2019 Jockey Club Derby international scouting reports: Spanish Mission, San Huberto, Pedro Cara

The New York Racing Association’s inaugural Turf Triple concludes Saturday with the longest contest in the series, the 1 1/2-mile Jockey Club Derby.

Time will tell if the “Win and You’re In” provision yields a Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) runner, but the $1 million purse has lured three European shippers proven at the distance – one a clear standout on form and the other two looking for continued improvement.

SPANISH MISSION

The pick of the trio is British shipper Spanish Mission, who would have been a contender in the classic St Leger (G1) at Doncaster next Saturday if this spot hadn’t existed. As a U.S. Triple Crown nominee owned by Earle Mack and Team Valor, the Kentucky-bred has been on my radar since early this year.

Trainer David Simcock is no stranger to North American raids with the likes of last year’s Canadian International (G1) winner Desert Encounter, 2014 Woodbine Mile (G1) hero Trade Storm who capped a graded sweep that day for the yard, and 2012 Beverly D. (G1) vixen I’m a Dreamer.

By Noble Mission – Frankel’s brother now famous for siring Travers (G1) hero Code of Honor – Spanish Mission is out of the French stakes-winning Limonar, a Street Cry half-sister to Grade 1 winner Talco. Limonar, also the dam of Group 2-placed stakes scorer Mokarris, hails from the phenomenal female line responsible for Nureyev and Sadler’s Wells. (Note that Spanish Mission descends from Sadler’s Wells on his sire’s side, with Noble Mission being by Galileo.)

Spanish Mission sold for $125,000 as a Keeneland September yearling but RNA’d for 60,000 guineas ($89,422) as a two-year-old in training at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-up. He raced for the Tick Tock Partnership until his current owners acquired him privately and kept him with Simcock.

Starting out on Chelmsford’s Polytrack last fall, Spanish Mission closed from well back for a slightly green, but encouraging, third. He stretched out from a mile to 10 furlongs for a conditions race at the same track and improved markedly. While still learning on the job as he figured out how to switch leads, Spanish Mission easily rolled past favored Massam who’d won twice already. At this point he picked up his new American owners.

Spanish Mission returned to action in the March 6 Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions S. at Kempton, a points race on the European Road scoreboard. The cutback to a mile didn’t suit him so well, but he stayed on for fifth, not beaten much for second, under a considerate ride by Jamie Spencer.

Thereafter tackling longer distances on turf, Spanish Mission has begun to show his true ability. In the 1 3/8-mile Cocked Hat S. at Goodwood, he closed stoutly on the inside and nearly sprang a 20-1 upset of John Gosden’s hotpot Private Secretary. Spanish Mission was just collared by the favorite’s sharper change of gear in the final strides.

The 1 5/8-mile Bahrain Trophy (G3) during Newmarket’s July Festival proved the perfect canvas for Spanish Mission. Good-to-firm ground on a galloping course enabled him to use his stride to best effect, and a fast pace set by a tearaway leader likewise played to his strengths. As the field swallowed up the spent pacesetter, Spanish Mission engaged Mark Johnston’s solid Nayef Road. He took a little more time to get organized and then powered four lengths clear – in a course-record 2:39.96.

Nayef Road exacted revenge in their rematch in the Gordon S. (G3) at Glorious Goodwood. Spanish Mission was stuck behind horses, and once maneuvering into the clear, he couldn’t quicken in time. Nayef Road kept his neck in front of Aidan O’Brien’s Constantinople (subsequently the runner-up to St Leger favorite Logician in the Great Voltigeur [G2]), and Spanish Mission was another head away in third.

His Team Valor colleague Technician finished sixth, but rebounded to upstage older horses in the Geoffrey Freer (G3), and he now carries their hopes in the St Leger. Jalmoud (more on him in Pedro Cara’s report below) was only seventh in the Gordon, and eight-placer Leo de Fury proved the result all wrong when coming back to miss by a head in the Royal Whip (G3).

Had Spanish Mission gotten free earlier in the Gordon, perhaps the result might have been different. But the fact remains that he’s a work in progress. He has a tendency to break in a leisurely manner, and think about things as he’s delivering his rally.

If it’s worth wondering whether Goodwood’s peculiarities accentuate his own, Spanish Mission should be just the type to find Belmont Park congenial, unless too much rain materializes. The weather is the potential concern, aside from his being short of peak maturity.

SAN HUBERTO

Trainer Fabrice Chappet initially had the French program for three-year-old stayers in mind, but now that Australian-based OTI Racing swooped in for a half-share of the colt, their new recruit’s ambitions have been broadened.

Not a typical son of Speightstown, San Huberto gets stamina from his dam, 2012 Prix du Royaumont (G3) heroine Sediciosa. She is a daughter of 2006 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Rail Link, from the further family of Japanese champion Neo Universe.

San Huberto debuted April 13 at Chantilly, where he finished a one-paced third in an about 1 3/16-mile newcomers’ race on the all-weather. He promptly scored next out on the switch to the Saint-Cloud turf. Judging by how he wore down the longtime leader late in the about 1 5/16-mile maiden, San Huberto wanted even further.

Chappet pitched him straight into stakes company in the about 1 1/2-mile Coupe de Trois Ans at Lyon -Parilly. While the form isn’t very meaningful, San Huberto picked up with authority and won well.

That merited a crack at the Prix Hocquart (G2), but San Huberto wound up last of five behind Godolphin’s bold front runner Al Hilalee. Chappet took the blame for the flop, citing faulty tactics as the cause of his only unplaced effort so far. Considering that San Huberto had used the same close stalking style in his prior two victories, the trainer was arguably too hard on himself. The difference here, in addition to the class hike, was that the pace was stronger as well.

San Huberto was ridden in entirely different fashion last out in the about 1 3/4-mile Prix Michel Houyvet, although dropping back to listed level likely helped too. In a last-to-first move, San Huberto produced a sparkling turn of foot to run down the Aga Khan’s favored, and hitherto unbeaten, Verimli.

The close fourth-placer Battle of Toro serves as a pretty consistent yardstick, having just missed to Team Valor’s aforementioned Technician in the Prix Ridgway and placed a distant second to French Derby (G1) star Sottsass earlier in the season in the Prix de Suresnes.

San Huberto makes his first start in the colors of OTI Racing, which already celebrated a coup here with Amade in the June 7 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (G2). Flavien Prat, aboard that day, also picks up the mount on San Huberto from his regular rider Tony Piccone. Ironically, Piccone is at Belmont himself to maintain his partnership with Pedro Cara.

PEDRO CARA

Although Pedro Cara has taken a lower-profile path, the Mauricio Delcher Sanchez pupil enters on the upswing with stealthy form in the book.

The bargain €23,000 ($26,979) Arqana November yearling purchase is by the Henrythenavigator stallion Pedro the Great, best known as the sire of last year’s Del Mar Oaks (G1) queen Fatale Bere. Pedro Cara’s dam, the Akarad mare Magic Cara, has produced a notable hurdler in Extreme Cara as well as a couple of non-black-type stakes performers on the Flat. But you can find plenty going back to fourth dam Bell Song, whose high-class daughter Circus Ring is the ancestress of Hong Kong legend Viva Pataca and Australian champion Serenade Rose, among others.

Pedro Cara raced twice at two. Making late headway when seventh over a metric mile on debut at Deauville, he rallied from last to finish a useful third at Saint-Cloud going about 1 1/4 miles. The bay gelding resurfaced February 28 on Lyon la Soie’s all-weather, where he settled a few lengths off the pace instead of at the rear, cruised into contention on the final turn, and drew off as much the best.

Back on the turf for an about 1 1/2-mile conditions race at Nantes, Pedro Cara again secured good early position. He took a strong hold in fourth, asserted into the stretch under good handling, and won with something in reserve.

Cuadra Miranda SLU bought into the promising sophomore ahead of his class hike in the May 4 Prix de l’Avre. The listed stakes produced an inconclusive result, as Pedro Cara was beaten a shade more than a length in fifth. The crawl early/sprint-for-home race shape didn’t help, and he was caught flatfooted at the rear when the pace lifted. Nevertheless he did make up some ground to be part of the blanket finish.

On their best day, the top two from the Prix de l’Avre have made the form look decent. The winner Jalmoud has been hit or miss since, but he can boast a second to highly regarded Headman in the Prix Eugene Adam (G2) and a close third to top sophomore Japan in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1). Runner-up Soft Light has also factored when filling the same spot to Al Hilalee in the Hocquart and to the older Ziyad in the Grand Prix de Deauville (G2) (beating favored Nagano Gold). Underscoring how the l’Avre form ties into the Hocquart, Godolphin’s Khagan was third in both.

Pedro Cara has crossed the wire first in both subsequent starts, only to be demoted from a hard-fought success in the Spanish Derby at Madrid’s La Zarzuela. He did come in under right-handed urging and bumped Axioco who was awarded the victory.

His ensuing score in the July 19 Prix Frederic de Lagrange at Vichy is more instructive. Advancing down the lane, Pedro Cara altered course and muscled his way between foes to overturn the Aga Khan’s favored Rayapour and Qatar Racing’s filly Lucky Lycra (who just came back to win a listed stakes at Maisons-Laffitte).

Like San Huberto, Pedro Cara arrives with something to prove at this level and a resume suggesting he’s capable of further progress. Interestingly both are engaged in the about 1 7/8-mile Prix Chaudenay (G2) for three-year-olds on Arc weekend, a target Delcher Sanchez reportedly had mentioned after Vichy.