity back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, but that has changed. Over the past 10 years, his only “winner” was Gleneagles, who promptly got disqualified for interference. O’Brien’s last official Lagardere winner was Holy Roman Emperor in 2006 – a factoid that can’t last forever.

O’Brien is double-handed with Utah. Owned by the Coolmore principals in partnership with China Horse Club, the full brother to 2010 Epsom Derby (G1) runner-up At First Sight was never involved on debut. But like Whitecliffsofdover, Utah knew the score next time to break his maiden in front-running style at the Curragh. The runner-up, first-time starter The Anvil, just finished a barnstorming second in the Royal Lodge (G2).

Utah then took what should have been the easy route in a “nursery,” a handicap for two-year-olds, but struggled under top weight on soft ground and flailed home a well-beaten second. Needless to say, he’s a lot better than that. A better surface, and level weights, will see a different horse. Ryan Moore’s presence on Whitecliffsofdover reveals the pecking order, but we know that’s not always the safest guide.

The lone English-based entrant, Salouen, is two-for-two in the vicinity of a mile, upsetting Juddmonte hotpot Star Archer at Windsor and beating eventual Royal Lodge third Sea Fox at Salisbury. In between, the Canford Cliffs colt was a fast-finishing second to South Seas in the seven-furlong Solario (G3). A repeat of those efforts would put him right in the frame for trainer Sylvester Kirk.

The home defense is led by Kontrastat, who on video from afar shapes as a raw, leggy, unfurnished sort. It’s all the more creditable that, despite signs of greenness, he rolled to a smart maiden win at Deauville and followed up in the Prix La Rochette (G3). The collateral form ties in with the smart filly Cavale Doree in the Boussac. The better she does in the Boussac, the more Kontrastat’s stock may rise between races. That could turn out to be a slippery line of argument, either way, as these babies are all on different trajectories.

For that same reason, National Defense is eligible to do better than his third in the Prix des Chenes (G3) at this course and distance. The winner, Akihiro, would be a red-hot favorite had he turned up here, and the runner-up, High Alpha, is ineligible for the Lagardere as a gelding. National Defense is the only graduate of perhaps the best French prep to line up in this race, and even modest improvement could be sufficient to put him in the winner’s circle.

Two starts back on debut, the Criquette Head-Maarek trainee got away with soft fractions on the lead and careered right away from them. National Defense was thrust into a totally different situation two weeks later in the Chenes, where he never got to the front and gave game pursuit in a faster-run race. The well-bred son of Invincible Spirit brings a better spacing between races, and more experience, into the Lagardere.

Pascal Bary, who sends out the intriguing Senga in the Boussac, supplemented his other promising filly, Thais, to this spot instead. Just denied by the more experienced Celanova on debut (form that ultimately links to Lady Aurelia), Thais got up by a neck over a mile at Saint-Cloud, with a long gap back to third.

You can read the tea leaves various ways about why Thais is in against the boys while stablemate Senga sticks with the girls. I might be contrarian in seeing it as a positive for Senga, who stays in the deeper race. Without knowing the inside story, and the different owners’ views, it’s impossible to say. Nevertheless, the bare fact remains that connections wanted Thais to face the boys. At the very least, she’s got fewer to beat to earn a coveted Group 1 placing, a boon for her own value as well as a significant breakthrough for her freshman sire, Rio de la Plata.

King of Spades, the other supplementary entry, didn’t show much in England, but France apparently agrees with the French-bred. He finally broke his maiden in his sixth attempt, when previous trainer Mick Channon dropped him into a Deauville claimer. New trainer Fabrice Vermeulen added blinkers, and King of Spades ran the race of his life to miss by a head in the six-furlong Prix Eclipse (G3). The son of sprint star Foxwedge has a reinforcing dose of speed from his dam’s side, so the stretch-out to a mile is a concern.

Photo of Whitecliffsofdover courtesy of Keeneland