Although the European-raced contenders in Sunday’s Summer (G1) and Natalma (G1) don’t stand out on form, the variables of two-year-olds experiencing different rates of development make them worth a look at Woodbine.

SUMMER: VITALOGY

Recently acquired by the partnership of Qatar Racing and Marc Detampel, Vitalogy has shown enough for trainer Joseph O’Brien to enter him in the October 12 Dewhurst (G1) at Newmarket.

The British-bred son of No Nay Never is out of the stakes-placed Arch mare Sylvestris, who is a close relative of Group 3 winner and classic-placed Arch Swing as well as Archarcharch. They descend from Grade 1 queen Pattern Step, ancestress of 2017 Canadian International (G1) romper Bullards Alley and this year’s Belmont Gold Cup (G2) winner Amade among others.

Vitalogy has appreciated in value in every trip through the auction ring. After RNA’ing for 40,000 guineas ($56,545) as a Tattersalls December weanling, he sold for 80,000 guineas ($110,477) at the same venue as an October yearling, and went to owner Fergus Galvin for €120,000 ($134,772) as a two-year-old in training at Arqana in May.

Overlooked at 25-1 in his Naas unveiling, Vitalogy flew late to nail Jim Bolger’s front runner Arranmore with Aidan O’Brien’s odds-on Harpocrates between them in third. Arranmore was exiting a second to Ballydoyle’s highly regarded Armory, while Harpocrates had been chasing Ireland’s top juvenile, Siskin, and was coming off a fifth to Godolphin star Pinatubo in a juvenile course-record Chesham at Royal Ascot. (Pinatubo is odds-on favorite for his clash with Armory in Sunday’s Vincent O’Brien National [G1] at the Curragh.)

Vitalogy might have been assisted by a five-pound weight break with apprentice Shane Crosse aboard, but his passage wasn’t the smoothest. He had to steer around Harpocrates, appearing to brush with another, and his change of gear was undeniable.

As Joseph O’Brien remarked to irishracing.com, Vitalogy did well to win first up for a yard not intent on cranking them up:

We thought he’d run a nice race but mine first time out are usually raw. When the penny dropped with him in the last half a furlong he quickened up very well.

He looks an above average horse and I’d say that was a decent enough maiden. It was a messy race as they hacked to halfway and then sprinted from there. He will learn plenty as well.

Scratched from Tipperary’s Caravaggio over a mile when the ground came up soft to heavy August 11, Vitalogy headed to York for the August 21 Acomb (G3) during the Ebor Festival, and a rematch with Harpocrates. The newly blinkered Harpocrates was a different proposition, catching his foes flat-footed with a spurt in the stretch. Only Valdermoro was able to run him down (and earn an export to Hong Kong).

Vitalogy was among those off the bridle at that decisive stage, but he regained his momentum and came up a neck shy of third-placer Ropey Guest, who’s also finished sixth in the Coventry (G2), fourth in the Superlative (G2), and third in the Pat Eddery S.

Ropey Guest remains a highly tried maiden, however, after winding up fifth as the favorite in an Ascot novice last Saturday. Harpocrates didn’t advertise the form either when seventh as the favorite in a lucrative (but non-black-type) event at Doncaster Thursday, although his fluffing the start would explain it.

Vitalogy’s performance in the seven-furlong Acomb suggests that a mile could be within his compass at this stage. He’s displayed a willing attitude in both of his appearances, but needs to progress along the learning curve to earn a Breeders’ Cup ticket in this “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile Turf (G1).

SUMMER/NATALMA: SECRET STASH

Purchased privately by Gary Barber fresh off her tour de force maiden score, Irish-bred Secret Stash is cross-entered to the Summer against males and to the Natalma. It could be significant that trainer Mark Casse has booked Flavien Prat to ride her in the Summer, while Tyler Gaffalione is named aboard both Secret Stash and stablemate Diamond Sparkles in the Natalma.

Secret Stash is by Mukhadram, whose best performer so far has surfaced stateside in Sweetest Chant (G3) winner A Bit Special. Out of a half-sister to Hungary’s celebrated Overdose, Secret Stash hails from a family in the news this season through the exploits of Raffle Prize, heroine of the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot and Duchess of Cambridge (G2) and most recently runner-up in the Prix Morny (G1).

The €35,000 ($40,310) Goffs Orby yearling was initially trained by Jessica Harrington. Compromised by a slow start in her Fairyhouse debut, Secret Stash advanced into fifth in a race favoring the forwardly placed. The form hasn’t worked out at all, but that’s academic in light of her ensuing start.

Secret Stash turned up on opening day of Bellewstown’s festival July 3, and the word was out as she was bet down to even-money favoritism. Much more professional this time, she put herself into a tracking position early, overwhelmed the leader turning for home, and drew off by four lengths. The stretch-out to a mile helped too.

Her nearest pursuer, debutante Raven’s Cry, was herself nine lengths clear of third. She’s since complimented Secret Stash by winning her next two at Galway and Killarney, and she’s among the market leaders in Saturday’s Ingabelle to kick off Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown.

Secret Stash’s rider at Bellewstown, Shane Foley, was already talking about trying stakes company in the postrace quotes in irishracing.com:

We’ve always liked her. She was a bit slow away at Fairyhouse and did things wrong but she did that easily.

She jumped on terms with them today and traveled. I thought the one in front of me was the one to beat so I was always happy.

I think she can improve. It needs to come in her mind still as she doesn’t really know what it’s all about yet. Today was a big improvement on the last day, and she can only step forward from here again.

I just said to Richie (Galway, then co-owner) that seven furlongs wouldn’t bother her but she got the mile well today. She might have a go at getting some black type.

That was the idea when Barber bought her, and the plan was the August 31 Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies. Secret Stash had settled in for Casse early, already on the worktab at Churchill August 8, but found herself stuck on the also-eligible list at Kentucky Downs. Casse told Woodbine publicity that this is “Plan B.”

NATALMA: WALK IN MARRAKESH

Walk in Marrakesh, who represents Great Britain’s all-time winningest trainer Mark Johnston, is the most experienced of the European juveniles to descend upon Woodbine.

The homebred for Merriebelle Irish Farm sports a lovely pedigree as a daughter of Siyouni and Walk in Beauty, a Shamardal half to French highweight Zipping and Group 3 winners Nipping and Zelding. The latter is the ancestress of such leading fillies as Hydrangea and Hermosa (who runs in Saturday’s Matron [G1] at Leopardstown), and further back in the rich family is Last Tycoon, the brilliant sprinter who stretched out for the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

Unveiled on soft ground at Haydock, Walk in Marrakesh attended Aleneva’s pace, and the two co-favorites grappled to the wire. Walk in Marrakesh appeared to be getting the upper hand for a few strides before Aleneva fought back to force her head in front. Aleneva was responding to the challenge, but there was just a sense of whether Walk in Marrakesh might have let her come back through inexperience.

Next time Walk in Marrakesh made short work of a Beverley novice at odds of 1-2, bossing the field on the front end in the 7 1/2-furlong contest. She was even more commanding when wiring a novice at Ayr by five lengths, again as the odds-on favorite.

Up in class for the Star S., a seven-furlong listed event at Sandown, Walk in Marrakesh passed the test in front-running fashion. She was all out to hang on from the onrushing closers, and had a diminishing half-length to spare from Godolphin’s Light Blush, the slight favorite (and a Natalma nominee who didn’t ship). The hard-luck story of the race was the other Johnston runner, West End Girl, who was forced to check between foes – just as she was finding momentum – and crossed the wire fifth.

West End Girl gained compensation by capturing the August 10 Sweet Solera (G3) at Newmarket, upholding the merit of the Star S. while Light Blush failed to do so in their rematch. In her latest, however, West End Girl retreated to eighth in Thursday’s May Hill (G2) at Doncaster.

Walk in Marrakesh ventured to Deauville for the Prix du Calvados (G2), but tired to a well-beaten third behind Andre Fabre’s classic hopeful Tropbeau and Marieta (trained by Mauricio Delcher Sanchez whose Pedro Cara almost upset last Saturday’s Jockey Club Derby). The soft ground might have sapped her at the distance.

Note that Frankie Dettori, who rode her at Sandown, thought seven furlongs was her maximum and she might even want to shorten up. That would comport with the speedy profile of her nearest relatives in the female line. While Walk in Marrakesh doesn’t look like a miler in European conditions, she’s eligible to carry her speed farther here.

NATALMA: DIAMOND SPARKLES

Unlike her Casse stablemate Secret Stash, Diamond Sparkles has just arrived for her new connections – Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Barber.

The blueblood War Front filly is the first foal from 2015 Pretty Polly (G1) and Cheshire Oaks winner Diamondsandrubies. That Fastnet Rock mare is out of Irish highweight Quarter Moon, who was triple classic-placed including in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom. Descended from the all-star Alruccaba family, Quarter Moon is a full sister to Irish classic winner Yesterday and All My Loving, both placed in the Epsom Oaks themselves. Diamondsandrubies was unlucky not to earn an Oaks placing at Epsom, where she was clobbered in the stretch and still finished fourth.

Bred by the Coolmore-affiliated Premier Bloodstock in Kentucky, Diamond Sparkles was campaigned by Mrs. Richard Henry, who also raced Diamondsandrubies in partnership with Mrs. John Magnier. 

Diamond Sparkles started out in the north of England for Yorkshire-based trainer Richard Fahey. A late-running fourth in a Carlisle novice, she raced a bit greenly at the rear before having to steady off heels in the stretch and staying on. The odds-on winner, Alabama Whitman, had been fourth in the Albany (G3) at Royal Ascot.

Improving markedly in her second try, Diamond Sparkles upset a seven-furlong Thirsk novice at 10-1. She still pulled a little while racing off the pace, but produced a nifty rally to win with something to spare. Runner-up Frankel’s Storm won next out, and after trailing in the Denford, has since placed in a listed stakes at Dusseldorf. Galadriel, fourth as the favorite behind Diamond Sparkles, came back to score at Beverley at arguably her optimal five furlongs – the same trip as her eye-catching debut fourth in the Marygate. At Doncaster Thursday, Galadriel was beaten narrowly when fifth in a blanket finish in a 6 1/2-furlong nursery.

Diamond Sparkles was set for a class hike in the Sweet Solera. In his regular Sporting Life column, Fahey noted the stiff question being asked:

“She’s a filly we really like. I thought it was a competitive race she won at Thirsk last time and we were delighted with her there. There’s more to come but she does need to step up quickly going into a Group Three at Newmarket.

Diamond Sparkles ended up scratching that day due to an abscess, but at latest report (furnished by Casse to Woodbine publicity), she was pleasing Fahey in her work before coming over. Note that Casse’s most bullish comment was for another of his Natalma trio, Kentucky-bred debut winner Coach Lori, who has “trained about as good as any two-year-old filly we’ve ever had.”

Fahey’s comments ahead of the Sweet Solera apply to the Natalma, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Diamond Sparkles has something to prove, but her pedigree is laden with potential.

Mark Casse now trains two of the Europeans making North American debuts at Woodbine (c) Coady Photography