Flintshire photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Susie Raisher.
Before getting into the victorious comebacks of Dubai World Cup night threats Duramente and Solow, I’ve got to comment on the international bombshell that was lobbed to US fans this week: the transfer of globetrotting Flintshire to the Chad Brown barn.
This is a masterstroke on the part of Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, on two counts. First, Flintshire is poised to dominate a weak North American turf division, with only a setback likely to prevent him from an Eclipse Award. Second, the Juddmonte brain trust already has another ace up their sleeves for Europe’s prestigious Group 1 prizes over 1 1/2 miles in the form of New Bay, also trained by Andre Fabre.
The two Juddmonte stablemates would have been colliding in most of the same races, unless Flintshire was forced to scratch due to soft going. It’s perfectly logical to split them up. Send Flintshire to the continent where he’ll get his prerequisite firm turf, keep New Bay with Fabre and give him every chance to pad his classic-winning resume.
My one curiosity is the timing of this announcement. As I tweeted, at this precise week last year, he was prepping for Dubai at Chantilly (see more on that race below). But Flintshire didn’t compete Thursday. Judging by Teddy Grimthorpe’s remarks in his news-breaking interview in Thoroughbred Commentary, and subsequently, Flintshire is swerving another tilt at the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) as well. Since the Sheema meets his distance and going requirements for a hefty $6 million, that begs the question of why he’s sitting it out.
The other obvious question is, why not Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who has been handling Juddmonte’s US squad? My first thought was that Mott is based at Payson Park, currently undergoing the quarantine due to EHV-1. (An idea also offered by the TDN’s Alan Carasso.)
Flintshire will be brought along slowly by Brown. His first US target won’t be until the United Nations (G1) in July. If you’re missing Dubai, it makes sense to focus on the Breeders’ Cup (G1) and accordingly concentrate on the second half of the season. But this is the second-longest layoff of his career, exceeded by the October-June hiatus of 2013-14.
Solow makes it 10 in a row: Solow signaled that he’s ready for a Dubai Turf (G1) title defense by winning the same metric mile prep over Chantilly’s Polytrack.
His 10th straight victory offered an instant of suspense, but he soon shrugged off the trouble. Despite having to alter course, only to find the door slammed on the rail, and end up coming out again and re-gathering momentum, the Freddie Head star easily drew off under wraps. When you watch the replay, note that the runner-up is Fabre’s well-regarded Group 2 winner Vadamos.
Head actually said that Solow might even be better than he was last year.
In the next race (that Flintshire would have been in), Head sent out another Wertheimer homebred, Queen’s Jewel, to finish a good fourth in her tune-up for the Sheema Classic. Last seen as a fast-finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), she was making her first start versus males. Fabre ran one-two with Elliptique (who’s penciled in for the March 20 Prix Exbury [G3]) and Manatee. Fellow Sheema contender Gailo Chop was a close third.
Duramente’s road to the Arc goes through Dubai: Japanese champion Duramente wasn’t at his imperious best off a nine-month, injury-induced layoff, but the very fact that he could still defeat three other internationally inclined rivals in the Nakayama Kinen (G2) shows how good he is.
Sidelined by surgery for bone chips in both knees after capturing the Japanese Derby (G1), Duramente was in no soft comeback spot here. Lack of race-fitness told late, as Ambitious closed fast, but Duramente’s class carried him. He again handled third-placer Real Steel, who had chased him home in the first two Japanese classics.
Duramente is sure to take a leap forward off this for the Sheema Classic, where I’d argue that he’s the one they all have to beat. Indeed, if you think he’s a serious contender for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), you’ll like him all the more at Meydan. Real Steel is also headed to Meydan, for a clash with Solow in the Dubai Turf. Ryan Moore will take over at the helm on Real Steel, according to Twitter reports from Japan. Last Impact, sixth in the Nakayama Kinen, will try his luck against Duramente in the Sheema, with new pilot Joao Moreira.
Singapore’s Dubai team grounded: Thanks to a strangles outbreak at Kranji, all of Singapore’s World Cup night hopefuls will have to stay at home. The biggest loss was arguably to the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), for Spalato had a fighting chance in the dirt sprint. He’ll have to make do with the local scene, beginning in Sunday’s Merlion Trophy.
Rome rebuts rumors of decline: Although winless in three starts since his return from surgery, Designs on Rome was reeling off fast closing splits. Trainer John Moore kept the faith, and his horseman’s eye proved correct when the former Hong Kong Horse of the Year scored a repeat victory in the Hong Kong Gold Cup (G1).
I’m tempted to say that a contributing factor was getting Tommy Berry back aboard. That might be slightly unfair, but Berry has the knack of getting Designs on Rome stoked up earlier, and in contending position, to make his punch potent.
“Every trainer has their concerns after surgery,” Moore said afterward. “I’ve had arthroscopic surgery and I can’t bowl a cricket ball anymore! It’s hard, to think that he may not come back the same horse, but the operation went great, his joints are still tight, we never lost a day with him; it took time to get him back in the coat.
“Everyone said his trial wasn’t good enough but I knew exactly where he was, what he’d done, and it was enough to just top him off and he’s returned today the horse he’s been over the past few seasons. He’s the best.”
Stablemate Helene Happy Star rattled home for an excellent second, with the old warrior Military Attack an honorable third. Long-winded Dominant was a better than expected fourth at a trip short of his best, giving Moore three of the top four.
Neither Designs on Rome nor Military Attack plan to venture abroad again. The familiar foes will be tested by the internationals shipping to Sha Tin for the April 24 Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1).
Contentment subs for the Wizard: Trainer John Size’s chances in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup (G1) took a hit with the scratch of Thewizardofoz, but his other hope Contentment, who’s much better than the second-stringer label implies, flew the flag successfully in his first Group 1 coup.
“Even when the stablemate was in, I thought we would have beaten him,” said jockey Brett Prebble, who got the mount when Moreira opted for Thewizardofoz.
The disappointment of the race was past champion Gold-Fun, who never picked up in an even fourth. Trainer Richard Gibson told the South China Morning Post that he was “flat” in his fifth start of the Hong Kong season.
Winning Winx: You could call Winx Australia’s answer to Zenyatta, since she’s a daughter of Street Cry who just keeps winning. The parallel isn’t exact, but the excitement of her fan club is beginning to reach global proportions.
When beating males again in last Saturday’s Chipping Norton (G1), the Chris Waller trainee extended her streak to seven. According to Racenet.com.au, Winx posted the fastest final 200 meters of the entire Randwick card (:11.30), and the second fastest final 600 meters (:33.54).
Jockey Hugh Bowman paid Winx a handsome compliment, commenting that he’s “never ridden a horse that can sustain top speed like this mare.”
An Extreme performance: When jockey Damien Oliver chose Flying Artie over Extreme Choice in the Blue Diamond (G1) at Caulfield, you had to think there was a fair chance he landed on the wrong Mick Price juvenile. Racing luck didn’t help, as Flying Artie drew an even worse post than Extreme Choice, and got pushed out wider on the turn.
Yet Extreme Choice, with new pilot Craig Newitt, convincingly answered Oliver’s main concern about his effectiveness over the 1200 meters. Blasting home in a final time of 1:08.95, Extreme Choice joined an exclusive club of Blue Diamond winners who clocked less than 1:09 – Sepoy, Undoubtedly, Redoute’s Choice and Hurricane Sky, a list helpfully compiled by Racenet.com.au’s Brad Waters.
“Never felt like he was going to lose,” Newitt said. “He dead-set cantered up to them. I knew the pink colors (Flying Artie) were coming but I was never going to lose.”
That debate will be settled in the March 19 Golden Slipper (G1).
In other action from Caulfield, Turn Me Loose did indeed improve second-up to garner the Futurity (G1), Flamberge upset the Oakleigh Plate (G1) at 30-1, and Godolphin’s Bow Creek turned in some brilliant sectionals to get up in the Peter Young (G2) after a tardy start.
Planning department: Trainer Ken McPeek is eyeing the British classics for Dothraki Queen, which appears quixotic until you think about a couple of fillies over here named Songbird and Cathryn Sophia. Why not swing for the fences with a turf-bred filly out of a half-sister to Hong Kong legend Electronic Unicorn?
“She certainly has the talent to be competitive over a mile – you don’t come to a gunfight with a water pistol,” McPeek told PA Sport.
“People don’t know that I have been taking horses to England since long before Wesley Ward began to do so and almost every one of my runners there has pleased me.”
Mike de Kock is already mapping out his plans for Cape Guineas (G1) hero Noah from Goa, who’s due to leave on the next shipment out of South Africa. The 2017 Godolphin Mile (G2) is his long-range aim, but de Kock told the Dubai Racing Channel’s Laura King that he could make Hong Kong’s International Races in December if he comes to hand early enough.
Hong Kong’s sidelined Horse of the Year Able Friend is beginning his convalescence in Australia. Trainer Moore is hoping that if his tendon heals sufficiently, he might be able to continue his racing career Down Under.
“Frankly, I think bringing him all the way back to Hong Kong first then finding out whether he can stand a prep or not sounds like an expensive exercise, potentially a waste of a lot of money if he can’t stand training or recover his form.
“The healing process will take as long as it takes, so whether it’s the Melbourne spring or later, nobody knows at this stage,” Moore told the SCMP’s Alan Aitken.
Australian retirements: Money-spinning mare Catkins has been retired after failing to show her old enthusiasm. Boban and Rich Enuff both bled in their latest, and Va Pensiero’s tendon problem has resurfaced, prompting connections to end their careers.