There was a Group I race at Longchamp on Sunday. It was Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares. Twelve distaffers answered the starter’s call in the 2400-metre contest. Khalid Abdullah’s Midday won with a measure of comfort and the Oasis Dream filly was the 9/4 favorite. It was the fifth Group I victory for the Henry Cecil-trained four year-old. Jockey Tom Queally continued the partnership. Midday ran the 2400 metres in 2 32.4 on rain-softened grass. Plumania was second and the hitherto unbeaten Sarafina salvaged third. Midday’s form impressed the bookmaking fraternity so much that she was installed the even money favorite to get an encore in the Breeders’ Cup Filly-Mare Turf in November at Churchill Downs. Midday is out of Midsummer who’s by Kingmambo.
Sir Cecil explained his thinking. “I really needed to get another run into her to get ready for the Breeders’ Cup. I love the Arc but the Breeders’ Cup is her race. She did it nicely today, she only does enough.”
Jockey Queally expressed high optimism about the trip to Churchill Downs. “She ticks more boxes this year and if she turns up in America like this, I think she can win again.”
Midday was not the only filly to hit the headlines. Sariska was also part of the main story. She came under starter’s orders but planted when the gates sprung open. It was déjà vu for the Michael Bell-trained Sariska who had refused to race in the Yorkshire Oaks on August 19. It was double frustration for Sariska’s connections and the decision to retire her was not a hard one to make.
Trainer Bell, in a conversation with me on Million day at Arlington Park, had expressed the hope that his filly’s antics will not be repeated. Bell did not conceal his disappointment although he spoke about what the dual Oaks-winning filly had accomplished. “It has been a great journey but that’s the end of the road. We have done everything we could and she did not come out. So enough is enough.”
The 20009 Epsom Oaks left an indelible mark on my memory. In a stretch-long duel, Sariska and Jamie Spencer beat Midday and Tom Queally in a photo finish. There was a long inquiry and the result stood. The press conference in the Queen’s Stand was held up until the result was declared official. It was vintage Spencer.
Also in Sunday’s Longchamp card was the Group II Prix Niel, a traditional Arc trial, the importance of which has risen dramatically in recent years. Until Sunday, Aidan O’Brien’s Fame And Glory had been atop the pecking order in the Arc market. Sunday’s Prix Niel put a French runner at the head of the betting. Aga Khan’s Bekhabad was the 11/8 favorite to deliver the goods in the Prix Niel. Seven runners went postward in the 2400-metre race. Bekhabad and Christophe Lemaire needed every inch to get the better of Planteur in the waning yards. Vivre Libre, a 55/1 chance, set the pace with Samuel Fargeat. Planteur tracked the leader and hit the front in the lane and was immediately challenged by Bekhabad. In a ding dong battle, Bekhabad managed to get his head in front. The race was run in 2 30.8 seconds.
Bekhabad was made the 7/2 favorite for the Arc by the British and Irish bookmakers. Planteur was made a 6/1 chance. On July 14, Bastille Day, in Longchamp’s Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris, Bekhabad beat Planteur narrowly. The betting reflects the fact that Bekhabad has been the better of the two in two meetings. Bekhabad is by Cape Cross out of Behkara by Kris. Sinndar and Dalakhani, carrying the Aga Khan colors, won the Niel and the Arc in 2000 and 2003.
“He’s (Bekhabad) a nice horse and he will improve for this. In principle, both Bekhabad and Sarafina will run in the Arc, as at this stage of the season, it is not a problem to run a filly against the colts,” the Aga Khan commented.
Trainer Jean Claude Rouget was thrilled. “Everything went according to plan. He won well. He is a brave and a very good horse. This was only a comeback race and he will be spot on for the Arc.”
A two year-old in Ireland, Path fork, has gone to the top of the charts with a win in the Group I Vincent O’Brien National Stakes on Sunday at the Curragh. Jessica Harrington trains Pathfork, by Distorted Humor out of Visions of Clarity who is by Saddler’s Wells, and won her first Group I race. It was also the first win for jockey Fran Berry at the highest level. Casamento fought a valiant duel down the stretch to lose in a photo. Zoffany, the Ballydoyle runner, did not like the soft underfoot conditions and finished a non-threatening third. Pathfork ran 1400 metres in 1 27.95 and is now three for three lifetime.
Trainer Jessica Harrington said, “Fran (Berry) said he had to be very tough on him (Pathfork) as he did not like the ground. Pure class got him there. The real panic was that he was in front for so long.”
Olivier Peslier added a Group I race to his list of achievements with a well-judged ride on Sans Frontieres in the Irish Field St Leger at the Curragh on Saturday. Jeremy Noseda trains Sans Frontieres who ran the 2800-metre race in 3 10.36 seconds. There was rain all afternoon and the grass was very soft. Sans Frontieres was the 13/8 favorite in the eight-horse field.
Jockey Peslier had his mount held up and waited as long as he could. Just doing enough to get past Profound Beauty and Pat Smullen, Sans Frontieres was full of running at the end. By Galileo, out of Lila by Shirley Heights, the Jeremy Noseda pupil gave every impression that he will be a worthy contender in the 3200-metre Melbourne Cup in early November. However, the Australian handicapper has given Sans Frontieres a penalty and that has prompted second thoughts about the trip to Melbourne.
“The trainer said to relax the horse and come late with your run. He did not like the ground but he did it well,” Olivier Peslier said.
On Sunday at the Curragh, there was a race of some consequence. It was the Group II Blandford Stakes over 2000 metres for fillies and mares. Eleanora Duse, trained by Michael Stoute and ridden by Ryan Moore, was the 3/1 favorite. An Azamour filly, Eleanora Duse nosed out She’s Our Mark. Dan Grant was aboard She’s Our Mark. A three year-old filly, Eleanora Duse was third behind Midday in the Yorkshire Oaks in her last appearance.
Doncaster on Saturday hosted the Group II Champagne Stakes. Saamidd was the 5/6 favorite and toyed with his rivals. Coming off a seven-length win in his debut, Godolphin-owned Saamidd was so impressive in the Champagne Stakes that the bookmakers offered a quote of 8/1 for the 2011 English Guineas. It was the second win for trainer Suroor in the Champagne Stakes. His Poet’s Voice won in 2009.
Approve, winner of the Norfolk and Gimcrack Stakes, was the bridesmaid. It has been reported that Saamidd will be supplemented to the Dewhurst Stakes.
Winning jockey Frankie Dettori spoke. “For his only second start to beat the Gimcrack winner cannot be bad. Very exciting. I liked him when I sat on him the first time. I have always rated him very special.”
At Hanshin in Japan on Sunday, Dasher Go Go beat Green Birdie in the Grade II Centaur Stakes. It was a 1200-metre race on the grass. It was the first leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.
There is news about Super Saver. The Kentucky Derby winner has been a disappointment in his subsequent races. Scans have shown cannon bone bruising in all four legs. Todd Pletcher expressed relief. “This explains a lot. I could not understand those last few efforts. He is gutsy. This takes care of a lot of head-scratching.”