Saratoga Derby international scouting report: Plenty of depth beyond Bolshoi Ballet

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August 3rd, 2021

The second leg of the lucrative New York Turf Triple, Saturday’s $1 million Saratoga Derby (G1), has lured more internationals than the July 10 Belmont Derby (G1). Aidan O’Brien’s Bolshoi Ballet is back in search of a double, but a deeper field will confront him at the Spa.

The international brigade offers greater strength in depth this time around. Breeders’ Cup participant Cadillac and Godolphin’s Secret Protector bring smart form. Joseph O’Brien’s State of Rest could be poised to build upon his foundation, while Soldier Rising is an intriguing new French recruit for Christophe Clement.

Bolshoi Ballet

Bolshoi Ballet’s background was covered in the scouting report for the Belmont Derby, where he was the class of the field. The Galileo colt was on a retrieval mission, after he finished seventh as the favorite in the Epsom Derby (G1), and he accomplished his objective at Belmont Park.

Yet Bolshoi Ballet was not as stylish as stablemate Santa Barbara in the Belmont Oaks (G1). Jockey Ryan Moore noted that we didn’t see his best in those conditions. The rain-slowed ground was perhaps a factor, along with the race shape. Held up off a slow pace, he had to be scrubbed along to improve and ultimately found plenty.

Bolshoi Ballet could move forward fitness-wise from Belmont. Since he was struck into badly at Epsom, he was given time for the gash on his right hind leg to heal. A more typical preparation between races can only help.

The Saratoga Derby isn’t as straightforward a task, however. The 1 3/16-mile affair is shorter than his optimal trip of 1 1/4 miles. Moreover, the Spa’s Mellon Turf might not be as forgiving as Belmont, if Bolshoi Ballet finds himself in a disadvantageous tactical position. There’s no doubting his class, but the question is whether he can flaunt it as effectively here, or if Saratoga will suit a rival better. He would maximize his chances if reverts to the stalker’s role.


Fourth as my top pick in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), Cadillac hopes for a smoother pre-race experience in this stateside venture for Jessica Harrington. Things at Keeneland hardly went to plan, as he had a shoe repair in the paddock and appeared agitated on his load into the gate. Cadillac worked out a good trip but kept on without threatening (spot him as number 5). While I’m biased, because of my rooting interest, it’s worth wondering if he lost it before the latch was sprung.

Cadillac’s productive two-year-old campaign was discussed in detail in the Breeders’ Cup international scouting report. Here’s the executive summary.

Although you might not guess it from his €40,000 purchase price as a Goffs Orby yearling, Cadillac sports a solid pedigree. He is a son of successful sire Lope de Vega and a Dansili mare from the family of Group 1-winning juvenile highweight Damson, dam of multiple Group winner Requinto.

Cadillac justified 15-8 favoritism in his unveiling at Leopardstown, where he stalked, pounced, and romped by nine lengths. Distant second Ebeko, who was subsequently exported to California, went on to win Santa Anita’s Zuma Beach S.

Upped in class for the Futurity S. (G2) at the Curragh, Cadillac ranked as the 4-5 favorite but could not peg back Mac Swiney on the soft going. That half-length loss looks even better in hindsight, as Mac Swiney went on to upset the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1) and the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1).

Back on good ground at Leopardstown, Cadillac rebounded with a sparkling 3 1/2-length victory in the “Win and You’re In” Champions Juvenile S. (G2). He was the only one able to overhaul frontrunning Van Gogh, who later scored in the Criterium International (G1) at Saint-Cloud.

Cadillac’s two remaining appearances of 2020 were anticlimactic. He flattened out on soft going when fifth in the Dewhurst S. (G1) to St Mark’s Basilica, who is now a stellar sophomore, with a pair of French classics and the Eclipse S. (G1) on his résumé. Conditions in the Breeders’ Cup figured to bring out the best in Cadillac, but his fourth left a nagging sense that we didn’t quite see it.

Cadillac didn’t return until the June 26 International S. (G3) at the Curragh. That was a tough comeback spot, at 1 1/4 miles against older horses. Yet he got up to beat Dawn Patrol, last year’s Irish Derby (G1) third, and favored True Self, who’d conquered Channel Maker in Saudi Arabia and exited a third in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1).

Harrington commented to 

I’m delighted for the horse, as things didn’t go his way last autumn, and to come back now, having had a bit of a setback earlier in the spring, is fantastic. … He’s a proper horse to do that on his first run of the year. He had to squeeze through and do all the things he hadn’t done before.

Cadillac is entitled to come on a fair bit for that tightener. His main target is the Sept. 11 Irish Champion S. (G1) at his beloved Leopardstown. Saratoga is an alluring stepping stone as a rich Grade 1 in his own age group. 

Secret Protector

Trainer Charlie Appleby has plundered two major prizes in New York already this summer, as Althiqa and Summer Romance furnished the exacta in both the Just a Game (G1) and Diana (G1). Their stablemate, Secret Protector, appears just as well attuned to the American style of racing.

An $800,000 Keeneland September yearling by War Front and out of a Galileo mare, the Kentucky-bred has an immediate pedigree more redolent of Coolmore than Godolphin. He sports the same cross as such O’Brien notables U S Navy Flag, Roly Poly, and Battleground. Secret Protector’s dam, Group 3-placed Eternal Bounty, is a full sister to multiple Group 3-winning stayer Mizzou. They descend from multiple Group 1-winning highweight My Emma, a half to Classic Cliche, who captured the 1995 St Leger (G1) and 1996 Ascot Gold Cup (G1) for Godolphin.

Secret Protector showed promise as a juvenile, in only two starts on the Kempton Polytrack. After a close, staying-on third on debut, he took a leap forward to win handsomely next out, over the same seven-furlong trip. The bay looked sharper to camp in a pace-attending position, then drove clear under an energetic hand ride.

Not seen again until the Dubai Carnival, Secret Protector was smashing in his first turf try, in the Feb. 11 conditions race labeled the Meydan Trophy. The surface and the step up to about 1 3/16 miles agreed with him. The 4-11 favorite took up a forward stalking spot, steered out to deliver his rally, and ran up the score to 5 1/2 lengths in a course record-equaling 1:56.16.

Appleby told the Dubai Racing Club media team:

I am sure he is going to be one of the horses that will be at the forefront of our squad. He would have gained a lot of confidence this evening, and physically he is improving every week. He is a nice progressive three-year-old, and we are yet to see the best of him and where we are going to finish up.

Secret Protector has yet to put it all together in British stakes company, but he has performing consistently well against talented opponents. In the April 13 Feilden S. at Newmarket, stablemate Highland Avenue got first run and posted a solid 1:48.23 for nine furlongs over the Rowley Mile. Secret Protector was held up farther back and closed for a fine second, as the Godolphin pair drew well clear. Feilden fourth Youth Spirit subsequently stretched out to win the Chester Vase (G3), while Highland Avenue went on to finish a creditable sixth in the St James’s Palace S. (G1) at Royal Ascot.

Favored at 4-5 next time in the 1 1/4-mile Newmarket S., Secret Protector ran into a buzz saw, Mohaafeth, who rolled by five in style. Secret Protector, caught flat-footed in the four-horse field, made hard work even of getting past the frontrunner for second.

Their rematch in Royal Ascot’s Hampton Court S. (G3) featured a bigger field, and the more typical race dynamic helped Secret Protector finish a lot closer to the victorious Mohaafeth. Last early, after he didn't get away well, Secret Protector rallied strongly for third. He missed second by just a head, although runner-up Roman Empire was hampered by Mohaafeth. Roman Empire, formerly with Ballydoyle, has since been sold to Hong Kong connections. Mohaafeth, who was well supported for the Epsom Derby before his scratch, just placed a near-miss third against elders in the York S. (G2).

Secret Protector was initially penciled in for the Belmont Derby but ended up waiting for the Spa. Considering his biggest win came at this distance, at left-handed Meydan, the Saratoga Derby should be ideal, if he can sit in a handy spot early. Untried on anything worse than good ground, Secret Protector is likely to prefer firmer as a War Front, but note that his dam acted on soft.

State of Rest

A fast-finishing and arguably unlucky third in his Celebration S. reappearance at the Curragh, State of Rest could be picking up better than he left off for Joseph O'Brien. Thus, he has a sneaky look, especially as an exotics player.

State of Rest’s lone win came on debut at Fairyhouse last summer, when he rallied smartly as a 6-1 chance. Favored at Leopardstown next out, under 140 pounds, he couldn’t quite give frontrunning Ebeko 13 pounds and went down fighting, a length back in second.

In the Tyros S. (G3), over the same track and seven-furlong trip, State of Rest did his best work late to finish fifth, in a bunched finish, behind gate-to-wire winner Military Style. The runner-up was Van Gogh, and near the rear was a subpar Mac Swiney. Back at six furlongs at Naas, State of Rest again churned on from well back to grab fourth on ground that was likely softer than ideal.

State of Rest concluded his season in a pair of major events at Doncaster. In a fast Champagne S. (G2), he held his own in a close third to market leaders Chindit and Albasheer, and pulled 7 1/2 lengths clear of the rest.

The Vertem Futurity Trophy was contested in far worse conditions, however. State of Rest, one of the first off the bridle on the heavy course, trudged home a well-beaten fifth, behind Mac Swiney.

In his June 26 comeback in the Celebration, State of Rest proved a mile was no problem on good ground. Reserved in midpack on the rail, he had to alter course for room just at the decisive phase, and his closing punch came up a half-length and a nose short. The top two are fellow sophomores with something still to prove, Fourhometwo and Khartoum, while the fourth was classy four-year-old Sinawann.

State of Rest faces a distance question, being by sprinter extraordinaire Starspangledbanner. But his dam, Repose, is a daughter of Quiet American and 1 1/4-mile listed winner Monassabaat. And 1 3/16 miles, with U.S. conditions, won’t be as stiff a test. The bigger concern is that State of Rest might leave himself too much to do, but he can factor in the exotics at a price.

Soldier Rising

Soldier Rising’s only two losses are runner-up efforts to Nicolas Clement’s highly regarded Fenelon in France. Thus, it’s a fascinating development for Soldier Rising to join Nicolas’ brother Christophe stateside.

The Wildenstein homebred was hitherto trained by Andre Fabre. His pedigree is as fine as you’d expect from that background. The Frankel gelding is out of the stakes-winning Pivotal mare Sahrawi, from the extended family of turf champion Steinlen.

Gelded in June of 2020, Soldier Rising did not race until Nov. 12 at Fontainebleau. The 6-1 shot worked out a ground-saving trip off the pace and plowed through on the inside to prevail. Fourth-place finisher Bubble Gift has improved considerably in the interim, as he took the Prix d’Hocquart (G2) and finished second in the Prix du Lys (G3).

Soldier Rising was next seen in an about 1 3/8-mile conditions event at Lyon-Parilly on March 20. He picked up well as the favorite, only to be outkicked by Fenelon. With a step up to 1 1/2 miles for a Chantilly conditions race, Soldier Rising needed every yard of it to get up. The 9-10 favorite over an indifferent bunch, he was outpaced when the serious running started in the stretch, but he gradually gained momentum in time to head his rival on the line.

Against Fenelon once more, as the co-favorite in the listed Prix de l’Avre, Soldier Rising again played second fiddle. But his persistence kept his beaten margin to 1 1/2 lengths, while he drew six lengths clear of the rest at Longchamp.

Fenelon has been out of action, after he was cast in his stall, but the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) entrant is expected to be back in the fall. Soldier Rising is likewise unraced since their May 2 rematch, in his case because of a private sale. France Galop recorded his export May 27.

Acquired by Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb, Morris Bailey, and Wonder Stables, Soldier Rising can become a fixture in our long-distance turf events.

The Saratoga Derby is likely too short, considering he ran about nine furlongs as a juvenile and recently has competed over 12 furlongs. His dam, Sahrawi, stayed as far as 1 3/4 miles when she defeated males in the 2015 Prix Scaramouche. Soldier Rising has also inherited her soft-ground aptitude, although his commendable Prix de l’Avre came on good-to-soft ground, the best going he has encountered.

This American debut strikes me as a springboard to the third leg of the Turf Triple — the $1 million Jockey Club Derby over 1 1/2 miles Sept. 18 — that would be right in his wheelhouse.