The Dispatch Box: Tepin aims for Royal Ascot, Frank Conversation to UAE Derby
The pleasure of Tepin’s presence has been requested at Royal Ascot, and the reigning champion turf mare looks primed to accept the invitation to the ultimate garden party – specifically for the Queen Anne (G1) on opening day, June 14.
“Sometimes in this sport you have to do the sporting thing,” owner Robert Masterson told the TDN’s Bill Finley. “She might just be a once-in-a-lifetime horse, and when you get a horse like that, you need to take advantage of the opportunities.”
As one who appreciates international aspirations, I’m delighted that Tepin’s connections are thinking along these lines. Aside from the prestige factor, and the natural desire to let your champion go global, the move makes sense based on Tepin’s own record, the European mile scene, and North American racing calendar.
Tepin sluices through rain-affected tracks, so she won’t mind a bit of rain in Berkshire. Nor would the cool-weather lover mind if the clouds hold down the temperatures, keeping it more pleasant than the summer heat prevailing back home.
Of course, the mile down Royal Ascot’s straightaway is a different proposition from the turning courses Tepin has known so far. Based on her Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) performance, however, she deserves the chance. And as I’ve written before, the European mile scene has an open look once you get past defending Queen Anne champion Solow. The Aga Khan’s Ervedya would be a major player if she crosses the Channel as well, but it’s not as though there’s an entire field of heavyweights lying in wait.
Finally, Tepin wouldn’t exactly be missing much in North America at that point. A good performance in the Queen Anne – even in defeat – would have far greater magnitude than a repeat victory in the Just a Game (G1) on Belmont Day. And since her only losses of 2015 came at Saratoga, it wouldn’t be dreadful if she snubs the Spa this time around.
Frank Conversation goes for the money in Dubai: As first reported by Finley on Wednesday, and confirmed in Santa Anita’s Friday notes, El Camino Real Derby (G3) winner Frank Conversation is bound for the $2 million UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup night.
Trainer Doug O’Neill admitted that the Mideast adventure might have a negative effect on his chances of making it to the Kentucky Derby (G1).
“I understand that if you go all the way to Dubai you might zap some of his energy and that could affect him when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, but the purse is so large at $2 million.
“For us, that may be our Kentucky Derby,” O’Neill told Finley.
Of course, Reddam and O’Neill already have a premier Kentucky Derby hopeful in Nyquist. While it’s usually a good idea to have a backup, Frank Conversation has yet to prove himself on dirt. The Kentucky Derby trail is only going to get tougher from here, and he’d be facing stiffer competition in the preps for less money than they’re dangling at Meydan. The 3-year-old males over there have appeared a substandard bunch, well below the superb filly Polar River, who’s also on course for the UAE Derby. I can see the appeal, especially if they don’t think Frank Conversation is a proper Kentucky Derby horse. That’s the inescapable subtext.
Intilaaq a World Cup dark horse? British-based Intilaaq, who hinted of big things to come during a stop-start campaign in 2015, is preparing for the Dubai World Cup (G1). Trainer Roger Varian sent him out to Southwell for a piece of exercise on the Fibresand, where he could get accustomed to the kickback. According to reports, it sounds like he’ll go straight to the World Cup without a prep race.
A Sheikh Hamdan homebred by Dynaformer out of French classic winner Torrestrella, Intilaaq got an honorable mention in my Reilly Turf Awards (see the “What-might-have-been” category). He’s an exciting talent who looks a true Group 1 performer in the making.
That said, kicking off 2016 with a dirt debut in the World Cup looks a bit audacious. The trends are very much stacked against trying to win the World Cup off a layoff, and Intilaaq hasn’t run since early August. Half-sister Farmah flopped on the dirt last Dubai Carnival. To top it off, he’s been compared to Nayef, who was a distant third in the 2003 World Cup. I love Intilaaq as an individual, but in the circumstances, he’s probably set for a minor award at best – like Nayef.
In other World Cup odds and ends, Hokko Tarumae is swerving Sunday’s February S. (G1). Having completed a three-peat in the January 27 Kawasaki Kinen off a busy end to his year, Japan’s hope is being kept fresh ahead of his third World Cup bid.
Former Juddmonte colorbearer Teletext isn’t on the original list of World Cup nominees, but I wonder if his resounding success in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup (aka King’s Cup) in Riyadh might put him into the picture. By Empire Maker, Teletext was a useful French sophomore of 2014 who just didn’t progress as hoped last term. A switch to the Saudi dirt has helped, and he’s now three-for-four at his new home base:
Spalato eyes Golden Shaheen: Singapore celebrity Spalato captured an about five-furlong dash on the Kranji Polytrack Sunday. Defying top weight while returning from a three-month layoff, the John O’Hara trainee blasted his final 200 meters in :22.25 (according to Trakus) to get up a shade cozily.
Next on the agenda is the March 6 Merlion Trophy, but connections are eagerly looking ahead to a crack at the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). Although Spalato disappointed in his past international travel to Hong Kong (late 2014), it’s not fair to hold that against him now. Uncomfortable trying to adapt to the right-handed way of going in Hong Kong, he came up with hip problems. Those are behind him, and he’ll be in his element turning left at Meydan.
Winx stars at the Apollo: Going into Winx’s comeback in the Apollo (G2) at Randwick, trainer Chris Waller said he understood the kind of pressure that Black Caviar’s team was under – he too has a superstar mare who’s expected to keep winning. Although Winx isn’t unbeaten, she’d won her last five straight in 2015, capped by terrific victories over males in the Epsom H. (G1) and the Cox Plate (G1). And she made it six in the Apollo, cruising to the fore late under confident handling. For all her apparent ease, Winx posted the fastest final splits in the 1400-meter test (:33.84 and :11.40, according to racenet.com.au). An honorable second was Solicit, rounding out the exacta for daughters of Street Cry.
Winx is even better over longer, so her Apollo score is just a warm-up act. The February 27 Chipping Norton (G1) is her next likely port of call, with her main aim of the Australian autumn being the A$4 million Queen Elizabeth (G1) on April 9.
As far as last Saturday’s C.F. Orr (G1) at Caulfield went, Suavito deserves credit for winning a hotly competitive first start back from surgery. Yet she did benefit from the perfect trip in a congested race. Fast-finishing second Lucky Hussler got free too late, while Fenway never saw daylight and crossed the line under a snug hold. Also at Caulfield, flying sophomore filly Heatherly smashed older horses in the Rubiton (G3), stamping her ticket to the February 27 Oakleigh Plate (G1).
In New Zealand, highly regarded Xtravagant bounced back from a recent loss to dominate his elders in the NRM Sprint (G1). The Pentire colt is now on course to storm the March 5 Australian Guineas (G1).
Gold and diamonds: This time of year, the Australian juvenile scene heats up ahead of the February 27 Blue Diamond (G1) and the March 19 Golden Slipper (G1).
Jockey Damien Oliver had a tough decision to make between very promising Blue Diamond mounts, and he sided with Flying Artie over antepost favorite Extreme Choice. Oliver reportedly believes that Flying Artie is likelier to appreciate the added ground of the 1200-meter Blue Diamond.
Early Slipper favorite Capitalist turned in a smart barrier trial versus older horses at Randwick Friday, traveling sweetly on a hold in front down the lane. He was just mugged on the line by the classy 3-year-old filly English, last year’s Slipper runner-up. But Capitalist obviously wasn’t asked in this mere leg-stretcher.
Yielding ground suited Crown: You’d have to think that the yielding ground at Kyoto played a role in last Sunday’s Kyoto Kinen (G2), where Satono Crown was a surprisingly easy three-length winner over Touching Speech. While Satono Crown has class as the third-placer behind Duramente in last year’s Japanese Derby (G1), the margin looks inflated. Touching Speech was considerately handled, as they say, and she’s eligible to move forward for the big prize, the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). Tosen Reve, on the other hand, had his trip to Australia’s Championships called off after winding up ninth.
A Major talent: Japan’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2015, Major Emblem, ran her rivals off their feet in the Daily Hai Queen Cup (G3) at Tokyo last Saturday. Displaying high speed in her wire-to-wire victory, the Daiwa Major filly toyed with them while finishing the metric mile in 1:32.5. Jockey Christophe Lemaire told Racing Post that she’d be effective up to 1 1/2 miles! Can anything hope to contain her in the April 10 Japanese 1000 Guineas (G1)?
Injury department: Godolphin’s Emotionless, sidelined by a knee chip after his uncharacteristic flop in the Dewhurst (G1), has resumed training with a view toward the 2000 Guineas (G1) at Newmarket. Trainer Charlie Appleby reports that he’ll prep in one of the obvious spots, the Craven (G3) or the Greenham (G3). By Shamardal and out of Unbridled Elaine, Emotionless could hardly have been more impressive when bounding clear in last September’s Champagne (G2). It will be good to have him back on song.
In a late-breaking development Friday night, French expat Pornichet has reportedly suffered a career-ending tendon injury in Australia. Third to eventual Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Karakontie in the 2014 French 2000 Guineas (G1), Pornichet bombed when running off in blinkers in that summer’s Belmont Derby (G1), but he found Group 1 glory with Gai Waterhouse in the 2015 Doomben Cup.
On tap: Coming up Friday night in Australia, Exosphere tackles older sprinters Chautauqua and Terravista in the Lightning (G1) at Flemington. Sunday’s feature in Japan is the aforementioned February (G1). Copano Rickey looks to recover form in time for an historic three-peat, but Nonkono Yume has lots of upside. On the undercard at Tokyo, Lani lines up in the Hyacinth, his stepping stone to the UAE Derby (G2) and hopefully the Kentucky Derby (G1). Over at Sha Tin, Werther looks to make good in the Hong Kong Classic Cup.