After looking as though inexperience cost him in two narrow stakes losses, Kameko put it all together with an emphatic victory in Friday’s rescheduled Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1). The mile test for two-year-olds was transferred to the Newcastle Tapeta, making it the first Group 1 staged on the British all-weather, when historic host Doncaster was waterlogged last week.
Owned by Qatar Racing and trained by Andrew Balding, Kameko was turning back a five-strong Ballydoyle battalion as well as upstaging favorite Kinross. The Kentucky-bred son of Kitten’s Joy earned 10 points on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, upping his total to 14, but his future likely lies back on the turf.
Kameko was reserved in midpack as the Ballydoyle pacemaker Royal County Down showed the way early down the straight mile. Newly crowned British champion jockey Oisin Murphy angled Kameko to the far side of the group for running room, and the response was decisive. The 11-2 chance, who was almost the same price at 5-1 in North America, burst clear by 3 1/4 lengths.
A trio of Aidan O’Brien stablemates fought out the minor awards. Innisfree prevailed for runner-up honors by a neck from Year of the Tiger, with the best-backed of them, Mogul, another short head away in fourth. They took home 4 points, 2, and 1, respectively. Since Innisfree had captured an earlier scoring race, the Beresford (G2), he has a total of 14 points – same as Kameko.
Kinross, coming off a sensational Newmarket debut for Ralph Beckett, didn’t have the same kick here and checked in fifth. Next came the biggest longshot in the field, King of the Throne; Godolphin’s Verboten; O’Brien’s New World Tapestry, who was pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) but relegated deep on the also-eligible list; Tammani; Geometrical; and Royal County Down. Cherokee Trail was scratched.
Kameko clocked 1:36.26 to extend his record to 4-2-2-0. Successful first out going seven furlongs at Sandown, he missed by a nose in the August 31 Solario (G3) over the same track and trip. Kameko was favored in the Royal Lodge (G2), the first points race on the European Road, and appeared on the verge of winning until O’Brien’s Royal Dornoch collared him late.
Bred by the iconic Calumet Farm in the Bluegrass, Kameko went to his current connections for $90,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. His dam, Grade 3 winner Sweeter Still by Rock of Gibraltar, is a half-sister to Group 1 hero Kingsbarns who captured this race in 2012 when it was known as the Racing Post Trophy.
With his Kentucky roots as a son of Kitten’s Joy, and as a Keeneland sales graduate, Kameko’s background is reminiscent of past Qatar Racing star Roaring Lion. That brave gray had also come up just shy in the 2017 Royal Lodge, and again in the Vertem Futurity Trophy, before developing into a multiple Group 1 winner and European champion at three. Sadly Roaring Lion, who was standing at stud this year, succumbed to colic. Maybe Kameko can pick up the torch.