The 2021 European Road to the Kentucky Derby launches Saturday with the first two scoring races, held within about 90 minutes of each other in Great Britain and Ireland. The Royal Lodge (G2) at Newmarket is set for 8:50 a.m., and the Beresford (G2) at the Curragh follows at 10:15 a.m. (all times ET). Both mile tests offer points on the 10-4-2-1 scale.
The Royal Lodge, also a “Win and You’re In” for the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), features a small but well-matched field of five. Three are already stakes winners, one is Group 2-placed, and the other comes off a debut score.
The Clive Cox-trained Cobh brings a 2-for-3 mark, including a victory in the Aug. 21 Stonehenge at Salisbury over a next-out stakes scorer in Fancy Man. Cobh’s only loss also reflects well upon him, for he was runner-up to the unbeaten Chindit in the Pat Eddery S. at Ascot. Chindit has since gone on to land the Champagne (G2) and stamp himself as an exciting classic hopeful.
Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien, who has taken the past two runnings of the Royal Lodge and seven overall, relies upon Ontario. The Galileo colt had to break his maiden twice. Disqualified for bumping a rival at Fairyhouse, Ontario duly made amends when holding on at Galway. He then shortened up in trip for the Futurity (G2) at the Curragh and placed a close third to Mac Swiney and Cadillac, who subsequently booked his Breeders’ Cup ticket in the KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2). Ontario is eligible to appreciate stepping back up to a mile here.
Gear Up has won both starts so far for trainer Mark Johnston. After a 7-furlong maiden tally at York, he came back to capture the Aug. 19 Acomb (G3) over the same course and distance. The Acomb form doesn’t look all that strong, however, and this represents a real class test.
New Mandate posted a mild upset in the Flying Scotsman at Doncaster in his latest. The Ralph Beckett pupil previously dropped into handicap company to earn his first win, but he’s on the upgrade now. Rounding out the quintet is Pleasant Man from the Roger Charlton yard. A well-bred son of Galileo and multiple Australian Group 1 queen Melito, Pleasant Man recently justified favoritism in his career debut at Haydock.
The Beresford has attracted a more numerous cast of 13, and O’Brien is triple-handed as he seeks a 20th win in the juvenile feature.
Two of the Ballydoyle entrants are siblings to past winners for O’Brien. High Definition, a full brother to last year’s hero Innisfree, is likely his leading chance as a course-and-distance debut winner. But Brazil, a full brother to 2016 graduate and eventual dual classic champion Capri, responded to blinkers to score his maiden win here as well. Sir Lucan has the biggest question to answer after trailing in his lone start, but O’Brien runners often improve markedly with a run under their belt.
Dermot Weld nearly broke O’Brien’s stranglehold on this race last year, and the venerable horseman threatens again with Wuqood. Sheikh Hamdan’s homebred son of Dubawi prevailed at first asking at Gowran, despite lack of market confidence at 12-1, and figures to move forward. Sheikh Hamdan has another contender in the more experienced Munaasib. Trained by Kevin Prendergast, the son of freshman sire Bobby’s Kitten won two in a row before just missing in the Ballyhane at Naas. But this marks his first try at a mile.
Jessica Harrington’s smart maiden winner Ace Aussie is entitled to thrive over the added ground. By Australia (the Epsom/Irish Derby [G1]-winning son of Galileo and Ouija Board) and a half-brother to the multiple Group-placed Giuseppe Garibaldi, Ace Aussie progressed from a second on debut to graduate going 7 furlongs at Cork.
Several others are eligible to show more than they did in prior stakes attempts. Four were well adrift of Cadillac in the aforementioned KPMG Champions Juvenile – third-placer Reve de Vol and fifth Ides of August (stablemates from the Ger Lyons yard), sixth Snapraeterea, and Jim Bolger’s Jack Duggan who was eased after being hampered. Of those, Snapraeterea, trained by O’Brien’s successful son Joseph, has arguably the best case to rebound since he was previously a much closer fourth in the aforementioned Futurity. Joseph’s up-and-coming brother, Donnacha, hopes for a better run from Southern Cape who trailed in the same race.
Lifetime Legend is a twice-raced maiden, but his runner-up effort to Ballydoyle’s promising Kyprios at Galway could stack up in this spot. In much deeper is the filly Adakaz who has yet to place in three outings.
Watch and wager on the Curragh and Newmarket at TwinSpires.com.