Roaring Lion to run rampant in Royal Lodge

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

September 29th, 2017

Saturday’s Royal Lodge (G2) at Newmarket features an odds-on favorite in Nelson, a blueblood son of Frankel who’s taken a leap forward of late for Aidan O’Brien.

Yet this doesn’t strike me as a one-horse race at all. Rather the one-mile test, serving as both a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) “Win & You’re In” and a points race on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, inspires a contrarian take.

My hesitation is twofold: Nelson is meeting arguably a couple of better rivals than he’s encountered so far, and down the straight Rowley Mile rather than the left-handed turn he’s whizzed around at Leopardstown. Obviously he’s progressing, since his last-out conquest of the Champions Juvenile (G3) (another BC “Win & You’re In”) represented marked improvement since his course-and-distance maiden win. And given his undoubted stamina from his dam, 2008 Irish Oaks (G1) heroine Moonstone by Dalakhani, there’s no reason why Nelson won’t be just as effective over Newmarket’s straight mile. That said, horses don’t necessarily replicate performances when thrust into different conditions, and his price is short in the circumstances.

The other half of the equation is finding an alternative with worthy credentials, and you don’t have to go far to latch onto unbeaten #6 Roaring Lion (9-2). Trained by John Gosden for Qatar Racing, the Kentucky-bred son of Kitten’s Joy coped beautifully with good-to-soft going on the July Course when powering clear. He was even more emphatic next time over Kempton’s Polytrack, crushing them by six lengths despite toting the top weight of 134 pounds (and spotting upwards of six to his rivals).

Roaring Lion takes a class hike here, but looks more than ready for it. I’m taken with his way of going – not just his stalk-pounce-demolish running style, but the “attack mode” vibe he exudes in the process. The gray acts like a horse enthusiastic about the game, a truly competitive spirit who wants to impose his will. And his pedigree is another factor. You may remember his dam, Vionnet, who was a close third in the 2013 Rodeo Drive (G1). You’ll probably know his second dam, though, downhill sprint queen Cambiocorsa, a full sister to turf sprint supremo California Flag, and herself the dam of Moulin de Mougin, Schiaparelli, Alexis Tangier, and Bronson.

Mark Johnston’s #3 Mildenberger (6-1) is plenty good enough on form, not just as a three-time winner but particularly in light of his third to hot classic prospect Expert Eye in the Vintage (G2). That Glorious Goodwood feature has since produced the winners of two Group 2 races – fourth-placer James Garfield, who missed by a nostril in the Acomb (G3), subsequently captured the Mill Reef (G2), and fifth Seahenge, who rebounded in the Champagne (G2).

Mildenberger likewise regained the winning thread last time in the Stonehenge. If he hadn’t wandered around Salisbury before just getting up on the line, I might have made him the top pick here. I wonder how he’ll handle Newmarket’s “Dip,” if he could become unbalanced at the key point. Otherwise, the son of Teofilo is an attractive contender, and the softish conditions may even move him up.

Roaring Lion and Mildenberger would have offered still greater value but for the scratch of early second choice Herculean, who’s out with a dirty scope. Now they’re vying for the role of best alternative to Nelson.

The Royal Lodge is the first race, with an 8:50 a.m. (EDT) post time. Come for the Breeders' Cup and Derby points, stay for the Cheveley Park (G1), Middle Park (G1), and Cambridgeshire!

Roaring Lion photo courtesy of Newmarket via Twitter