Panoramic photo of Soldier’s Call (c) Jamie Newell/Horsephotos.com
The inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint was expected to be of interest to Europe’s speedy brigade, and so it proved with half of the 12-horse field shipping across the Atlantic. The proportion is higher if you include three of the also-eligibles in the oversubscribed group of 16.
Interestingly, Europe’s grizzled veterans in the division have been out of luck in the Turf Sprint (G1) proper, dating back to its first edition in 2008. Whatever my pet theories about that, the same trend is unlikely to hold for the European juveniles.
Last year’s non-Breeders’ Cup predecessor to this race lends substance to that opinion. In Del Mar’s Juvenile Turf Sprint last November, Europeans swept the superfecta. The top two finishers, Declarationofpeace and Sound and Silence, both featured in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot. In a case of the “last shall be first,” Declarationofpeace had run dead last behind the victorious Sound and Silence in the Windsor Castle. Once again that Royal Ascot stakes could have a significant bearing in this upgraded event.
SERGEI PROKOFIEV: After beginning the season as one of Aidan O’Brien’s highly touted juveniles, Sergei Prokofiev underperformed in the middle, but has come full circle and arrives in peak form.
The son of Scat Daddy was bet down to 4-9 favoritism in his unveiling on Dundalk’s Polytrack, but the green-as-grass colt was treated very tenderly and went down by a head to Skitter Scatter. The result assumed greater importance as the season progressed, for Skitter Scatter ended up turning the Debutante (G2)/Moyglare Stud (G1) double. Note that debut gave him racing experience around a turn, a rare resume point (shared by Pocket Dynamo).
Sergei Prokofiev was wiser next time at Navan, quickening right away on a yielding-to-soft course to win for fun. After dominating again on good-to-firm in the Rochestown S. at Naas, he confirmed his status as a leading Royal Ascot contender.
Instead of sticking to five furlongs for the Norfolk (G2), Sergei Prokofiev stepped up to six for the more prestigious Coventry (G2). He performed well, but ran into a star in Calyx, and couldn’t quite outfinish Advertise for second. In hindsight, it’s tempting to think Sergei Prokofiev would have won the Norfolk, since his less exciting stablemate Land Force was a close third.
While Calyx was subsequently sidelined, Advertise continued to advertise the form by winning the July (G2) and Phoenix (G1) and placing second to standout Too Darn Hot in the Dewhurst (G1).
Sergei Prokofiev, however, did not build on the form, likely due to the effects of the Ballydoyle virus. Uncharacteristically hard to handle early in the Phoenix, he pulled fiercely and weakened to last behind Advertise. Not seen again until the Middle Park (G1), Sergei was slowly away and never involved in seventh behind unbeaten stablemate Ten Sovereigns.
Fewer than two weeks later, Sergei turned up at Newmarket again a different horse. The cutback to five furlongs, and class drop, for the Cornwallis (G3) don’t by themselves account for his dazzling last-to-first victory. Here was his old spark back again, even better since he scythed through the entire field to win going away from a decent yardstick in Well Done Fox.
A resurgent Sergei Prokofiev can produce a similarly devastating kick here, given plenty of pace and his prior proficiency over a rain-affected track.
SOLDIER’S CALL: A neck away from becoming the first two-year-old in 40 years to beat elders in the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1), Soldier’s Call is the most accomplished of his crop at five furlongs. And up-and-coming young trainer Archie Watson revealed this was his target all the way back at Royal Ascot.
By Showcasing, the sire of European champion sprinter Quiet Reflection, Soldier’s Call has won or placed in all seven starts. He was runner-up on debut at Lingfield, chasing the winner who set a juvenile course record on turf, but bossed them on the front end next time at Haydock.
Soldier’s Call passed his first class test in Royal Ascot’s Windsor Castle (last year’s key race). In the vanguard throughout the 28-horse cavalry charge, he kept on relentlessly to beat several of his Juvenile Turf Sprint rivals, from (the also-eligible) Van Beethoven (fourth) and Well Done Fox (eighth) to Moonlight Romance (13th) and lukewarm favorite Queen of Bermuda (17th).
Favored to follow up in the Molecomb (G3) at Glorious Goodwood, Soldier’s Call was out of rhythm from the start. He broke leftward from the gate, bumped with eventual winner Rumble Inthejungle, never made the lead, and boxed on for an out-of-sorts third.
Soldier’s Call didn’t get a flyer in the Prix d’Arenberg (G3) at Chantilly, but the odds-on favorite quickly organized himself and had too much speed for them. Queen of Bermuda made eye-catching progress to cut the margin to a length. At Doncaster for the Flying Childers (G2), Soldier’s Call broke brilliantly and held sway throughout, reiterating his supremacy over Well Done Fox and gaining revenge on a subpar Rumble Inthejungle.
By holding his own versus older horses in the Abbaye on Arc Day, Soldier’s Call raised his stature. He pressed favorite and defending champion Battaash, dueled him into submission, and began to edge away, only to get nailed late by Mabs Cross and Gold Vibe. Note that the eighth-placer, Havana Grey, had captured the “Win and You’re In” Flying Five (G1) en route to Saturday’s Turf Sprint (G1).
Soldier’s Call will try to blitz them on the front end here, but he figures to have company, on the most testing ground he’s ever seen. Still, his class can carry him a long way.
SO PERFECT: O’Brien’s other runner brings outstanding form, the only caveat being the connections’ indecisiveness about whether to go here or stretch out for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Hence this 5 1/2-furlong dash around a turn could be a bit sharp for So Perfect, unless the turf is so soft as to make it into more of a test.
By Scat Daddy like stablemate Sergei Prokofiev, So Perfect also broke her maiden on yielding-to-soft at Navan, but did so by getting up late in her career debut. After a troubled trip in the Naas Fillies’ Sprint contributed to her fourth-place effort at odds-on, she did herself justice when a far better fourth in the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot. She didn’t quite have the five-furlong speed of the top three at that level, but was beaten a grand total of a half-length.
So Perfect earned her first stakes score over six furlongs in the Grangecon Stud Fillies’ S. (G3). Doing her best work in the final yards at the Curragh, she collared Skitter Scatter, who then went on a three-race winning spree culminating in the aforementioned Moyglare Stud.
The fourth @Ballydoyle winner at the Irish Derby Festival backing up from Royal Ascot – beaten under a length in the Queen Mary, So Perfect gets up in the Group 3 Grangecon Stud Stakes under Ryan Moore at @curraghrace: pic.twitter.com/YHXZEXz42I— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) July 1, 2018
Instead of taking the fillies’ path like Skitter Scatter, So Perfect ventured forth against males in the Phoenix. Again she stayed on strongly the farther they went, coming up just a half-length shy of Advertise as Sergei disappointed. So Perfect collected another major placing in the Cheveley Park (G1) at Newmarket, where she struck the front but was edged up the rising ground by stablemate Fairyland and Juvenile Fillies Turf contender The Mackem Bullet.
With her consistency and ground-independence, So Perfect is qualified to be involved at the finish. It’s just a quibble if the wire comes too soon for her to win, and she settles for a minor award.
QUEEN OF BERMUDA: Making her final start for William Haggas before joining Graham Motion, the Exceed and Excel filly is capable of outperforming her odds on softish going. She also has plenty of experience with 10 starts to her name, several versus males including Soldier’s Call.
Favored in her first four starts, Queen of Bermuda improved from a debut second at Ascot to win by daylight at Thirsk and Windsor, handily beating the useful Duke of Hazzard. That made her the lukewarm 11-2 market leader over 27 rivals in the aforementioned Windsor Castle, where she flopped in the only poor performance of her life.
Queen of Bermuda came a lot closer to Soldier’s Call – about a length – in their two subsequent meetings. Although both were below their best in the Molecomb, each tried valiantly, and Queen of Bermuda was fifth to his third. Back on song in the Prix d’Arenberg, she was a hard-charging second to Soldier’s Call in a fast :56.76 at Chantilly. Haggas reportedly blamed himself for the tactics that day.
Her stakes victories have come in easier spots. She rallied furiously to run down multiple stakes performer Barbill (subsequently third to Sergei in the Cornwallis) in the Prix de la Vallee d’Auge at Deauville, and in her first attempt going up to six furlongs, she coped fluently with Ayr’s heavy ground to win the Firth of Clyde (G3) going away.
It’s a second Group winner for William Haggas this afternoon as Joe Fanning guides Queen of Bermuda home in the William Hill Firth Of Clyde Stakes pic.twitter.com/ghlnEfhFaw— Ayr Racecourse (@ayrracecourse) September 22, 2018
Queen of Bermuda found the Cheveley Park a much stiffer assignment, likely as a Group 1 but possibly also meeting top-class rivals on good-to-firm. She acts in all conditions herself, but might require rain to help her at the highest level. Trying to lift on the far side, she stalled up the rising ground and finished seventh, three lengths adrift of Fairyland.
In a testament to her hardiness, Queen of Bermuda delivered another creditable effort in her 10th outing, placing second to the colt Hello Youmzain in the six-furlong Criterium de Maisons-Lafitte (G2) on soft.
WELL DONE FOX: The King Power colorbearer represents the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Leicester City Football Club Chairman who was just tragically killed in the helicopter crash leaving the stadium. His name an allusion to the Leicester City Foxes, he’ll be carrying the hopes of everyone mourning his owner. Well Done Fox is also the only King Power runner to compete this week, both a sign of respect to Srivaddhanaprabha and recognition of the importance of the Breeders’ Cup to make it the exception.
Trained by Richard Hannon, Well Done Fox is the type who looks just below the top rank, but comes off two fine seconds to the principals. Like Queen of Bermuda, he was unplaced in the Windsor Castle and Molecomb, and has raised his game in the latter part of the season.
Well Done Fox just missed to future Molecomb scorer Rumble Inthejungle at Salisbury second time out, then outclassed three rivals as the prohibitive odds-on favorite over the same course. After his eighth in the Windsor Castle, he split foes to capture the Dragon S. at Sandown. His seventh in the Molecomb might be chalked up to tactics, for he probably didn’t want to be the pacesetter but prefers to stalk.
Rebounding next time in the Roses S. at York, Well Done Fox pounced but had to dig deep to repel Windsor Castle runner-up Sabre (the eventual third) and fast-finishing Deia Glory.
A game performance from Well Done Fox to take the Julia Graves Roses Stakes for @rhannonracing and complete a fine day for Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after Beat The Bank’s Goodwood success #Ebor— Racing UK (@racing_uk) August 25, 2018
Results https://t.co/7iJOPsdIyZ pic.twitter.com/0kAslIAptd
Well Done Fox has put up his best ratings in his two most recent, both runner-up performances. Best of the rest behind Soldier’s Call in the Flying Childers, he could have thought he’d made the winning move in the Cornwallis, only to get overwhelmed by Sergei Prokofiev.
Those performances suggest that if the leading players don’t bring their A game, Well Done Fox could be the type to capitalize. But he must raise his game on the day, and as with so many others, the ground is a question mark. While his Salisbury victory came on good-to-soft, his highlights have all been on quicker going.
POCKET DYNAMO: Trainer Robert Cowell, who has quite a knack for sprinters, believes this race is a perfect fit for the Kentucky-bred son of Dialed In.
Racing greenly in first two starts, Pocket Dynamo was a good second at Brighton before scoring over Chelmsford’s Polytrack – both involving a left-hand turn. Third time out at ParisLongchamp, he showed a new quality – terrific determination to keep his head in front in a conditions race.
That form did not catch the eye when Pocket Dynamo tried the big stage at Royal Ascot. But the 20-1 longshot in the “Win and You’re In” Norfolk almost beat Wesley Ward’s Shang Shang Shang, tracking her speed and pouncing to come up a whisker short. Phoenix Thoroughbreds was suitably impressed to snap him up as a Juvenile Turf Sprint prospect.
In his debut for Phoenix in the Prix Robert Papin (G2), he set the pace, began to labor, and checked in fourth behind fellow Phoenix recruit Signora Cabello, the Queen Mary winner (and future Prix Morny [G1] runner-up). He tried hard or else he would have been beaten more than 1 1/4 lengths. Cowell noted that Pocket Dynamo’s much better being able to follow the speed than carve it out himself – just the scenario on tap in the Breeders’ Cup.
Pocket Dynamo reportedly exited France with an illness and missed the rest of the summer. Cowell got him ready for a Breeders’ Cup prep in the aforementioned Cornwallis. Although he figured to need the race, he was embroiled in scrimmaging in traffic well back. The positive was that he finished well, once clear, for fifth behind Sergei.
As an ultra-genuine sort, Pocket Dynamo is likeable, but rates as more of an exotics player unless he improves on the bare form from the Norfolk. Granted, the Norfolk was the fastest of the three five-furlong juvenile stakes at Royal Ascot (including the Windsor Castle). And the Norfolk third and fourth boosted the form at Glorious Goodwood, Land Force in the Richmond (G2) and Rumble Inthejungle in the Molecomb. Still, it’s not as compelling as the principals’ best form.
Postscript: In the interests of posting this sooner rather than later, I’m holding off on the also-eligibles. Check back for an update Friday if any of the internationals draws in.