Saratoga Oaks international scouting reports: Rocky Sky, Creative Flair, Messidor
Three fillies bring international form into Sunday’s $700,000 Saratoga Oaks (G3). Irish import Rocky Sky makes her U.S. debut for Chad Brown, Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby sends Creative Flair from England, and Messidor arrives from Joseph O’Brien’s yard in Ireland.
Both Rocky Sky and Creative Flair were originally invited to the July 10 Belmont Oaks (G1), the first leg of New York’s turf series for fillies, but connections ultimately preferred to decline that engagement. Considering the sparkling performance at Belmont by top-class Santa Barbara, who heads to next Saturday’s Beverly D. S. (G1), it’s just as well they waited for Saratoga.
Although Rocky Sky is one of the least experienced with just four career starts, the daughter of mile superstar Rock of Gibraltar is arguably the most exciting prospect in the field. She was bred by Rock of Gibraltar’s old partner – retired riding legend Mick Kinane – and his wife, Catherine, in the name of their Eadling Farm. Her dam is the multiple Italian stakes-placed Road Tosky, by Elusive City, from the extended family of accomplished globetrotter Dandino.
Rocky Sky started out on the Dundalk Polytrack over the winter for owner/trainer Una Corcoran. Ignored at 40-1 in her Dec. 4 unveiling, she exceeded expectations in a staying-on third. It was a promising effort over seven furlongs, given her size and scope, for on video she appeared a big stamp of a filly.
By the time Rocky Sky reappeared in a Feb. 5 mile maiden, she had transferred to Ross O’Sullivan and sported Catherine Kinane’s silks. She was again underestimated at 10-1 versus the boys, but proved the market wrong by wearing down 6-5 favorite Devil’s Outlaw.
Rocky Sky then advanced to listed company for the March 5 Patton S., a “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” scoring race over the same Dundalk track and trip. As a 12-1 shot, she churned on for best of the rest behind My Generation, edging favored Messidor.
A switch to turf for the April 25 Salsabil S. at Navan, however, turned out to be a revelation. The 33-1 longshot took up a prominent position before moving to take control of the 1 1/4-mile test. Spurting away on the far turn, she kept galloping all the way home by 4 1/4 lengths.
Granted, longshots filled the top five places, so you can’t read too much into the bare form. Returning favorite Willow needed the race, and has improved since her seventh. Similar points apply to Create Belief, an uncharacteristic 10th, and 12th-placer April Showers. Create Belief has gone on to win her next two including a rout in the Sandringham H. at Royal Ascot (see Messidor below), and April Showers (briefly a Saratoga Oaks invitee) has placed in a pair of stakes including the July 18 Kilboy Estate S. (G2) versus elders.
Still, the manner of Rocky Sky’s utter demolition job in the Salsabil marked her out as a hot prospect.
“She hasn't done anything wrong so far, and the world is her oyster at the minute,” jockey Gary Halpin told irishracing.com.
Owner Peter Brant was among those recognizing Rocky Sky’s potential, and he swooped in to buy her privately. It was an offer “that they couldn't refuse,” as O’Sullivan revealed:
She was sold after the listed race as Mick got a very good offer…
Rocky Sky has the three things that tick the boxes for America. She gets a trip, handles the ground well and takes a turn well.
There is loads of improvement in her and when you go back through the race in Navan there have been plenty of winners come out of it. It was a good race.
After her arrival in New York, Brown discerned that Rocky Sky was better served by waiting for Saratoga. Her training over the past month has only confirmed his judgment, and Brown sounded enthusiastic about her in his comments to NYRA this week: “I really like where I’m at now with her.”
As a progressive type still unexposed on turf, and with a handy running style, Rocky Sky has loads of potential. Her Salsabil conquest came on good ground, but pedigree hints that she could handle softish going as well.
Described by jockey William Buick as a “little streetfighter,” Creative Flair brings tactical speed, admirable consistency, and form that ties into several Group 1s.
Her scrappy nature gives her more of a blue collar vibe, but she is a blueblood. The Dubawi filly is a direct female-line descendant of the sublime Urban Sea, the 1993 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner now celebrated as the dam of Galileo and Sea the Stars.
Creative Flair is out of the stakes-winning stayer Hidden Gold, a Shamardal mare who won over as far as 2 1/16 miles and placed in the 2015 Lillie Langtry (G3) and Lonsdale Cup (G2) versus males. Hidden Gold is herself a half to Group heroes Masterstroke (third in the 2012 Arc), Moonlight Magic, and Royal Line. Another half-sibling produced Khawlah, who beat the boys in the 2011 UAE Derby (G2) and became the dam of 2018 Epsom Derby (G1) star Masar.
Creative Flair’s lone unplaced effort came in her debut last summer at Ascot, when sixth in the same race that produced future Group 1 vixen Snow Lantern (who was second). In her only other outing as a juvenile, Creative Flair wired a Sandown maiden, repelling future Group 3-placed Statement. Resurfacing in an April 28 conditions event over Ascot’s round mile, she attended the pacesetter before taking over in the stretch and staying on well from Auria (who went on to take the July 3 Coral Distaff).
Although Creative Flair controlled the pace in her stakes debut in the May 14 Michael Seeley Memorial S. at York, she had no answer to the fast-finishing 14-1 shot Primo Bacio. She still held second by daylight from the odds-on favorite Snow Lantern, who couldn’t lift after over-racing early. Snow Lantern would gain revenge on Primo Bacio when striking in the July 9 Falmouth (G1). Primo Bacio wasn’t beaten far in a troubled fifth that day, and she again didn’t have the best trip in seventh in Tuesday’s Prix Rothschild (G1).
Creative Flair hasn’t had a rematch with them because she’s left the mile scene for a step up in trip. She appreciated the stretch-out to 1 1/4 miles in the June 10 Abingdon S. at Newbury, where she also added a hood. Despite being pressed throughout by Lilac Road, the frontrunner gamely lasted by a half-length as the 13-8 favorite.
In lieu of the Belmont Oaks, Creative Flair instead ventured to France for her first Group attempt in the Prix Chloe (G3) at about nine furlongs. The 6-5 favorite nearly led all the way at Chantilly, only to be collared late by fellow class-climber Noticeable Grace and Rougir. Creative Flair was relegated to third by a head and a nose.
Rougir serves as a significant yardstick with her Group 1 form. Third in last fall’s Prix Marcel Boussac (G1), Rougir was a close fifth in French Oaks (G1) and a half-length fourth to Mother Earth in the Rothschild. Noticeable Grace is ticketed for the top level herself, with the Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day on her radar.
#R1C5 @fgchantilly Prix Chloé (Gr3, Pouliches, 3ans, 1 800m) 🏁 2-5-3-8. Victoire tout à la fin pour #NoticeableGrace (Make Believe) avec @mickaelbarzalon pour le Prince Faisal. #Rougir @HarasGousserie arrache la 2ème place à la @godolphin #CreativeFlair pic.twitter.com/Ya11UciXn7— France Galop (@francegalop) July 18, 2021
Effective in quick conditions as well as good-to-soft, Creative Flair is entitled to deliver her best effort here. The shorter stretch at the Spa helps, but she can be outkicked by a rival with a superior turn of foot.
The 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Oaks poses a major class and distance question for a filly well beaten in her stakes attempts, and unraced beyond a mile. The Joseph O’Brien factor is her best talking point.
From the first crop of Group 1-winning miler Vadamos (by Monsun), Messidor is out of a Zoffany mare from the immediate family of British highweight juvenile filly Embassy. This female line is responsible for top performers across the globe, including Australian champion Atlantic Jewel (dam of Royal Ascot Group 3 hero and current Hong Kong Derby near-misser Russian Emperor).
Messidor went off as the 7-2 second choice in her debut in a Leopardstown maiden last summer, and she rallied from well back to place a half-length second. The close third was Quattroelle, later a stakes winner at Santa Anita. Messidor couldn’t follow up next time as the 8-11 favorite at Down Royal, where she argued the pace and faded to sixth. Jockey Declan McDonogh said that she “emptied” according to the stewards’ report.
Off a 2 1/2-month layoff, Messidor was ready to roll as the even-money favorite in an ordinary maiden on the Dundalk Polytrack. Then she made it two straight with another good-looking score in a conditions race Dec 2. Over the same track and seven-furlong trip, she prompted the pace and pulled away comfortably.
Messidor was favored in her sophomore debut in the March 5 Patton (discussed in the Rocky Sky section above), but tired to third in her first try at a mile. McDonogh reported that she raced too keenly in the early going. Indeed, she did appear a tad keyed up while stalking, perhaps a combination of freshness and the presence of Rocky Sky draped alongside her. Messidor offered a short-lived challenge but could not cope with stablemate My Generation who drew off. Rocky Sky deprived Messidor of second, and their subsequent paths suggest that Messidor will find it difficult to turn the tables.
Cutting back to seven furlongs on turf in the Leopardstown 1000 Guineas Trial (G3), Messidor ran in keeping with her 20-1 odds. She reverted to off-the-pace tactics and made belated headway in a nonthreatening eighth of 15. A few high-profile rivals were unplaced in the same prep, including future classic winners Joan of Arc (sixth) and Empress Josephine (10th).
Messidor stayed at seven furlongs, but took a class drop into a handicap at the Curragh. Rallying into the thick of contention, the 9-2 chance might have been anchored by her 133-pound impost on yielding-to-soft, and flattened out in third.
The going was even worse when she tried Royal Ascot’s mile handicap for three-year-old fillies, the Sandringham. Drawn nearest the stands’ side in the bulky field, Messidor raced within striking range on the heavy course and boxed on in a one-paced third. She was beaten 8 1/2 lengths by the victorious Create Belief, but Messidor was seven lengths clear of fourth in the strung-out field.
Messidor looks up against it on paper. On the plus side, she should appreciate better ground and returning to a left-handed course. And the Oaks doesn’t shape up as the deepest race in the world. Still, it’s difficult to see her as much more than a traveling companion for her stablemate in Saturday’s Saratoga Derby (G1), State of Rest.