Secretariat international scouting report: Taj Mahal
“Very immature…extremely green…mentally very slow.”
“A bit frustrating…not ungenuine but just babyish.”
That’s a selection of Aidan O’Brien quotes from irishracing.com after Taj Mahal kept getting beaten, as the favorite, in maidens at two. He remains a project at three, making him a wild card in the Secretariat (G1). The constellation of circumstances at Arlington – Lasix, Ryan Moore, firm turf, and running on his own merits instead of being used as a rabbit – may bring out the best in him, if you can still trust him by now.
The full brother to dual Guineas (G1)-winning champion Gleneagles, 2014 Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) victress Marvelous, and Group 3 scorer Coolmore, third in last summer’s Belmont Oaks (G1) and 10th in the Beverly D. (G1), hasn’t come close to emulating their accomplishments. Even baby sister Happily has already surpassed Taj Mahal, romping in the July 27 Silver Flash (G3) for juvenile fillies.
As a son of Galileo and You’resothrilling, the Group 2-winning full sister to Giant’s Causeway, Taj Mahal naturally sparked hopes of being the latest hot model from the production line. And the strapping bay had to lend some substance to those notions in his homework, or he wouldn’t have gone off favored in his first six starts.
It took him that length of time to break his maiden, and Taj Mahal didn’t even check that box in maiden, conditions race, or in better company. No, he ended up getting the job done in a “nursery,” a handicap for two-year-olds, over Dundalk’s Polytrack in October. If the visored colt is slogging along in workmanlike fashion, the 134-pound impost might have played a role.
“He’s still a big baby,” winning rider Donnacha O’Brien told irishracing.com, presumably after a few sighs of relief, “but it's a step in the right direction. He’s a horse that we have always thought plenty of…”
To be fair, Taj Mahal had been running passably in proper maidens and bumping into a few good ones. He was third in a maiden with eventual Irish Derby (G1) winner Capri in second, third to Lancaster Bomber, just nailed by future Racing Post Trophy (G1) runner-up Yucatan in first-time cheekpieces, and badly hampered behind Eminent – now known as the Craven (G3) hero and Derby (G1) fourth – experimenting with a visor at Newmarket, before an overdue opening of his account.
Despite the late stage of the season, O’Brien squeezed in two more outings in Group races. Third in the Killavullan (G3) on yielding ground, Taj Mahal added blinkers for a respectable fifth in the 1 1/4-mile Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1) on soft going. The horse making good late progress on the far side for third is Capri, while future Derby upsetter Wings of Eagles is back in ninth.
Taj Mahal shaped with promise in his 2017 bow in the Leopardstown 2,000 Guineas Trial. Without headgear, he made smart headway in deep stretch to gain on front-running Orderofthegarter.
Then Taj Mahal was overturned at 4-7 odds, in a four-runner race, on soft ground at Gowran. Apparently he needed the blinkers back on.
Donning the headgear for the French Derby (G1), where he smacked of a pacemaker for stablemates War Decree and Orderofthegarter, Taj Mahal outperformed his 66-1 odds by hanging tough for fourth. The victorious Brametot, who’d also won the French 2000 Guineas (G1), is expected to pursue the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), while near-misser Waldgeist was subsequently fourth in the Irish Derby.
Yet Taj Mahal did enjoy a favorable trip while War Decree (a troubled fifth) and Orderofthegarter (on the inside behind Taj Mahal in sixth) may have done better with different passages through the race. That suspicion was reinforced when Taj Mahal again set the pace for Orderofthegarter in the Hampton Court (G3) at Royal Ascot, and the form was reversed. Orderofthegarter couldn’t peg back Benbatl, but he did leave Taj Mahal in fourth.
The result tends to flatter the Secretariat rival who’d beaten Benbatl in the Dante (G2) – Permian.
Taj Mahal stretched out to 1 1/2 miles for the Irish Derby, but didn’t get involved from off the pace and wound up sixth.
Under consideration for the Belmont Derby (G1), Taj Mahal was instead dragooned once again into pacemaking duties for the July 8 Eclipse (G1). He ended up interfering more than helping, through no fault of his own. Jockey Padraig Beggy wasn’t clear when dropping over on the rail, and favored stablemate Cliffs of Moher suffered the worst of the chain reaction, effectively ruining his chance. Taj Mahal went on with his job until the final furlong or so, when fading to last.
The Secretariat may prove a crossroads for Taj Mahal, who arguably gets his optimal conditions, the chance to shine in his own right, and Moore in the saddle for the first time since his second at Leopardstown back in April. The question is whether that can conjure up enough improvement, if he is mentally ready, to upset the prime players.
Photo courtesy Michael Adolphson via Twitter