With its distance trimmed to a flat mile, the character of the Secretariat (G1) has changed, but Aidan O’Brien ensured that the Arlington Million Day fixture is still attracting notable international representation. The master of Ballydoyle has used the Secretariat in the past to showcase a few stable stars, including globetrotter extraordinaire Highland Reel (2015). The question now is whether the revamped race will be as happy a hunting ground for O’Brien, or tip the scales in favor of Chad Brown, as I wrote in the Million Day pre-entries blog:
O’Brien has had greater success in the three-year-old feature, scoring four victories in its former guise as a 1 1/4-mile test. Compare that tally to his *two in the Million (with an asterisk since Powerscourt was disqualified in 2004, or else O’Brien would have had three) and his shut-out in the Beverly D. In contrast, Brown has captured the Secretariat just once, compared to three Millions and five runnings of the Beverly D. (including the past four in a row). The reconfiguration might enhance his Secretariat prospects.O’Brien’s Secretariat hopes are a study in contrasts. Never No More has loads of upside but returns from a layoff, while Van Beethoven is thoroughly exposed but coming out of much deeper races.
NEVER NO MOREA €300,000 ($354,420) Goffs Orby yearling, Never No More hails from the first crop of No Nay Never. The Scat Daddy stallion has already made a splash by siring the brilliant Ten Sovereigns, who just dominated the July Cup (G1), and his second-crop includes Coventry (G2) hero Arizona. Never No More descends from the same female line as multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Winchester, conqueror of the 2008 Secretariat by 7 1/4 lengths in a time faster than the Million. Debuting over five furlongs at Naas last September, the chestnut was off a beat slow, raced a tad greenly, and finished well for second to streetwise stablemate All the King’s Men. Never No More learned enough to score next time on the Dundalk Polytrack, stalking the leaders before pulling away stylishly at the same trip. Jockey Donnacha O’Brien (Aidan’s son) commented to irishracing.com:
He’s smart. He impressed me there, I hadn’t ridden him a whole lot at home. He had a good run the last day behind a decent horse and he made no mistake today. He feels smart. He traveled smooth, he’s still a little bit raw, and when I hit him a flick he quickened up nicely.Never No More accordingly was dispatched as the even-money favorite in the Legacy S. at Navan nine days later. His fans had an inkling early on that he wasn’t going to fire, for he never traveled with fluency and regressed to seventh behind old foe All the King’s Men. Reappearing at the beginning of the Irish Flat season March 24, Never No More rebounded with a convincing display in a premier handicap at Naas. He had no difficulty stepping up to seven furlongs on yielding-to-soft going, or toting 133 pounds, when slogging 3 3/4 lengths clear. Never No More then passed a serious class test in the April 6 Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial, collaring hitherto unbeaten odds-on favorite Madhmoon. Granted, he was capitalizing on race-fitness, while comebacker Madhmoon was merely prepping for his classic targets, and the three-pound weight break might have made a difference late. Still, Madhmoon was two lengths ahead of the rest, and it took some performance from Never No More to run down a colt of his quality in full flight. Madhmoon, who had dusted Broome in the KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2) in his prior start, has since held his own in classics from a mile to 1 1/2 miles. Sheikh Hamdan’s runner rallied for fourth in the 2000 Guineas (G1) (one spot ahead of the non-staying Ten Sovereigns) and missed by a half-length when second in the Derby (G1) at Epsom.
Never No More would have been intriguing in the French 2000 Guineas (G1). Unfortunately, he was scratched from the May 12 classic and sidelined thereafter. O’Brien has given him a raft of Group 1 entries for the rest of the season, and even flirted with the July 31 Sussex (G1) at Glorious Goodwood – a Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) “Win and You’re In” – before opting for Arlington. The Secretariat isn’t an easy spot off the four-month break, especially being his first race outside of Ireland. But it’s not as brutal as tackling the Sussex or his alternative engagement this weekend, Sunday’s Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) at Deauville. Considering how well Never No More ran in his 2019 debut, he might be less in need of a race than a typical O’Brien off the bench. Nevertheless, it is his first try at a mile, and whatever he does in Chicago will bring him on for a fall campaign. Note that he’s untested on a course as firm as Arlington’s likely to be, but both his pedigree and action suggest he’d handle it fine.
NEVER NO MORE WINS 2000 GUINEAS TRIAL 🇮🇪Madhmoon is handed his first ever defeat as Never No More finishes best to win under Ryan Moore at @LeopardstownRC pic.twitter.com/L0VhQCAm7Y — World Horse Racing (@WHR) April 6, 2019