The European Road to the Kentucky Derby made its final stop in Thursday’s Cardinal Conditions race at Chelmsford City, where King Power Racing’s Bye Bye Hong Kong led home a trifecta of non-Triple Crown nominees. The Aidan O’Brien-trained favorite, U S S Michigan, wound up fourth.
By earning 30 points in the Cardinal, Bye Bye Hong Kong tops the European leaderboard. The Andrew Balding trainee would receive the invitation to the Kentucky Derby – if his King Power connections pay $200,000 to supplement.
Although not nominated to the Triple Crown, Bye Bye Hong Kong has a dirt-oriented pedigree. Bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky, he is by 2007 Kentucky Derby champion Street Sense, and the first foal from the unraced Tiznow mare Light and Variable. His dam is a half-sister to 2016 Adirondack (G2) winner Nonna Mela, and his second dam is a full sister to 2006 Haskell (G1) hero Bluegrass Cat, who was second in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont (G1), and Travers (G1). Further back in the all-star family is 2010 Kentucky Derby victor Super Saver.
The 7-2 second choice, Bye Bye Hong Kong was among those with form at a higher level last season. He was fifth to Europe’s champion juvenile, Too Darn Hot, in the Champagne (G2) at Doncaster and runner-up in the Tattersalls (G3) when last seen at Newmarket in September.
Bye Bye Hong Kong benefited from a textbook stalk-and-pounce trip masterminded by Silvestre de Sousa. Not so fortunate was Godolphin’s Dark Vision, who was shuffled farther back in the pack. U S S Michigan broke a tad awkwardly but recovered to take up a midpack position.
Shir Khan, along with U S S Michigan the only other Triple Crown nominee in the Cardinal, carved out the pace before giving way. Barys picked up the baton, but Bye Bye Hong Kong overtook him in the stretch.
While U S S Michigan wasn’t making much impact despite clear sailing on the inside, his longshot stablemate, Antilles, was gaining widest of all. Dark Vision was also staying on between him and Bye Bye Hong Kong as the trio pulled clear of the rest.
Bye Bye Hong Kong doggedly kept his neck in front of Antilles, himself a head up on Dark Vision. The winner turned a mile on Polytrack in 1:36.90 to advance his record to 5-2-1-1.
Antilles, a War Front colt who broke his maiden in a “nursery” (two-year-old handicap) at Naas in November, outperformed his odds to take 12 Derby points. Should Bye Bye Hong Kong decline, the European Road invitation would be extended to Antilles – owned by the Coolmore principals in partnership with the Niarchos Family’s Flaxman Stables. They too would have to stump up $200,000 to supplement the non-nominated colt.
Dark Vision put himself squarely back into the English classic picture, namely the 2000 Guineas (G1) on May 4, with his close third. Another 2 1/2 lengths back in fourth came U S S Michigan, a late foal who shaped as if he needs more time to develop. Certain Lad, Barys, Fanaar, Shir Khan, and Battle of Waterloo rounded out the order under the wire.
The Bye Bye Hong Kong decision, or that of Antilles, will have repercussions for American-based sophomores hoping to make the Derby field. If either accepts, that leaves 18 Derby berths remaining for U.S. horses, with Japan Road invitee Master Fencer making it a 20-horse field.
According to Churchill Downs’ Darren Rogers, no other European Road participants are in line for an invitation. Thus if Bye Bye Hong Kong and Antilles both decline, that leaves the European slot vacant, and allows a total of 19 U.S. horses plus Master Fencer.