Sunday’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1), the third points race on the new European Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), serves up a fascinating clash between Aidan O’Brien’s Group 1-winning filly Happily and Godolphin colts Masar and Mythical Magic.
Happily comes off a photo-finish score in the Moyglare Stud (G1), where she earned her place in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Coolmore’s daughter of Galileo could well have stayed in her own division for the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) for fillies, one race earlier on the Arc Day card at Chantilly. But O’Brien instead decided to let her take on the boys in this spot.
No filly has won this race in three decades, the last being Danishkada in 1986, but a few have placed in the intervening years. Happily must withstand the potent one-two punch from Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby to end the drought.
The more appealing of those two is Masar. He is out of Khawlah, the only female winner of the UAE Derby (G2), so it’s somehow fitting that the only rivals to beat him so far are fillies. Third to a pair of fillies in the Chesham at Royal Ascot, his lone loss, Masar bounced back to take the Solario (G3). Stablemate Mythical Magic, likewise two-for-three, suffered his only reverse when a close third in the Champagne (G2) in his latest.
Of the French squad, Olmedo has the strongest credentials to defend the home turf. From the yard of France’s perennial leading trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, he came up just shy as the odds-on favorite in the Prix des Chenes (G3).
In addition to the 10-4-2-1 points structure as a European Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring race, the Lagardere furnishes the winner a free passage to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) – and a place in the annals of French racing history.
Dating back to the mid-19th century, France’s signature juvenile race was staged as the Grand Criterium for 150 years, with a few years missing due to World Wars I and II. It was renamed in memory of owner/breeder Jean-Luc Lagardere in 2003.
Arazi, the stunning winner of the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, captured this race on his way. Although he failed to duplicate that effort when only eighth as the favorite in the 1992 Kentucky Derby, another Grand Criterium alum performed far better. Bold Arrangement, runner-up here in 1985, beat all but Ferdinand in the 1986 Kentucky Derby – still the best result ever for a European-based horse trying the “Run for the Roses.”
The Lagardere has also made a mark on the Breeders’ Cup. The 2013 Lagardere hero, Karakontie, landed the following season’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), and 2001 star Rock of Gibraltar was famously upset in the 2002 Mile. Hold That Tiger, successful in 2002, placed third to champion Vindication in that fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Intercontinental, third to Hold That Tiger in the 2002 running, eventually clinched an Eclipse Award through the 2005 Filly & Mare Turf (G1), and Pounced (second in 2009) took the Juvenile Turf in his next start.
Happily photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire /Breeders' Cup via Twitter