Breeders' Cup International Scouting Report: Kameko

December 31st, 2020

Although Kameko would be the first winner of Newmarket’s 2000 Guineas (G1) to take the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), only four have tried, and his own broodmare sire should have accomplished the feat – Rock of Gibraltar, a frustrating second as the 4-5 favorite in 2002.

Kameko’s sire, Kitten’s Joy, was also overturned as a 4-5 Breeders’ Cup favorite, in his case the 2004 Turf (G1). But he’s since gained compensation at stud, with his progeny racking up four Breeders’ Cup wins to make him one of the most successful sires at the championships.

Kameko’s dam, Sweeter Still, was bred by Aidan O’Brien’s wife, Anne Marie. A Rock of Gibraltar half-sister to 2012 Racing Post Trophy (G1) hero Kingsbarns, Sweeter Still captured the 2008 Senorita (G3) and three other U.S. stakes.

As a $90,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase for Qatar Racing, Kameko once drew parallels to another Kentucky-bred son of Kitten’s Joy sourced at the same venue, by the same connections, in Roaring Lion. As his career has developed, though, the comparison has become less useful. Moreover, unlike Roaring Lion who closed out his career by tilting at windmills in the 2018 Classic (G1), Kameko is in a better spot for his swan song.

Trainer Andrew Balding started Kameko out last summer at Sandown, where he was workmanlike on debut but got the job done with a bit in hand. That set him up for the Solario (G3) over the same track and 7-furlong trip. After taking time to quicken, he got rolling and nearly upset odds-on Positive with Godolphin’s well-regarded Al Suhail a close third.

Off that effort, Kameko ranked as the 6-5 favorite in the Royal Lodge (G2), and again he just missed, in juvenile course-record time over Newmarket’s Rowley Mile. He sat closer attending the pace and drove ahead, but got worn down late by O’Brien’s more experienced Royal Dornoch. Possibly different tactics in this first try at a mile would have been a different story, although Kameko still gave off the vibe of a youngster on a learning curve.

Kameko turned in a much more polished effort in the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1), transferred to the Tapeta at Newcastle after the Doncaster turf was waterlogged. Covered up in the pack this time, Kameko traveled conspicuously well, steered for room on the inside, and shot clear of the Ballydoyle trio including Mogul (Turf).

The pandemic shut racing down for a while in the spring, but Kameko didn’t need a prep run to be at his peak for the postponed 2,000 Guineas on June 6. Reserved several lengths off the swift pace, he had both the gears and gumption to knife between foes, collar Wichita and hitherto-unbeaten Pinatubo, and set a new stakes record in 1:34.72.

Kameko became the 5-2 favorite for a delayed Derby at Epsom, which unpredictably became a one-horse show courtesy of tear-away front runner Serpentine. By barely snaring fourth, Kameko made it clear that the trip was a bit beyond him.

Reverting to a mile for the Sussex (G1) versus elders at Glorious Goodwood, Kameko drafted right behind pacesetter Circus Maximus on the inside and appeared ready to strike – if only he could extricate himself from the pocket. Regular rider Oisin Murphy was characteristically his own worst critic after Kameko wound up fourth to the fast-closing Mohaather, Circus Maximus, and Siskin. But Kameko wasn’t helping Murphy a lot either when he did get an opening, and for whatever reason, he just didn’t look comfortable slaloming in deep stretch.

Kameko still held out hopes of being effective over an extended 1 1/4 miles, and the Juddmonte International (G1) was his opportunity to try. Rallying from the back of the quintet, he appeared ready to finish best-of-the-rest behind the juggernaut Ghaiyyath, until the final furlong. It was as though the clock struck midnight as his stamina ebbed, and Magical (Turf) and Lord North (Turf) outstayed him for the minors.

Now identified as a true miler, Kameko returned to the scene of his Guineas heroics for the Sept. 25 Joel (G2). The rub was that he’d be disadvantaged at the weights against Godolphin’s Benbatl, the defending champion who was last seen placing third to Maximum Security in the Saudi Cup. Murphy took no chances of letting Benbatl slip away from them, urging Kameko earlier than usual to make sure he engaged the leader in plenty of time. Kameko got the message, forged ahead, and held another veteran in Regal Reality in a snappy 1:34.41.

With his three major wins all coming down a straight mile, the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day was a logical target. But when the ground promised to come up very soft at Ascot, connections opted to go straight to the Breeders’ Cup. That remains a question for a colt untested on anything worse than good.

While a two-turn mile is another unknown, Kameko’s ability to travel in striking range is a plus, and he probably won’t leave himself too much to do. Note that he went out for a left-handed move recently to familiarize himself with the mechanics of switching leads, and Murphy told Sky Sports that he “felt like a pro.”