Monday, September 6, 2010

Cape Blanco runs away with Irish Champion: Quality Road is smooth as silk in Woodward

There is considerable catching up to do. It was an extremely busy weekend. It is a three-day holiday weekend in America. Tracks are open on Monday and many have carded Graded Stakes.

We will cover what happened in Europe on Saturday. There was a Group I race in France on Sunday and that story will be in the next blog. At Haydock Park on Saturday, the 1200-metre Group I Betfred Sprint Cup was run. Colm O’Donoghue made the trip from the Emerald Isle to ride the Aidan O’Brien-trained Starspangledbanner who was made the 11/8 favorite. You can take a train from London Euston on the Glasgow line or a train to Manchester on the Liverpool line.

Thirteen ran and the ground was firm and fast. Markab, a 12/1 chance, headed the six-horse group on the stands’ side. The other seven, including Starspangledbanner, were on the far side. A disappointing sixth as the 9/4 favorite in Newbury’s Shadwell Stakes on July 17, Markab put that poor show behind him and ran on determinedly to keep his rivals at bay. The Henry Candy-trained seven year-old gelding won by a length and a quarter and clocked 1 9.4 seconds, a mark that bettered the existing track record. The race was worth 163.809 pounds to the winning connections. Starspangledbanner was fifth and was about four lengths off the winner.

Markab is by Green Desert out of Hawafiz who’s by Nashwan. Before the Shadwell Stakes, in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot on June 15, only one horse finished ahead of Markab and that was Equiano. On 22 May. Markab rated kindly for jockey Pat Cosgrave to win the Group III Greenlands Stakes.

Jockey Cosgrave commented. “Good, that makes up for Ascot. He is a very good horse, always was. I thought after his Thirsk win in April, he is a Group I Horse.”

Trainer Candy was poetic. “Is he not the most gorgeous beast? He is magnificent. He’s just blissfully happy. He seems to be getting better. I am considering the Abbaye on Arc day.”

We will now go to Leopardstown in Fox Rock, Ireland. Left-handed Leopardstown is about 45 minutes by bus from the Dublin City Centre. On Saturday, the Matron Stakes and the Irish Champion Stakes, two Group I races, were contested.

Saturday afternoon belonged to Aidan O’Brien. In the first race, Joe O’Brien rode the 7/1 Juliet Capulet, trained by Aidan, his father, to a facile victory. The second, the Group III Kilternan Stakes, a 2000-metre race, was taken by Await The Dawn, a 7/2 chance, trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by John Murtagh. The third race was the Matron Stakes. Lillie Langtry went from last to first in the last 300 metres in the Matron. O’Brien’s haul did not end in the Matron and we will look at the race that gave the Ballydoyle maestro his training quadruple in a subsequent paragraph.

Six ran in the 1600-metre Matron. Music Show, the impressive winner of Newmarket’s Falmouth Stakes, was the 2/1 favorite. Spacious, knocking at the door at the highest level and the mount of Kieren Fallon, was the second choice at 11/4. Lillie Langtry was coming off a dull fifth place finish in the Falmouth. The O’Brien trainee with John Murtagh, with the erosion of some confidence, was at 7/2. There were some –who swore by Lillie Langtry’s making-it-all score in Royal Ascot’s Coronation Stakes. Gile Na Greine, ridden by Kevin Manning, set the pace. Spacious tracked the leader. Lillie Langtry was sixth and last. With 400 metres to go, Spacious drew first blood and Music Show was reminded of the task. Murtagh pushed the button with Lillie Langtry. Spacious appeared to have stolen a march as Lillie Langtry kept cutting the deficit down. A lunge on the line gave Lillie Langtry a neck victory. Music Show, unable to produce the turn of foot that gave her the Falmouth, took third. The Curragh had been watered. On a good to firm course, Lillie Langtry ran 1600 metres in 1 39.68. The race was worth 130,000 pounds to the winner. Lillie Langtry, a sophomore filly, is by Danehill Dancer out of Hoity Toity by Darshaan.

Trainer O’Brien spoke. “Johnny gave her a masterful ride. He let the race unfold and did not ask her to race until a furlong and a half out, the filly did not know she had a race. She’s classy and determined. The break (59 days after Falmouth) helped her. The next race is the Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp on October 3.”

Jockey Murtagh paid tribute to his mount. “She tries very hard and had a tough race at Ascot. She ran flat and that was not her. Today went well and I always was going to get Kieren,”

The fifth race at Leopardstown on Saturday was the 2000-metre Irish Champion Stakes. Despite the $434,500-pound winner’s prize, there were only six runners. O’Brien’s Rip Van Winkle was the 4/6 favorite with John Murtagh, Ballydoyle’s retained jockey. When they were let go, it was Cape Blanco, a 6/1 chance and another O’Brien pupil, who hit the front. It was a brisk gallop. Twice Over and Rip Van Winkle were several lengths away. There was every reason to believe that the pacesetter would not last. As Rip Van Winkle and Twice Over were asked, they did respond but the bird had flown. Cape Blance, Seamie Heffernan up, found another gear and began putting some separation.

Curragh announcer, Des Scahill, described the action. “Cape Blance is running this Irish Champion field ragged. He has destroyed this field.”

The winning margin was five and one half lengths. The time was 2 3.89 seconds. Rip Van Winkle got the better of Twice Over to occupy the runner-up berth. Cape Blance is a three year-old Galileo colt. Laurel Delight is the dam and she’s by Presidium. Cape Blance gave Aidan O’Brien his fourth winner of the day and a 1,133/1 quadruple. That was the sixth win for O’Brien in the Champion Stakes. Cape Blanco made it four for four when beating Workforce in York’s Dante Stakes. A poor race (because of the ground) in Chantilly’s French Derby followed. It was followed by a win in the Irish Derby on June 27. In his next outing, Cape Blance headed the beaten brigade when Harbinger won the King George drawing away. With six wins from eight starts, Cape Blance’s earnings stand at 1,228,507 pounds.

O’Brien thought aloud. “He (Cape Blanco) is getting stronger all the time. Although he won the Irish Derby (2400 metres) we always felt that a strongly-run mile and a quarter would suit him ideally. There are plenty of options, Newmarket’s Champion Stakes, the Arc, the Breeders’ Cup. Rip Van Winkle could not get going on the ground.”

We will look at two Grade I races at Saratoga (New York) on Saturday. The 1400-metre Forego Stakes went to Here Comes Ben, a 99/10 chance. The four year-old was held up by Alex Solis as a fast pace was set. Finding room between horses in the lane, the Charles Lopresti-trained colt, quickened spiritedly to win by three parts of a length. The time was 1 22.5 on a fast dirt track. Nine ran and Vineyard Haven, the even money favorite, was in a stalking spot and got pinned down along the fence when he needed room.

By Street Cry out of Chasetheraginwind by Dayjur, Here Comes Ben was winning four races in a row. He won at Keeneland on April 11. He won at Churchill on May 21. On June 25, he won again at Churchill. The Forego took his streak to four.

Trainer Lopresti said, “he (Here Comes Ben) was here two weeks ago. He trained very well. We had to see if he was this kind of horse, he proved it today.”

Jockey Solis explained his trip, “at the half mile pole, he started his move. When I got after him at the quarter pole, we started coming and he did his thing.”

Alan Garcia, riding Vineyard Haven, stated, “I got stuck inside and did not have a chance to go out and make a run. When I got the chance, I did not have the horse.”

We’ll end this report with the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday. Quality Road, from Todd Pletcher’s yard, was the 3/10 favorite in the seven-horse field. Jockey John Velasquez had the red hot chalk in second for the first four furlongs. With 600 metres left, Quality Road was asked to take charge. The winner of the Woodward was spotted. Quality Road won by about five lengths in 1 50 seconds. The Woodward was over 1800 metres on the main (fast) dirt track. Mine That Bird, the 2009 Kentucky Derby hero, was using blinkers for the first time and finished last.

Quality Road was coming off a photo loss to Blame in the Whitney Handicap. Elusive Quality (by Gone West) is the sire of Quality Road. Kobla is the dam and she is by Strawberry Road. The Woodward prize pushed Quality Road’s account over the two-million dollar mark. Quality Road has eight wins from 12 starts.

Todd Pletcher talked about Horse of the Year prospects. “I thought he ran a good race. We can make a strong argument for having the country’s best horse. He has accomplished a lot this year to win the Donn, the Met Mile and this race.”

Jockey Velasquez spoke about how having a pacemaker helped. “He was much better than in the Whitney. I struggled to get him going in the Whitney. Today, he was much more willing and much more on the bridle. It was better for him to have a horse to follow. He was much more competitive.”

Here is a jockey item from America. Kent Desormeaux had a fall on Friday at Saratoga. He has a cracked vertebra. Desormeaux, 40, will not need surgery but will have a neck brace. He will be sidelined for three weeks.

On Saturday, the British and Irish bookmakers offered 12/1 for an Aidan O’Brien Group I treble. An offer of 11/10 was made for one win. There was a 5/2 offer for drawing blank. The odds were 9/4 if O’Brien won two. Lillie Langtry won the Matron at Leopardstown at 2 40 PM. At 3 35 PM, Starspangledbanner ran fifth in the Sprint Cup at (UK) Haydock. Cape Blanco won the 3 45 PM race, the Champion Stakes, at Leopardstown. Incidentally, William Hill made an offer of 8-1 on Cape Blanco in the Arc at Longchamp on October 3. You will go dizzy with wagering in England and Ireland.

There are many more high profile races at look at. We will do it in subsequent blogs.

Chicago, September 6, 2010

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