Just one European shipper has turned up for the Woodbine Mile (G1), but she’s brought a stablemate along for the Canadian (G2), and Godolphin sends the one to beat in the Northern Dancer Turf (G1). We’ll combine their international scouting reports as a package deal for Saturday’s card.
WOODBINE MILE: AWESOMETANK
North American fans have already gotten a glimpse of Woodbine Mile hopeful Awesometank, best of the rest behind champion Sistercharlie in the course record-setting Beverly D. (G1) on Arlington Million Day.
As covered in detail in the Beverly D. international scouting report, the William Haggas trainee arrived at Arlington as a multiple listed winner sporting a trio of Group 3 placings. Buried in that bare summary was a key formline: she’d traded decisions with Group 1 performer Veracious when runner-up in both last year’s Atalanta (G3) and the June 1 Princess Elizabeth (G3) at Epsom.
Moreover, Awesometank’s second to My Sister Nat (Sistercharlie’s half-sibling) in last September’s Prix Bertrand de Tarragon (G3) at about 1 1/8 miles offered some hope that the miler could cope with the Beverly D.’s 1 3/16 miles. To do herself justice at Arlington, however, the pace factor couldn’t overdo it early with Sistercharlie’s rabbit.
Jockey Florent Geroux was well aware of that, letting Thais the pacemaker go and having Awesometank in the perfect spot to swoop when she faltered. Of course Sistercharlie swooped too, but Awesometank made the most of her placement to hold second by daylight from the belated efforts of Competitionofideas and Fleeting.
Haggas, speaking to Woodbine publicity this week, commented on both the Beverly D. experience and plans for Awesometank to remain in North America:
She ran a terrific race in Chicago. She took to the training really well. As soon as she got there, she loved being ponied on the track. She was relaxed and calm. I knew she was going to run well because she’d gone into the race well.
We’ve had her from a yearling. She’s always been a very sound, very tough, very consistent filly. She upgraded her performances in Chicago. The plan is to leave her in America now. After she runs in Canada, she’ll go down to Keeneland to run. We’ll take it from there.
Although the Woodbine Mile is back at her usual trip, Awesometank is now trying males and bumping into another high-class distaffer in Got Stormy. On the plus side, she carries a light impost of 116 pounds – seven fewer than the co-highweights including Got Stormy, Synchrony, and Raging Bull, and three fewer than value play Lucullan. Still, her two prior Group attempts against males didn’t end well.
The greater question is that Awesometank faces an entirely different race dynamic, with John Egan aboard for the first time. Instead of taking advantage of a relatively smaller field stretched out by Sistercharlie’s pacemaker, she’ll have to cope with a greater number of proper rivals and a more conventional race shape.
Finally, given the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” angle, it’s worth remembering that Haggas’ best runner in this division is One Master. A close fifth in the 2018 Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs, the Lael Stables mare has placed in this summer’s Queen Anne (G1) at Royal Ascot and Falmouth (G1) (just failing to run down Veracious). Awesometank’s current vein of form must be respected, but she doesn’t match up with past female winners of this race in its turf incarnation, Ventura (2009) and Tepin (2016).
NORTHERN DANCER TURF: OLD PERSIAN
In contrast, the European in the other Grade 1 on the card, the 1 1/2-mile Northern Dancer Turf, is entitled to win with anything close to his best. Hence Old Persian has been installed as the even-money favorite on the morning line for this course-and-distance stepping stone to the October 12 Canadian International (G1).
As the reigning Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) winner from the yard of Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby, Old Persian might evoke the specter of Hawkbill, twice the beaten favorite here. In 2017 Hawkbill arrived at Woodbine for the first time in good form, only to get outdueled by Johnny Bear on turf really firm for him. If he’d gotten a bit of give in the ground, Hawkbill might well have justified odds-on favoritism. By the time he tried again in 2018, Hawkbill had fallen off form, and although the return to 1 1/2 miles should have helped, he wound up eighth in his final start.
The Hawkbill parallel wouldn’t bode well, but circumstances suggest Old Persian will rewrite the narrative. Old Persian does have a few points of commonality with Hawkbill in that he scored major wins at three, developed into a Dubai Carnival star, and bombed in the Coronation Cup (G1) in his first start back since Meydan. But Old Persian’s last start has more in common with the near-miss Hawkbill of the 2017 Northern Dancer Turf than the pale shadow of the Hawkbill of 2018. He’s also effective on firm, and unless the forecast underestimates the rain chances, conditions should be fine.
By Dubawi and from the family of Breeders’ Cup Mile legend Miesque, the homebred is out of the Singspiel mare Indian Petal, a half-sister to 2007 Ribblesdale (G2) winner Silkwood and juvenile Group 2 heroine Silent Honor. Old Persian won twice from four starts at two (notably drubbing Gronkowski in his last turf try before he switched to synthetic and dirt). Although he ended his 2017 campaign on a sour note, finishing seventh as the 6-5 favorite in the Silver Tankard, the soft going at Pontefract might have been a factor.
In any event Old Persian promised to improve with age, and has done so. After just scraping home as the top weight in a Newmarket handicap in his sophomore bow, he was outkicked by favored stablemate Key Victory in the Newmarket S. over the same 1 1/4-mile trip. Old Persian was shaping as though he wanted further. That impression was renewed when he stayed at 1 1/4 miles for the Fairway, again at Newmarket, and was all out to prevail as the 1-2 favorite from synthetic specialist Court House.
Old Persian hit his stride once stepping up to 1 1/2 miles for the 2018 King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, prompting the pace before driving clear of Aidan O’Brien’s Rostropovich in the stretch. The form was turned upside down in a near merry-go-round Irish Derby (G1). Rostropovich almost nicked it, only to be collared by the tracking Latrobe, and Old Persian never landed a blow from off the pace in sixth.
Reverting to handier tactics helped Old Persian reach a new high in last summer’s Great Voltigeur (G2) at York. On the premises to overtake the Ballydoyle rabbit, he held the late thrust of favored stablemate Cross Counter. The Great Voltigeur turned out to be a key race. Not only did Cross Counter come back to take the Melbourne Cup (G1), but third-placer Kew Gardens moved forward to capture the St Leger (G1).
Old Persian also tried his luck in the Doncaster classic, but found the extended 1 3/4 miles beyond him. He traveled well much of the way, still on the bridle as he joined the line of contention and briefly put his head in front, until the final stages separated the true stayers. His fifth looks better in the watching than on paper.
Next sighted at the Dubai World Cup Carnival, Old Persian was trapped in a pocket in Super Saturday’s Dubai City of Gold (G2), then broke free in time to get up on the wire. The Dubai Sheema Classic on World Cup night featured a deeper field, but Old Persian rose to the occasion to defeat a Japanese juggernaut including Cheval Grand, Suave Richard, and the disappointing Rey de Oro along with O’Brien globetrotters Hunting Horn and Magic Wand. While the other headliners were below form, Old Persian peaked to turn the same Dubai double as Hawkbill.
That made him one of the leading contenders in the May 31 Coronation Cup. Like Hawkbill, Old Persian threw in a clunker at Epsom, trudging home seventh of nine behind Defoe and familiar rival Kew Gardens.
Appleby gave him a summer holiday, and after initially thinking of the Arlington Million, Old Persian returned in the August 11 Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1). Hawkbill had placed second in the same Hoppegarten feature going into the 2017 Northern Dancer Turf, and Old Persian’s close third is a similar level of form. The sit/sprint race shape put a premium on a turn of foot that suited the progressive French King. Old Persian stayed on dourly and just missed the runner-up spot to fellow British shipper Communique, a multiple Group 2 hero who capitalized on the steady pace.
While not up to his Sheema heroics, Old Persian’s Berlin effort showed he’s in good heart going into Woodbine. The 126-pound highweight promises to enjoy the broad, galloping course, and should be able to keep close tabs on Tiz a Slam – if new rider Jamie Spencer takes up a perch early.
CANADIAN: MAGNETIC CHARM
Haggas has found a graded opportunity, if no soft spot, for a Royal colorbearer who hasn’t checked that box at home. Yet Magnetic Charm is well regarded enough to have been given high-profile entries, the next being the Sun Chariot (G1) on October 5 at Newmarket.
Owned by Queen Elizabeth II, the Godolphin-bred filly is an Exceed and Excel half-sister to European highweight Usherette, whose marquee win came in the 2016 Duke of Cambridge (G2) at Royal Ascot. Their dam, German stakes-placed Monday Show, is a full sister to Grade 2 winner Expansion, from the further family of Vespone and Purple Moon.
Magnetic Charm rolled to a 3 1/2-length wire job second time out at two, but her Group tilts didn’t pan out as she finished sixth in the Prestige (G3) and a troubled fourth in the May Hill (G2) to Fleeting. Connections believed those weren’t true reflections of her ability, on ground not as quick as ideal.
Resurfacing in the May 17 Michael Seely Memorial, Magnetic Charm rallied to upset John Gosden’s Twist ‘n’ Shake, the subsequent fourth-placer in Royal Ascot’s Coronation (G1) and most recently productive in France.
Magnetic Charm had the option of the Coronation, but Haggas went for the more realistic spot of the Sandringham in hopes of handing The Queen a winner at Royal Ascot. The plan nearly worked, but she was thwarted by the 33-1 Thanks Be (subsequently snapped up by a partnership including Madaket Stables and now training at Saratoga). Nevertheless it was a game try under top weight of 133 pounds, spotting the winner 21 pounds, on drying-out ground. Fourth Coral Beach has made a couple of transatlantic treks for O’Brien, with no luck behind Concrete Rose in the Belmont Oaks (G1) or Saratoga Oaks.
In her only ensuing start, Magnetic Charm was third as the odds-on favorite in the July 26 Valiant to the progressive Duneflower and Look Around. (Those two came back to place second and third, respectively, to Lavender’s Blue in the Atalanta.) Magnetic Charm was outpaced late but kept on as if nine furlongs in North American conditions could suit.
Hoping the rain stays away, Magnetic Charm gets in with a feathery 110 pounds. Co-highweights Competitionofideas, Holy Helena, and Touriga give her 11 pounds, and the lone sophomore will need the help to tackle those salty older distaffers.