Who will be the Opera protagonist?
Photo of Diamondsandrubies courtesy of Curragh Racecourse via Facebook.
One race before the Arc on Sunday, a competitive cast of fillies and mares will take the stage in the Prix de l’Opera (G1) (9:10 a.m. EDT).
At this writing, Covert Love is a tepid favorite at 4-1, and it’s easy to see why: she’s been a revelation in the hands of Hugo Palmer this season. Rapidly progressing from Chelmsford City maiden winner to Irish Oaks (G1) heroine in about 2 1/2 months, she came up a neck shy of extending her winning streak to five in a loaded renewal of the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) in her latest. But those impeccable bits of form came over 1 1/2 miles. Although her skein started at this shorter trip, she may get outkicked late going 1 1/4 miles at this level.
If you’re inclined to look elsewhere for the winner (as I am), there’s no shortage of options. Trainers Freddie Head, John Gosden, and Alain de Royer-Dupre are all double-handed, and the ubiquitous Aidan O’Brien is involved as well.
Head will send out defending champion We Are and sophomore Queen’s Jewel, both hoping to bounce back from losses. We Are captured the 2014 Opera in her second start back from an ovarian tumor. That malady had caused her to test positive for an excessive amount of testosterone, which led to her infamous disqualification from her victory in the Prix Saint-Alary (G1).
Unfortunately, We Are has had other issues to deal with this year, and has raced only three times all season. Fourth to Cirrus des Aigles and Al Kazeem in the May 3 Prix Ganay (G1), she was best of the rest behind the imperious Treve in the May 29 Prix Corrida (G2) before missing most of the summer. We Are returned to finish a useful fourth to Odeliz in the August 23 Prix Jean Romanet (G1) on very soft ground at Deauville. We Are is entitled to turn the tables here, but can she strike top form in this race for the second straight year? Post 12 has done her no favors.
Queen’s Jewel has a profile vaguely reminiscent of her stablemate’s at this time last October. Like We Are, Queen’s Jewel was a resounding winner of the May 24 Prix Saint-Alary over Wekeela, in record time to boot. But she flopped as the favorite behind Star of Seville in the French Oaks (G1), hasn’t been seen since, and finds herself on a retrieval mission. The Pivotal filly is also drawn toward the outside in post 11.
Gosden’s Star of Seville subsequently retreated to seventh in the Nassau (G1) at Glorious Goodwood. She’s not as compelling as stablemate Jazzi Top, who finished ahead of her when a troubled fifth in both the Epsom Oaks (G1) and Nassau. Her traffic problems in the Nassau probably played a more significant role in the result. She came right back to take the Prix de la Nonette (G2), leaving Little Nightingale back in fourth and Wekeela in fifth.
Jazzi Top has even more going for her than being a 1 1/4-mile specialist. She’s also a pedigree play, as a daughter of 2003 Opera winner Zee Zee Top. And Jazzi Top’s half-sister, Izzi Top, was second in this race in 2012.
Cladocera, who burst onto the international scene with a pair of Group 2 wins at the Dubai Carnival, likewise endured a frustrating trip in the Nassau. The de Royer-Dupre filly did well to rally for fourth to Legatissimo, and she got somewhat closer to that same rival when a clear second in the one-mile Matron (G1) last out. It’s not clear what her ideal distance is at this point, but Cladocera is talented and in good heart at the moment. Stablemate Fate is a different case: this is her pet distance, but she’d like the ground to be much softer.
I liked Diamondsandrubies a lot after her tremendous victory in the May 6 Cheshire Oaks. It’s not an overstatement to say that the O’Brien trainee was butchered at Epsom, where she was wiped out in the midst of her rally and checked in fourth in the Oaks. The Fastnet Rock filly earned a deserved title next time in an all-star Pretty Polly (G1), just lasting from Legatissimo, Ribbons, Secret Gesture, and Pleascach. But Diamondsandrubies has been up the track in her last two, possibly unsuited by Goodwood’s twists in the Nassau and by the very soft ground when trudging home far behind Treve in the Prix Vermeille (G1). A return to her early summer form would make her very dangerous here.
Odeliz is a game and genuine type, but her career-best performance in the Romanet came at odds of 25-1, and it’s difficult to imagine her pulling a double. She’s reportedly in the mix for Woodbine, having finished second in last year’s E.P. Taylor (G1), and this might be her tune-up.
German champion filly Bourree, fifth to Odeliz in a Group 3 at Hamburg in June, most recently sprang a 16-1 surprise in the Prix de Psyche (G3). That marked her first try at this trip, and the form ties in with that of Jazzi Top and Star of Seville. Compatriot Feodora has struggled since upsetting last year’s German Oaks (G1), but she was beaten a little more than a length when fifth in the 2014 Opera.