Notes on Flintshire and fellow internationals on Travers Day
Saturday update: in a possibly good omen for New Providence (detailed below), stablemate Hawksmoor uncorked a strong, sustained rally to nail the front-running favorite Fireglow in the Prestige (G3) at Goodwood earlier in the day.
The graded turf stakes on Travers Day have sparked some international interest, with a pair of invaders each in the Sword Dancer (G1) and the Ballston Spa (G2).
The Andre Fabre-trained Flintshire is already well known to American fans, thanks to his honorable second in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita last fall. Even if he is best known for his series of placings in marquee events, the Juddmonte Farms homebred sets a lofty standard on form. Second to the mighty Treve in the 2014 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1), he played second fiddle to her again in the June 28 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) last out, where he emphatically turned the tables on his Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) conqueror, Dolniya. Anything up to his usual performance would put him safely above these.
So what's not to love about the Sword Dancer's 8-5 morning-line favorite? He's better suited by more spacious courses, and both of his Group 1 coups were achieved going right-handed (the 2013 Grand Prix de Paris and 2014 Hong Kong Vase) versus fields that, by international standards, weren't overly strong for the grade. The Sword Dancer no doubt qualifies on that score, as meaningful class relief, but it's another question whether Saratoga's inner turf would play to his strengths as a long-striding type who needs to find his rhythm.
Recall this quote from his traveling head lad, Richard Lambert, leading up to last December's Hong Kong Vase:
"At Santa Anita, on a tight left-handed course, (jockey) Maxime Guyon had to use him as early as the last bend to avoid being outpaced and Flintshire took some time to find his balance. He finished well on an idling horse (Main Sequence) though. Once again, he should be much better off here (at Sha Tin), with more space and time to reach his momentum."
But in that case why, you may ask, would connections ship him all this way? Flintshire was originally supposed to contest the July 25 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot, but was withdrawn when rains turned the course unsuitably soft. The Sword Dancer then became an attractive $1 million option. To be fair, he could have stayed home for the September 13 Prix Foy (G2) as his prep for the Arc. But by shipping, they're guaranteed the quick surface that he needs, not to mention a vastly bigger purse.
None of this backstory will matter one iota if Flintshire runs right up to form and justifies favoritism. But it can be helpful to know things like this in advance.
German-based Guardini is another who prefers better going, as evidenced by his major wins in the 2014 Prix du Lys (G3) and the May 10 Gerling-Preis (G2). Following that score, the beautifully bred son of Dalakhani was purchased by Australian Racing Stables. As that implies, he could be seen Down Under later this season, with nominations to the Cox Plate (G1) and Caulfield Cup (G1).
Although I've long been a Guardini fan (primarily based on pedigree), and have been hoping for him to make a splash, I don't quite know what to expect from him in the Sword Dancer. There are a few too many question marks coming out of his most recent race, a subpar seventh in the June 28 Grosser Hansa-Preis (G2). It's easy to forgive flops on soft ground, but this was on a good course.
Connections were mystified as well, for according to turf-times.de, Guardini was sent for a thorough "multi-day" vet check in early July. Galopponline.de termed it a "short hospital stay" (per Google Translate). Subsequently switched from Jean-Pierre Carvalho to Paul Harley, he makes his first start for his new trainer here, gets Lasix, and adds blinkers. That's a lot of new variables in play. Harley told turf-times.de that any Australian plans are very much dependent upon his Sword Dancer performance.
Guardini would have longshot appeal at 15-1 if back in form, but that's the rub.
New Providence's best performances have all come at six furlongs, and she's yet to race beyond seven, but the British shipper could be just the type to excel around a two-turn 1 1/16 miles. The sophomore filly is trained by the up-and-coming Hugo Palmer, whose breakout summer is highlighted by Covert Love's victory in the Irish Oaks (G1).
Nor is this Spa raid a spur-of-the-moment decision made on a whim. Palmer had mentioned this as a target back in July, after New Providence had outdueled older distaffers in the Summer (G3) at York.
"With fillies like her I think we've an advantage over theirs," Palmer said of the Euro-depth compared to the U.S. turf scene.
Aside from mixing it up with her elders, New Providence also has acquitted herself well against some strong sophomore males. She was third in the Sandy Lane (G2) to Adaay, who recently defeated older males in the Hungerford (G2). Sandy Lane runner-up Limato, a smart sprinter himself, came back to finish second to the top-class Muhaarar in the Commonwealth Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot.
New Providence threw in the only bad race of her life in that Commonwealth Cup, winding up 13th of 18. She exits a fourth in the Oak Tree (G3) at Glorious Goodwood, where she fared best of those arguing up front. Otherwise, she's been a good servant as they say.
As a juvenile, New Providence was up in time in the Dick Poole Fillies' Stakes (G3). Finishing sixth in that race was Prize Exhibit, the subsequent fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) and now making hay in Southern California. New Providence concluded 2014 with a third in the Rockfel (G2) to such well-regarded rivals as Lucida and Fadhayyil, both of whom have continued to perform well this season.
It should also be mentioned that but for the French weather, New Providence would already have attempted a mile: she skipped the French 1000 Guineas (G1) due to soft going back in May.
An honest, dependable type who gets a break in the weights as a three-year-old, New Providence is pegged at 12-1.
Chilean champion Dacita, unraced since December 8, makes her long awaited U.S. debut for Chad Brown.
By Scat Daddy, who has had prolific success when shuttling to Chile, Dacita ranked as the champion two-year-old turf filly after a hard-fought success in the Premio Arturo Lyon Pena (G1). She deserves some extra credit for that one, having altered course a couple of times, re-breaking when challenged, and toughing out the battle.
Dacita went on to land a pair of classics at three. After a cozy romp n the Polla de Potrancas (G1), accurately described by the track announcer as "muy facil," she stepped up in trip and tried the boys in the El Ensayo (G1), the Chilean Derby. Held up much farther off the pace, she finished well for fourth, just losing third in a photo. That's the only time she's ever been out of the top three in her life. Dacita bounced right back in her own division in the Las Oaks (G1), stalking and pouncing under confident handling.
Interestingly, in a couple of those replays, Dacita appeared to be on her wrong lead on the right-hand turn for home. Might she be naturally more inclined to whizz around left-handed?
The usual questions obtain about the overall depth of the form as well as the likelihood of needing the race off the nearly nine-month holiday. Note that Il Campione, the Chilean Derby winner, was only third in his U.S. debut in the Poker (G3). That also came for Brown, as the 9-5 favorite.
Flintshire photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.