The European Road to the Kentucky Derby kicks off on Saturday at Newmarket in the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes (Eng-G2). The demanding one-mile endeavor has featured some powerful runners in recent seasons, including the likes of Frankel in 2010 and the late Roaring Lion, who bagged the 2017 version of the race. The top-four finishers will earn points on a 10-4-2-1 basis towards the 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Kameko is a son of Kitten’s Joy who is a nose shy of being unbeaten from a pair of lifetime performances. The Calumet-bred was a $90,000 Keeneland September purchase in 2018, and he is trading as the clear favorite overseas for conditioner Andrew Balding. Kameko seems poised for a big showing over the Rowley Mile.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien has a trio of contenders in cast and his best chance might lie with Year of the Tiger. The Galileo colt didn’t handle the firmer ground at Newmarket in the bet365 Superlative Stakes (Eng-G2) last time out, but he is sure to improve on Saturday over going much more to his liking.
Paul Cole’s Highland Chief was a smart winner on debut at Newbury prior to finishing a creditable third in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot most recently. The Gleneagles colt was flattered when the Chesham winner, the unbeaten sensation Pinatubo, came back to air in the National Stakes (Ire-G1) by nine dominating lengths.
The William Muir-conditioned Pyledriver was a winner at first asking at a whopping 50-1 price, and the two-year-old proved that his performance was not a fluke with a victory in the recent Ascendant Stakes at Haydock.
Sound of Cannons won at first asking on the course and came back with a gritty stakes second in the Ascendant most recently. The son of Nathaniel from the barn of the crafty Brian Meehan will be prominent from the break on Saturday.
O’Brien’s Iberia and Royal Dornoch, as well as the William Haggas-trained Surf Dancer, also are worth mention in the well-matched field.
PHOTO: The 2019 Kentucky Derby trophy (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs