Secretariat international scouting report: Permian

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

August 10th, 2017

Permian’s photo-finish loss in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) was agony for his connections and fans alike, but the direct consequence was a boon for Arlington Park: luring a top-class colt to the Secretariat (G1).

Had Permian’s stately nose remained in front on the wire at Saint-Cloud, instead of either side of it, trainer Mark Johnston needn’t have gone abroad in search of a Group 1 laurel. Plans called for him to tackle one of the premier summer prizes at home, possibly the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) or the Juddmonte International (G1).

So instead of trying to cope with the other-worldly Enable at Ascot July 29, or clash with Barney Roy and Churchill in his York backyard August 23, Permian finds himself the class of the field in Chicago.

Johnston’s training regime on the Yorkshire Dales molds a tough breed of warrior, his horses characteristically as hardy physically as they are mentally. Although Middleham residents haven’t been sighted in North America since 2009, when Johnston dispatched Jukebox Jury to finish second in the Canadian International (G1) and Eastern Aria fourth in the E.P. Taylor (G1), they’re a fixture in winner’s circles all over Great Britain, with the occasional side trip to Ireland or the Continent. From the dazzling dual classic champion Attraction, to legendary stayer Double Trigger, and a series of major juveniles, Johnston’s trained all types. He’s sent out more than 200 winners per season for six of the last eight years, and just last week, he wrapped up an incredible 11th training title at Glorious Goodwood.

A Darley homebred by Galileo’s unbeaten champion son Teofilo, Permian was campaigned by Sheikh Mohammed’s son Sheikh Hamdan, until earning a promotion to Godolphin for the Secretariat. He was produced by the multiple French stakes-winning Tessa Reef, a Mark of Esteem. His second dam was likewise a stakes victress in France, Massaraat.

But perhaps the most meaningful pedigree factoid for fans is that second dam is a full sister to Hall of Famer Miesque, famous in the US for her consecutive scores in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

Permian was a May 1 foal, suggesting he’d take longer to reach the peak of his powers. Yet Johnston, himself a veterinarian, made sure to give him plenty of racing experience at two. The winner of three of six juvenile starts, he worked his way methodically through the ranks before stepping up to stakes company. He was ready for the class hike in his 2016 finale, the Zetland at Newmarket, where he went off at 20-1.

As a 1 1/4-mile stakes, the Zetland demands true stamina from the youngsters, and last October’s renewal was a particularly stiff test that resulted in a new juvenile course record. Permian stalked the early leader, took command more than a quarter-mile out, and got worn down late by deep-closing Coronet (a filly receiving six pounds) and next-flight stalker Cunco. Permian fought all the way to the line after being in front perhaps too soon.

The Zetland turned out be an unusually key race. Coronet went on to win this summer’s Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot between competing in two Oaks (G1), Cunco captured the Sandown Classic Trial (G3), Permian has hit new heights, and fourth-placer Wings of Eagles shocked the Epsom Derby (G1).

Permian resumed in an April 14 Bath handicap under top weight of 133 pounds, giving away at least a stone (14 pounds), and was beaten all of a neck in a fine warm-up. Twelve days later, the bay took on John Gosden’s highly-rated Cracksman in an Epsom conditions race dubbed the “Derby Trial.” Permian made the hot favorite work to edge him on the line.

At this point, Permian was not entered in the Derby, or even the premier British trial, the Dante (G2). But he was clearly on the upgrade, and put an exclamation point on that judgment by bolting up by 4 1/2 lengths in the Newmarket Stakes. Toiling well behind was Gosden’s favored Khalidi, who was drubbed in between listed stakes wins.

Johnston therefore supplemented Permian to the Dante at York, in the expectation of a rematch with Cracksman. Hopes of gauging his interim progress versus Cracksman didn’t pan out after Gosden withdrew his colt, citing the rain-affected course. But the Dante was nonetheless very informative, as Permian stalked, pounced, and readily repelled a good-looking challenge from Godolphin’s Benbatl.

Now a serious Derby contender, Permian was supplemented for £85,000, only to flop at Epsom. His 10th was obviously not a true bill, since Cracksman was a near-miss third and Benbatl was a rattling fifth. Strict form implied that Permian, at his best, would have been thereabouts too. Maybe it was in part the difficulty of navigating the downhill (as jockey William Buick reported) at a far swifter pace than in the Derby Trial, or simply a regression after such rapid improvement through the spring (Johnston said he lost extra weight following the Derby).

Whatever the reason, Permian put it behind him in short order and rebounded in the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot. Attending the pace and taking command turning for home, he got away from Crystal Ocean and then kept finding more to hold Khalidi at bay. Permian thus defied the historical trends against Derby alumni in the King Edward VII.


As a pleasant surprise package, Permian hadn’t been made eligible for the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) either, so it was supplement time again to send him off to Saint-Cloud. He dictated terms on the front end, quickened in the straight, and knuckled down in a brave attempt to outduel the Aga Khan's Shakeel. Watching live it looked like he prevailed, and the replay gives the same optical illusion. For on the one point where it mattered, Shakeel got his nose in front.


Considering that Permian was just denied at the end of the 1 1/2 miles, and he also cut it much closer with Khalidi over that trip at Royal Ascot than at 1 1/4 miles at Newmarket, it’s logical to think that the Secretariat distance is ideal for him. He stays farther, but it stretches him a bit more.

Permian’s form is rock-solid. Cracksman has since finished a neck runner-up in the Irish Derby (G1), Benbatl captured the Hampton Court (G3) at Royal Ascot before a decent fifth in the King George, and Crystal Ocean shortened in the St Leger (G1) antepost market when rolling over Khalidi in the Gordon (G3).

Even the also-rans are getting in on the act. Dante fourth Rekindling beat older horses in the Curragh Cup (G2), King Edward VII fourth Raheen House landed the Bahrain Trophy (G3), Sir John Lavery finally won on the class drop in the Platinum at Cork, and Best Solution placed second versus his elders in the Grosser Dallmayr-Preis (G1) at Munich.

Permian will meet a proper American favorite in Oscar Performance, but his exceptional formlines, tactical combativeness to keep his rival honest, and his stamina make him the one they all have to beat.

Photo courtesy Michael Adolphson via Twitter