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Steeler tackles Artigiano in Royal Lodge
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum's Steeler battled past Artigiano to prevail in Saturday's Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket, the first race on the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system.
Trained by Mark Johnston, the son of 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Raven's Pass earned 10 points for the victory. Artigiano, by Distorted Humor, collected four points for second.
Big Brown's half-brother Afonsa de Sousa was scratched by trainer Aidan O'Brien, leaving a field of eight for the test over the straight "Rowley Mile" course.
Artigiano, Steeler and Birdman were all in the front rank early. But Birdman could not go with the top two as they began to pull away.
Although Steeler put his head in front, Artigiano came again along the inside to regain a slim advantage.
It turned into a family rivalry: Artigiano, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation, versus Steeler, representing Sheikh Mohammed's son.
Steeler just proved the stronger. Under a Kieren Fallon drive, he powered up the rising ground late to master a stubborn Artigiano by a length.
By finishing the mile in 1:35.67, Steeler set a new course record for a juvenile. Sportinglife.com reports that he bettered the old mark for his age group of 1:35.70 set by Forward Move in 2004.
"Steeler found an extra gear when he hit the rising ground, which we hoped he would," Johnston said. "He is very laid back and lazy, and there will be plenty more to come next year."
Fallon agreed that Steeler is the type to develop at three.
"He seems to be getting better and better and this extra furlong suited him today," the winning rider said. "He is a horse who just keeps finding for you.
"I thought it was a sensible pace for the first half of the race and then we really picked up. What I like most about this fellow is that he puts his head down and really wants to run for you.
"He will come into his own next year and could be a Derby horse," Fallon concluded, but meaning the Group 1 Derby at Epsom, not Churchill Downs.
There was a gap of 3 1/2 lengths back to Al Waab followed by Birdman. The third- and fourth-place finishers took home two points and one point, respectively, on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby."
The 9-4 favorite Fantastic Moon endured a rough passage further back in the field, but picked up late to finish fifth of eight.
Steeler has now won three of five starts while finishing second in the other two. A near-miss runner-up in his debut at Haydock on July 21, he broke his maiden next time out at Goodwood on August 4. Steeler took runner-up honors behind the well-regarded Dundonnell in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes at York August 22, and recorded his first stakes win in the September 4 Stardom back at Goodwood.
"I took the liberty of dropping him back to seven furlongs last time (in the Stardom)," Johnston said, "and a furlong out (in the Royal Lodge) it looked as if that was a bad decision.
"He has shown us plenty at home, and even in April he was showing us that he was a nice horse, but we knew there would be more to come over longer distances.
"The Racing Post Trophy (Group 1 at Doncaster October 27) is his next target."
The one-mile Racing Post Trophy could serve up a rematch with Artigiano, according to his trainer Mahmood al Zarooni.
"He ran well and the main thing is that he has improved so much since Goodwood -- I have seen a big difference in him," al Zarooni said.
"There is no plan but he has many options including the Racing Post Trophy or the Breeders' Cup. Nothing has been decided yet, but the Racing Post Trophy may suit him."
Bred by Airlie Stud in Ireland, Steeler was sold for $57,925 as a Tattersalls December weanling. In his second visit to the Tattersalls auction ring as an October yearling, he did not sell when bringing a bid of $35,546.
Steeler is out of the stamina-laden Discreet Brief, the winner of the Group 3 Park Hill who ranked as England's co-highweight staying filly. The daughter of Darshaan is a three-quarter sister to another top staying filly, Group 1 heroine and Irish highweight Key Change.
Discreet Brief has produced one other stakes performer, the German and Italian stakes-placed Doggerbank. Further back, she comes from one of the Aga Khan's notable families, responsible for such stars as Group 1 Epsom Derby and Group 1 Irish Derby winner Kahyasi.