The 2019-20 European Road to the Kentucky Derby gets underway this weekend with the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes (G2) at Newmarket in England and the Beresford Stakes (G2) at the Curragh in Ireland.
Both races will offer Derby qualification points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis. At the conclusion of the seven-race series, which wraps up in April, the horse that accumulates the most points will be awarded a spot in the starting gate for the 2020 Kentucky Derby.
In addition, the winner of the Royal Lodge will receive a “Win & You’re In” berth to the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), so suffice to say there’s a lot more than just purse money on the line.
Want to follow along? Here are a couple of spot plays to give you a rooting interest in the action:
28: Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes (G2)
Newmarket Race 1, 8:50 a.m. ET
Kameko (#3) is a clear-cut favorite, and deservedly so. This son of Kitten’s Joy won his debut going seven furlongs at Sandown, then failed by just a nose to catch 4-5 favorite Positive in the Betway Solario Stakes (G3) over the same course and distance. If not for a bit of traffic in the homestretch (partly his own fault for racing greenly), Kameko might have prevailed.
But while Kameko’s virtues are obvious, Year of the Tiger (#8) also warrants respect. Conditioned by Aidan O’Brien, this son of Galileo was a third-out maiden winner at Naas, romping home by 4 1/4 lengths over next-out winner and Beresford Stakes contender Innisfree. It seemed as though Year of the Tiger had turned a corner, but he regressed sharply a week later in the bet365 Superlative Stakes (G2) at Newmarket, trudging home seventh while soundly beaten.
O’Brien subsequently told RacingPost.com that Year of the Tiger wasn’t feeling well for the Superlative, so I’m tempted to draw a line through his no-show performance. With 2 1/2 months to recover and mature, he could be ready for a much sharper effort in the Royal Lodge.
$10 exacta box: 3,8
Sunday, September 29:
Beresford Stakes (G2)
The Curragh Race 5, 11:00 a.m. ET
Trainer Aidan O’Brien has won the last eight editions of the Beresford, as well as 18 overall since 1996, and he’ll saddle three of the seven runners in Sunday’s renewal. In terms of Racing Post Ratings, Cormorant (#2) and Royal County Down (#5) rank best after finishing fifth and sixth in the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes (G2) at Leopardstown two weeks ago. But I’m considerably more interested in their lower-ranked stablemate Innisfree (#4).
Innisfree showed potential finishing second on debut behind stablemate Year of the Tiger, then improved to win a seven-furlong maiden race at Galway by a neck over fellow Beresford contender Shekhem (#6). As a son of Galileo, Innisfree should appreciate the chance to stretch his legs over a full mile in the Beresford. O’Brien’s son Donnacha will have the mount on this promising prospect, who is an unknown quantity compared to his stakes-experienced stablemates. Might Innisfree have more upside? I’m guessing yes and will wager accordingly.
$12 to win on #4 Innisfree
$2 trifecta: 4 with 2,5,6 with 2,5,6 ($12)
PHOTO: Roses on Kentucky Derby Day (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs