Breeders' Cup International Scouting Report: Circus Maximus

December 31st, 2020

Fourth in last year’s Breeders' Cup Mile at a Santa Anita track that didn’t play to his strengths, Circus Maximus will be better suited to Keeneland. The question is whether that can make enough of a difference to give O’Brien an overdue first win in this race. The tough battler is vulnerable to a sharper type, and he arrives in the wake of a few losses.

A Niarchos Family homebred campaigned in partnership with Coolmore, Circus Maximus is the son of supersire Galileo and Royal Ascot Group 2 queen Duntle. The Danehill Dancer mare, who was unlucky to be demoted from her victory in the 2012 Matron (G1), traces to the blue hen La Troienne via the same branch as all-time great Allez France.

Circus Maximus was a promising juvenile of 2018 who won second time out at Gowran, finished third to Persian King and Magna Grecia in an exceptional Autumn (G3), and came a lot closer to Magna Grecia when fourth in the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1).

Logically on the 2019 Derby (G1) path, Circus Maximus stretched out to about 1 5/16 miles in the Dee. The way he tracked the pacesetter and forged clear turning into the stretch at left-handed Chester could be a preview of his Mile trip, especially on a good-to-soft surface. Only here he’d have stronger closers than Mohawk.

Circus Maximus added cheekpieces for the Derby, to keep his focus after needing to be kept to task in the Dee. Despite going to his knees at the break, he recovered on a dime to take up a forward stalking position, but didn’t stay the 1 1/2-mile trip when winding up sixth.

O’Brien had the inspiration to drop him back to a mile for last summer’s St James’s Palace (G1). Supplemented to the Royal Ascot feature, and adding blinkers to sharpen him up, Circus Maximus showed the desired speed to stalk, grabbed the lead in the stretch, and battled on too resolutely for favored Too Darn Hot and King of Comedy.

But Circus Maximus could not get the better of Too Darn Hot in the 2019 Sussex (G1). The combination of quicker conditions, a sharper track, and a back-on-song Too Darn Hot added up to victory for the superior miler, whose turn of foot propelled him past a gritty Circus Maximus. After another try over further in the Juddmonte International (G1), where he led early but tired to seventh behind stablemate Japan, Circus Maximus has stuck to a mile.

Circus Maximus immediately added last September’s Prix du Moulin (G1) to his resume. Although older miler Romanised appeared to have more up his sleeve as the two engaged, Circus Maximus relished the mano-a-mano and outdueled him to the wire, surviving an inquiry – and appeal – to keep the verdict.

While his tactical style and top form made him a threat in the 2019 Mile, Santa Anita promised to reward those with the best acceleration, and that was a concern. The race didn’t develop quite the way Circus Maximus wanted either. A ferocious pace resulted in his settling midpack, and Uni swept past him turning for home. He did lengthen stride well down the lane, but Without Parole nabbed him for third.

His 2020 debut in the “Win and You’re In” Queen Anne (G1) June 16 at Royal Ascot, in contrast, was tailor-made for him. A testing mile on the good-to-soft straight course set the stage for just his kind of race. Prominent early through a steady pace, Circus Maximus was collared by Terebellum (Filly & Mare Turf). But she became the latest to learn you don’t want a dogfight with him, for he responded to snatch the victory on the wire.

Back to Glorious Goodwood for another crack at the Sussex, Circus Maximus went to the lead, only to have a sense of déjà vu in getting outkicked and relegated to second– this time by Mohaather, who was rebounding from a messy seventh in the Queen Anne. But once again, “Circus” fended off one who got close enough to challenge but not pass, in Siskin, with Kameko a checkered fourth.

Circus Maximus’ three ensuing starts don’t enhance his record, and if that leaves a scruple about his current form, there were excuses. Twice he was undone by extreme going, first in the Aug. 16 Prix Jacques le Marois (G1). Circus tried valiantly to lift over a heavy Deauville, but you could see that he couldn’t stride out as usual, and he had to settle for third to the outstanding 3-year-olds Palace Pier and Alpine Star.

As the defending champion in the Sept. 6 Moulin, Circus might have paid the price for a tactical miscue. He arguably overexerted himself early, and played right into the hands of the stalking Persian King, who stormed past him and held the belated rally of Pinatubo. Circus tired a full six lengths back in third, one spot ahead of a rattled Siskin.

Finding desperate conditions in the Oct. 17 Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day, Circus retreated to 10th behind mudlark The Revenant. For whatever it’s worth, third-placer Palace Pier beat him by roughly the same margin as at Deauville.

If circumstances alone are the reason for his subpar efforts of late, Circus is eligible to bounce back in his element at Keeneland. The course figures to suit his grappling style better than a lightning-fast Santa Anita, and the pace set-up could also be more congenial than in last year’s edition. On the other hand, he’ll still need to fend off milers with a stronger change of gear.