Racing Roundtable: Three-year-old division, Royal Ascot, Equinox

June 27th, 2023

James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson reconvene the roundtable to discuss recent international highlights and tab three-year-olds to step up in the second half.

With Two Phil's sidelined, which sophomore will step up in the second half of the season?

James Scully: Freshened two months off a March maiden win, Arcangelo jumped to stakes competition with a hard-fought triumph in the Peter Pan (G3) and followed with a 1 1/2-length victory in the Belmont (G1). Further progression is expected for the late-developing son of Arrogate, and I have more confidence in Arcangelo at 1 1/4-mile distances than Arabian Knight and Forte.

Kellie Reilly: The injury to Two Phil’s is a blow to the division after his brilliant Ohio Derby (G3). Yet we still can look forward to Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage’s return. It feels like a 100 years ago by now, but remember how the Good Magic colt improved quickly from his debut on Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream Park? His near-miss in the Florida Derby (G1) to champion Forte proved that he has the class, and a powerful kick. So his Kentucky Derby victory wasn’t a fluky clunk-up. The Preakness (G1) scenario was all against him, with no pace in a small field, but he ran respectably in third. Back in a race with more typical dynamics, Mage is eligible to reassert himself. Let’s also not forget Bob Baffert’s “Arabians” — unbeaten Southwest (G3) winner Arabian Knight and improving Woody Stephens (G1) victor Arabian Lion, either of whom could be spotted in the Haskell (G1).

Vance Hanson: To me the division still goes through last year's juvenile champion Forte, who twice beat eventual Kentucky Derby winner Mage in Florida over the winter and then ran a highly credible second in the Belmont (G1) despite not having run in 10 weeks. If he can avoid being hampered by additional foot trouble this summer, which forced his late withdrawal from the Derby, Forte might again be head of his class.

What was your top highlight from Royal Ascot?

JS: Courage Mon Ami's win in Thursday’s Gold Cup (G1) provided a thrill, as the lightly-raced gelding wore down Coltrane to prevail under Frankie Dettori, who said, “I didn’t expect it. The last five years I’ve had (three-time Gold Cup winner) Stradivarius, so the pressure was on. This one I thought was a bit of a chancer coming from handicaps, but John (Gosden) was confident. I rode him cold and it just happened.”

Dettori recorded his ninth Gold Cup victory.

“It’s unbelievable, on my last year winning the Gold Cup,” said Dettori, who stretched his Royal Ascot record to 81 wins in his final appearance this year. “Myself, The King and Queen Camilla had a talk beforehand about his win and my relationship with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, then the next race I go on and win the Gold Cup and he presents the trophy. It’s amazing, really amazing.”

KR: The iconic moment will probably be Frankie Dettori’s ninth Gold Cup victory aboard Courage Mon Ami, the biggest of his four wins during his Royal Ascot farewell tour. It would have been a major story in any event, but the circumstances surrounding the undefeated winner elevate it to instant classic. Courage Mon Ami raced only three times, in novice and handicap company, and never beyond 1 3/4 miles. Dettori engineered a ground-saving trip from off the pace, split foes, and galvanized him past favored Coltrane in a climactic drive. You couldn’t have scripted it any better. The top performance from a purely racing perspective was Mostahdaf’s dominance of what appeared an evenly-matched Prince of Wales’s (G1), as discussed among my top 10 Royal Ascot takeaways.

VH: It was good to see the form of the Epsom Derby (G1) flattered by both Waipiro in the Hampton Court (G3) and King of Steel in the King Edward VII (G2), so this could be an especially talented group of middle-distance colts let by Derby winner Auguste Rodin, who will be the one to beat in the Irish Derby (G1) on Sunday. Another highlight was the victory in the 2 1/2-mile Gold Cup by Courage Mon Ami, who was making only his fourth lifetime appearance and his first in stakes company. Only four years old, Courage Mon Ami has the potential to have as long and decorated a staying career as Stradivarius, another Gosden trainee of recent vintage.

Thoughts on Equinox's win in Japan?

JS: Equinox proved spectacular, delivering a Zenyattaesque performance to win the Takarazuka Kinen (G1). The Japanese Horse of the Year left himself plenty to do from the back of a 17-horse field, launching an eye-catching rally to prove best while traveling extremely wide on the far turn and into the stretch. And while he still had ground to make up, you knew Equinox was going to win by midstretch.

KR: Equinox not only rallied from an absurdly wide position; the world’s top-rated horse ultimately made it look comfortable, as if to say, “Don’t worry — I got this.” Regular rider Christophe Lemaire explained that the course condition influenced his decision to swing that far out. The video does show a chewed-up surface at Hanshin. Even so, Equinox had to be multiple lengths the best to sacrifice that much ground, in one of the premier races on the Japanese calendar. We can only hope that connections take up the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) “Win and You’re In” offer because Equinox would be sensational around Santa Anita, but he might stay home in Japan instead.

Don’t overlook the runner-up, Through Seven Seas, who delivered an outstanding performance herself. Anchored at the rear behind Equinox, she didn’t follow as wide a path. But she also lost momentum when altering course to find a seam, and still rattled off a field-best :34.6 sectional for her final 600 meters. Through Seven Seas could be seen in Europe this fall, with entries in the Irish Champion (G1) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).

VH: Although no expert on racing in Japan, my initial thought on watching a replay of Equinox's winning rally is that Hanshin Racecourse's configuration is seemingly not very conducive to making the kind of move that he did. That he succeeded in doing so is a testament to his high caliber as he surely could have won by an even larger margin elsewhere and a lesser talent would have lost. I hope he will be further displayed on the world stage, as he's seemingly running out of competition in his homeland.