International scouting reports for 2022 Jockey Club Derby and Jockey Club Oaks

September 17th, 2022

Europeans have won both runnings so far of the Jockey Club Derby (G3), and the venue change to Aqueduct during the “Belmont at the Big A” season shouldn’t alter the equation on Saturday.

Trainer Charlie Appleby sent Yibir over to conquer last year, while his current contender, Nations Pride, has virtually become a resident by summering in Saratoga. We’ll focus more on the two new international interests, Ardakan in the Derby and the filly Toskana Belle in the companion Jockey Club Oaks (G3), both German shippers representing Australian owners.

Jockey Club Derby (G3) – Nations Pride

Arguably unlucky not to have won two-thirds of the Turf Triple, Nations Pride put himself behind with a slow start from a wide post in the Belmont Derby (G1). Super-sub Frankie Dettori maybe could have tried to improve position earlier, and he settled for second to front-running Classic Causeway. The Godolphin homebred made amends in the Saratoga Derby (G1) with a better draw, and a more favorable passage. Nations Pride wasn’t that well away, but regular rider William Buick bustled him into a stalking third, and he asserted his class. With Buick required at Woodbine on Saturday, Dettori gets another chance to work out a trip aboard the hot favorite.

Since a less-than-stellar start might not be as much of an issue here, the one knock is his aptitude for 1 1/2 miles. Nations Pride turned in the worst race of life in his only attempt at distance, an eighth in the Derby (G1) at Epsom. Yet I don’t take that as conclusive proof of his failure to stay. The unique contours of Epsom are not everyone’s cup of tea, to put it mildly, and the rain-affected going exacerbated his difficulty. On better ground, around an American track, 1 1/2 miles should be within his range.

If it all depended on his dam, Important Time, maybe I’d have more of a cause for pause. Important Time, a nine-furlong listed winner at Cologne, is a daughter of Oasis Dream and Satwa Queen, who was a three-time Group 1 victress at about 1 1/4 miles.

But Nations Pride stands to inherit stamina from his sire Teofilo. The son of Galileo was regarded as a British Triple Crown hope by Jim Bolger before his career was lamentably ended by injury. Teofilo has sired several top-notch stayers, including last year’s Gold Cup (G1) conqueror Subjectivist and a couple of Melbourne Cup (G1) winners (Cross Counter in 2018 and Twilight Payment in 2020).

Jockey Club Derby - Ardakan

There is no stamina question about German-bred Ardakan, who like Nations Pride was given an early entry in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Although beaten in his prior tries at 1 1/2 miles, his dour style hints that he’d appreciate even further.

Campaigned by Darius Racing until recently acquired by Bennett Racing, Ardakan is the first North American starter for Markus Klug. The three-time Deutsches Derby (G1)-winning trainer came agonizingly close to a fourth trophy this summer, just missing in a thriller with the second- and third-placers. According to, Ardakan will be transferred to another trainer after Saturday.

Klug likewise trained Ardakan’s dam, Alaskakonigin, winner of a 10-furlong listed stakes at Dortmund. She also produced Alaskasonne, herself a Klug pupil, who recently wired a Group 3 at Baden-Baden over males. As their names beginning with “A” suggest, the Gestut Rottgen-breds belong to the family embracing champion and noted matron Anna Paola.

Ardakan’s sire, Reliable Man, captured the 2011 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) and later became a top-level winner in Australia in the 2013 Queen Elizabeth (G1).

A $47,404 Baden-Baden yearling purchase, Ardakan twice placed in maidens at home as a juvenile. After a third at Munich, he was a half-length second over about 1 1/4 miles at Baden-Baden. His breakthrough came at Rome in last November’s Premio Guido Berardelli (G3). Heavy going made the about 1 1/8-mile affair a real test of stamina, and he passed with flying colors by six lengths.

Ardakan reappeared in France, finishing runner-up in the May 1 Prix de l’Avre at Longchamp. The 10-1 shot set a leisurely pace and bravely rebuffed Appleby’s favored Hafit, but Martel drove past them both. Hafit gives Ardakan some key collateral form, as next time out, he was a close third again in the Queen’s Vase (G2) at Royal Ascot. Queen’s Vase hero Eldar Eldarov just won the Sept. 11 St Leger (G1), and Zechariah, beaten a pixel at Royal Ascot, eventually beat elders in the Aug. 13 Geoffrey Freer (G3).

Racing manager Holger Faust told that was Ardakan’s designed prep for the Derby Italiano (G2). The tightener served its purpose, for the gray returned to Rome to win again in dramatic fashion as the favorite.

Settled about midpack on the inside, Ardakan gradually improved position until drafting just behind the leaders. He angled out to launch his bid, only to be outkicked by a sudden move wider out from Tempesti. Although Tempesti’s turn of foot appeared to be decisive, the never-say-die Ardakan summoned his superior stamina, clawed his way back, and thrust his neck in front at the end of 1 3/8 miles.

The Deutsches Derby didn’t pan out so well. Dropping far back early from post 14 (of 20), he gained ground steadily without threatening in eighth, beaten just 2 3/4 lengths. The victorious Sammarco came back to beat older foes in the July 31 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen (G1). In his latest, Sammarco was third in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) to Mendocino and last year’s Arc upsetter Torquator Tasso, after briefly looking like winning.

Ardakan performed creditably versus elders in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) at Hoppegarten. He took up a much better early position in a ground-saving third, got outpaced in the stretch, but stayed on doggedly in the head-bob for third. The winner was Appleby’s Rebel’s Romance, the 2021 UAE Derby (G2) romper who was scratched from the Belmont (G1) and has now reinvented himself on turf.

Ardakan was himself entered for a rematch with Sammarco at Baden-Baden Sept. 4. Once the sale to his new Australian owners went through, however, he was withdrawn, and New York became his objective. According to the Bennett Racing website, Ardakan is expected to campaign abroad with a view toward traveling to Australia next year.

The Jockey Club Derby is likely to present a familiar scenario, where Ardakan just keeps plugging away for a minor award while succumbing to the stronger kick of Nations Pride. His best chance of an upset lies if Classic Causeway goes too fast early, putting a premium on relentless staying power. Ardakan has that in spades, and jockey Andrasch Starke knows how to deploy it. In his last trip stateside, Starke steered Loft to a course record-setting win in the June 10 Belmont Gold Cup. 

Jockey Club Oaks (G3) - Toskana Belle

Front-running winner of the Preis der Diana (German Oaks) (G1) in stakes-record time, Toskana Belle brings a tactical dimension as well as proven affinity for the 1 3/8-mile trip.

Trainer Andreas Wohler has had success in his U.S. forays, from Silvano in the 2001 Arlington Million (G1) to Red Cardinal in the 2017 Belmont Gold Cup (G3). Toskana Belle shares connections with Red Cardinal and Protectionist, Wohler’s 2014 Melbourne Cup winner, all affiliated with Australian Bloodstock.

Bred by Ecurie Normandy Pur Sang in France, Toskana Belle is the first headliner for their stallion Shamalgan. A paternal grandson of “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway, Shamalgan was French classic-placed before earning his signature win in the 2013 Premio Vittorio di Capua (G1). Toskana Belle, a half-sister to multiple stakes-placed Frohsim, is out of a mare by the aforementioned Teofilo.

Failing to sell for a bid of $47,384 at Arqana October, Toskana Belle began her career for Stall Picadilly and jockey-turned-trainer Marian Falk Weissmeier. She went off as a 65-1 longshot in an Apr. 5 newcomers’ race at Saint-Cloud, staying on for fourth. Toskana Belle was favored next time in an easier spot at Evreux, set the pace, and drove clear.

Twelve days later, Toskana Belle popped up in a Dusseldorf listed stakes, the Henkel-Stutenpreis. The 6-1 chance stalked and pounced in 1:34.90 for the metric mile.

That caught the notice of Australian Bloodstock, and Toskana Belle was privately brought into their fold. Her debut in their silks, the June 5 Diana Trial (G3) at Hoppegarten, proved a messy race. A new jockey had her too far back, she was hard to handle, veered out (or pushed?) in an eventful first turn, and grew rank. In the circumstances, Toskana Belle did well to make mild progress late for third, although no match for romping favorite Wagnis.

Toskana Belle was then transferred to Wohler and supplemented to the Aug. 7 German Oaks. She also got a decisive rider switch to Australian Kerrin McEvoy, who put her safely on the lead. Now in her comfort zone, with ears pricked, Toskana Belle sprang a 16-1 upset. She just lasted by a head from the lunging Wagnis in a stakes-record 2:11.21.

Aidan O’Brien favorite Toy faded to seventh, never regrouping after going wide on the first turn and losing her initially good position near Toskana Belle. Toy doesn’t offer a clear form guide, since she has now been well beaten in three classics, and her Irish Oaks (G1) second is an outlier.

Fourth-placer Mountaha is more consistent. She has since finished fifth, beaten about the same margin, in the Prix du Prince d’Orange (G3) versus males.

Toskana Belle also has some form that intersects with Txope, the German 1000 Guineas (G2) winner who didn’t put her best foot forward when 10th in the Del Mar Oaks (G1). But Txope’s flop there shouldn’t have any bearing on Toskana Belle’s chances in a very different set-up here – a small field over a longer distance.

Picking up Dettori, Toskana Belle figures to be in good position throughout. She won’t have things her own way up front, but her stamina is likely to keep her in the frame. Connections are mulling the Breeders’ Cup, according to the NYRA notes, if she performs well.