Four of the 10 lining up in Saturday’s E.P. Taylor (G1) are European shippers seeking to extend their rate of success in the Woodbine feature. Internationals have prevailed in seven of the past 10 editions, and nine of the last 12, and the current hopefuls are up to that standard.
Morning-line favorite Red Tea has reached unexpected heights since switching yards, while Germany’s Durance has the look of a talented performer whose best is still ahead. Imperial Charm brings a more consistent resume than French contender Platane, who would rate an upset chance if building upon her early-season promise.
At this point it’s a surprise to go back and discover that Platane had been given an early entry in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), but that just shows the level of hope she’d inspired earlier in the season. While the Wertheimer et Frere homebred from the Carlos Laffon-Parias yard could be here as a traveling companion for Ziyad, she’s not to be discounted at 20-1 on the morning line.
By Le Havre and descended from the family of Breeders’ Cup legend Goldikova, Platane was given an educational run at two and exceeded expectations with a strong, sustained rally for third. She opened 2019 with an emphatic maiden score over the Chantilly Polytrack and followed up as the odds-on favorite in the Prix Vanteaux (G3). Etoile served up a challenge before Platane put her away, and the pair drew 4 1/2 lengths clear. Laffon-Parias reportedly said Platane was in season at the time, and jockey Maxime Guyon believed he always had the runner-up’s measure.
In the Prix Saint-Alary (G1), Platane ranked as the second choice to odds-on Siyarafina, only she knuckled to her knees at the start and wound up a too-bad-to-be-true 10th. Her attempt at the French Oaks (G1) didn’t turn out much better, this time setting the pace. Her rail draw might have dictated the tactic; in the Vanteaux, her trainer had mentioned that he wanted the big, long-striding filly on the outside rather than bottled up. Platane thus used her stride early but it didn’t work. She retreated to eighth, one spot behind Wonderment (who has since finished an excellent second to Edisa in the Jockey Club Oaks), in an effort that Laffon-Parias advised is best forgotten.
Platane’s lone ensuing start at Deauville doesn’t enhance her image. She’s likely better than her tiring fifth in the Prix de la Nonette (G2), although that hypothesis needs proving at this stage.
Aside from her early Arc entry, Platane had three other options over last weekend’s Paris festivities including the Prix de l’Opera (G1). She has questions to answer in this first try versus older distaffers, but the suspicion is that Platane has more to offer than meets the eye.
Trained by Peter Schiergen of Danedream fame, Durance was nominated to last Saturday’s Prix de Royallieu (G1) during Arc weekend. That probably would have been a shade too far for her, but it does reveal something of her home reputation.
Durance is by Champs Elysees, who clinched Canadian Horse of the Year honors through a victory in the 2009 Canadian International (G1) on this course. Her dam is the prolific Lando mare Djidda, responsible for seven black-type performers from her grand total of 11 winners, and she also counts as the second dam of German highweight Dragon Lips and classic-placed Dynamic Lips. Djidda’s latest winner, two-year-old filly Democracy, is already turning heads for the same connections as Durance.
The Gestut Ebbesloh homebred was initially based with Henri-Francois Devin in France before moving to Schiergen. She returned to France to notch her first win at Argentan and followed up with a conditions score at Dusseldorf, both at about 1 5/16 miles. Fourth when trying males in Dusseldorf’s Derby Trial, Durance revived back in her own division to capture the Preis Dusseldorf in a photo and drove home convincingly in Hamburg’s Mehl Mulhens Trophy (G3).
Dispatched as the favorite in the German Oaks (G1) back at Dusseldorf, Durance was affected by a loose horse that prompted her jockey to make an early move. That arguably cost her late as she couldn’t sustain it and tired to third to Diamanta, whom she’d edged previously.
Durance was favored again when stretching out to about 1 1/2 miles and tackling older distaffers in the T. von Zastrow Stutenpreis (G2). Shrugging off a bump in upper stretch, she advanced to challenge the four-year-old Amorella before yielding in second. The result looked better when Amorella came back to place second to the progressive British gelding Aspetar in the Preis von Europa (G1) – form that ties in neatly with Canadian International (G1) favorite Ziyad.
These waters are obviously deeper, but Durance is eligible to appreciate the cutback to 1 1/4 miles.
When Red Tea toured the ring at the 2018 Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale, the Sakhee mare was a veteran handicapper whose biggest win had come as the 137-pound highweight in a Class 2 event at Newbury. After selling for 42,000 guineas ($56,541), she crossed the Irish Sea to join Joseph O’Brien. The son must have inherited his father’s training acumen, for Red Tea has improved at the age of six. If modest black-type were the goal given her handicap mark, few could have envisioned her becoming a Group 1 competitor.
O’Brien started Red Tea out in a seven-furlong Gowran handicap, where she closed for fourth in a presumptive tightener. Up to her typical mile trip for a handicap at the Curragh, she toted the top weight of 137 pounds to a dominant victory over males, and the hunt for black-type was on.
Red Tea immediately garnered a Group placing when closing for third to British shipper Beshaayir in the May 25 Lanwades Stud (aka Ridgewood Pearl) (G2). She split two proper Group 1 rivals in runner-up I Can Fly, trained by father Aidan, and One Master, who just repeated in last Sunday’s Prix de la Foret (G1). Granted, Red Tea capitalized on race-fitness against the reappearing One Master, and I Can Fly isn’t the most consistent type, but she still proved her mettle.
A more ambitious tilt at Royal Ascot’s Duke of Cambridge (G2) didn’t pan out, as Red Tea checked in eighth, and I Can Fly was further ahead of her in third. Back at the Curragh for the Kilboy Estate (G2), in her first attempt at nine furlongs for a long while, she justified 11-10 favoritism with a front-running theft. That wasn’t the deepest edition either, outside of Ballydoyle runner-up Goddess who was still finding her way back into form. Had Goddess met Red Tea again, she might well have turned the tables. (Tragically Goddess sustained a fatal injury in the Prix de l’Opera so we’ll never know.)
The younger O’Brien freely commented that Red Tea benefited from a weaker renewal of the race to boost her broodmare value:
She’s been improving and improving, and to be a Group 2 winner now she is hugely valuable. It cut up a little bit in fairness, but still she had to go and do it, and she’s done it well….She was very well bought and I’m delighted for all the lads.— irishracing.com
With a Group 2 laurel on her resume, Red Tea went to France in pursuit of a Group 1 credit in the Prix Jean Romanet (G1). She looked up against it as the 34-1 longest shot in the board, especially at an about 1 1/4-mile trip that hadn’t worked out for her in her past life. The heavy going at Deauville made for an even more severe test, yet she boxed on for third to hot favorite Coronet – who had nipped Canadian International favorite Ziyad in her prior start. I Can Fly was fourth on the dramatic step up in trip, and Godolphin’s pair of Wild Illusion and Musis Amica were below their best. It’s tempting to play the what-if game, imagining how much conditions influenced the Romanet result. Not that Red Tea was in love with the ground either, but her forward placement helped as others paddled.
Nominated for the Opera on Arc Day, Red Tea goes for this more attainable spot. Still, her Group form comes along with specific sets of circumstances attached, making her a potentially vulnerable morning-line favorite here.
Considering that Imperial Charm was beaten twice by Castle Lady in France, her performance here could hold some relevance to her rival’s chances in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) about 25 minutes later at Keeneland. Then again, the point shouldn’t be pushed too far. Another foe, Olendon, has yet to duplicate her French form stateside, but hope springs eternal as she tries again in Saturday’s Sands Point (G2) at Belmont.
A Sheikh Mohammed Obaid al Maktoum runner like last year’s E.P. Taylor winner, Sheikha Reika, Imperial Charm is a three-quarter sister to Group 2 hero Afsare, runner-up in the 2012 Arlington Million (G1). Both are by Dubawi, and Imperial Charm is a homebred out of Afsare’s half-sister, Reem Three. That Mark of Esteem mare has produced three Group scorers – French Group 1-winning highweight Ajman Princess, Group 2 victor Ostilio, and recent Bengough (G3) winner Cape Byron who’s entitled to keep padding his resume.
Imperial Charm has yet to join them on the podium, but she’s an on-the-pace type who would get her ground if the rain pours. The Simon Crisford pupil scored third time out as a juvenile at Newmarket, relishing the soft going to romp by 4 1/2 lengths. She’s competed exclusively in France this season and run her race every time – a credit to her honesty.
Runner-up to Castle Lady in their mutual reappearance in the Prix de la Grotte (G3), Imperial Charm was a hard-trying fourth in their rematch in the French 1000 Guineas (G1). On both occasions, she employed her tactical speed but couldn’t hold sway.
It was a similar story when Imperial Charm stretched out to about 1 1/4 miles in the Prix Saint-Alary. While scampering from the far outside post 11 didn’t help, the 10-1 chance was doubtful to contain Siyarafina, then at the height of her powers. Imperial Charm kept on for third, overtaken late by the aforementioned Olendon.
Crisford lowered her sights for the June 29 Prix Chloe (G3), where a class drop didn’t affect her trajectory. Imperial Charm, now the favorite, led early and again found herself swamped and relegated to third. Freshened the rest of the summer, she reverted to listed company and cut back to a metric mile in the September 5 Prix de la Cochere. Bettors thought this was the recipe for a rebound, but the even-money favorite was outfinished in third.
Imperial Charm likely needed that warm-up off her summer holiday. The bigger question is that she’s been the definition of a bridesmaid, and the French three-year-old fillies’ form has been too fluid to pin its value down. On pedigree, she’s entitled to develop further, and her forward style could play out better at this venue. Nevertheless, she’s short enough on the morning line as a win candidate, and Platane is five times the price.