Of the 13 European-based sophomores nominated to the 2020 Triple Crown, it’s no surprise that 11 fly the Irish flag, and the majority of those (six) are trained by Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle.
But this year, Aidan’s son Joseph has three nominees himself, including a fascinating prospect with an American pedigree. One of the emerging storylines on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby could be the rise of Joseph O’Brien with American classic aspirants. He’s already gotten the better of Dad in a few European majors, the Breeders’ Cup, and even scored the elusive Melbourne Cup (G1).
Aidan still has strength in depth, though, so we’ll start with the father’s six.
Monarch of Egypt, the first winner sired by American Pharoah, flashed real talent before disappointing in his last two starts. Co-owned by Peter Brant along with Coolmore principals Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, the $750,000 Keeneland September yearling displayed speed to win his debut at Naas in April. Monarch of Egypt missed Royal Ascot with a setback, but later turned in a pair of solid runner-up efforts to unbeaten Siskin. Dismissed by Siskin in the Railway (G2), he threw down a much stiffer challenge in the Phoenix (G1) (watch the green silks on the outside) and nearly upset him:
Full replay and report: How impressed were you with Siskin in the @keeneland Phoenix Stakes at @curraghrace last night?— Racing TV (@RacingTV) August 10, 2019
Watch what @gerlyonsracing and @ctkjockey had to say to @irishkor about his victory >>>https://t.co/m2ympQINiU pic.twitter.com/3CHj7Y4gIP
Monarch of Egypt did not run up to that level when trailing in the Middle Park (G1) and finishing fifth in the Dewhurst (G1). The Kentucky-bred looked like the type who could try the Breeders’ Cup, but instead he was shelved for the season. As if the Pharoah factor weren’t enough, his dam, the Group 2-winning Galileo mare Up, also offers hope of further progress at three. Monarch of Egypt holds European classic entries in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) and Epsom Derby (G1), but you’ve got to think that the Kentucky Derby trail is the preferred option for him.
Stablemate Royal Dornoch , who upset the Sept. 28 Royal Lodge (G2), is the only winner of a European Road points race to be nominated. Currently fourth on the European leaderboard, the Ballydoyle runner was pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) but didn’t come.
Royal Dornoch hasn’t been seen since springing that 16-1 surprise at Newmarket. He was overlooked that day because of his 1-for-6 record going in, that lone score coming in a Gowran maiden, and three of those losses were in stakes. Although Royal Dornoch had been a useful third in the Richmond (G2) at Glorious Goodwood, he was seventh in the Prix Morny (G1) and last of five in the Champagne (G2). The step up to a mile worked wonders in the Royal Lodge as Royal Dornoch got up in 1:35.13, a juvenile course record:
Full replay and reaction: Royal Dornoch springs 16-1 surprise in the @JuddmonteFarms Royal Lodge Stakes at @NewmarketRace under Wayne Lordan for the Aidan O'Brien team >>>https://t.co/sknnn7FS1b pic.twitter.com/SOnvuA6PlE— Racing TV (@RacingTV) September 28, 2019
Kameko, the beaten Royal Lodge favorite, came back to win the Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1). If that technically franks the form of Royal Dornoch, the more persuasive argument is that the inexperienced Kameko had learned plenty in the interim. The fact that the Vertem was rained off the Doncaster turf, and transferred to the Newcastle Tapeta, might also have helped Kameko more than the others.
Royal Dornoch has an unambiguously turf pedigree. His sire, star miler Gleneagles, was last behind American Pharoah in his lone dirt experiment in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Royal Dornoch is also a half-brother to multiple Grade/Group 2 turf millionaire Hawksmoor from the family of 1993 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) hero Kotashaan. Thus the European classics would appear to be a better fit.
Fort Myers, like the rest of the Aidan O’Brien nominees, is by War Front. Two points hint that the Derby trail could be in view: he’s nominated to the UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup night, and he’s already shipped stateside once for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, where he wasn’t beaten far in seventh.
To put his Breeders’ Cup loss in context, Fort Myers is winless from six turf starts. He’s also placed in just three outings on that surface, including thirds in the Railway (to Siskin and Monarch of Egypt) and Round Tower (G3), and his fourth in Royal Ascot’s Coventry (G2) was creditable. But Fort Myers is 2-for-2 on the Dundalk Polytrack, from his April premiere to the Oct. 4 Star Appeal:
In light of his Dundalk proficiency, its European Road scoring race, the Feb. 28 Patton, looms as an attractive option. Whether his all-weather love transfers to dirt remains to be seen. But Fort Myers comes from a superb family. His dam, 2014 Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) heroine Marvellous by Galileo, is a full sister to Gleneagles, and their dam is a full sister to “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway who just missed to Tiznow in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Fellow War Front blueblood New World Tapestry is the first foal from 2014 Yorkshire Oaks (G1) victress Tapestry. Herself a daughter of Galileo and European champion Rumplestiltskin, Tapestry descends from the all-time great Miesque.
A homebred racing for the Niarchos Family and Coolmore partners, New World Tapestry was beaten in his first two appearances that featured high-class stablemates. He was a distant third to Arizona and fourth to Armory, both at the Curragh, but broke his maiden at Newmarket in a gutsy front-running effort.
Interestingly, New World Tapestry was pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf off that maiden win, but didn’t ship since he was ranked so low on the also-eligible list. Pitched into the Vertem Futurity Trophy instead, the 20-1 outsider tracked the pace before fading to eighth. If New World Tapestry still has upside in 2020, chances are he’ll prosper back on turf.
King of Athens, on the other hand, came to life for the same Niarchos/Coolmore connections when switching to all-weather. The long-way second in Arizona’s maiden (where New World Tapestry was third) didn’t build on that effort in his next three turf starts. But on Oct. 31 at Lingfield, King of Athens bolted up by five on the Polytrack. Whether it was maturity or the surface or just the right spot, he traveled easily while others came under pressure.
King of Athens is out of 2014 Fillies’ Mile (G1) winner Together Forever by Galileo, herself a full sister to the reverse-named Forever Together who captured the 2018 Epsom Oaks (G1). Their half-brother is Group 1 victor Lord Shanakill.
Battle of Liege is a full brother to Hit It a Bomb, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf upsetter; Brave Anna, the European highweight 2-year-old filly of 2016; and Threeandfourpence, none of whom progressed at three. Battle of Liege is the only Ballydoyle nominee who has not been entered in any European classics (yet). Finishing midfield in a 16-runner Naas maiden on debut, he moved forward to win over the Chelmsford Polytrack. Like King of Athens, New World Tapestry, and Fort Myers, Battle of Liege is nominated to the UAE Derby.
By War Front— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 2, 2019
Brother to G1 winner Brave Anna
Brother to @BreedersCup winner Hit It A Bomb
Battle Of Liege opens his account in a first success for @Ballydoyle at @ChelmsfordCRC. One from one for @donnacha_obrien at the track pic.twitter.com/kxQznyvpwJ
Joseph O’Brien’s trio is led by Dune of Pilat, the French-bred product of all-American parents. He’s by Medaglia d’Oro and out of the multiple Grade 3-winning Lemon Drop Kid mare Rusty Slipper. His dam was a turf performer, but her surface-versatile family is also responsible for 2014 Wood Memorial (G1) hero and Kentucky Derby fourth Wicked Strong.
Dune of Pilat, a €340,000 ($388,416) Arqana August yearling, has raced exclusively on all-weather so far. After a half-length second at Dundalk, he stalked and pounced to a handy win at the same track, and in his latest, he beat up on poor competition at Southwell. Aside from the experience of hopping over to England, Southwell offered the opportunity to test Fibresand – the all-weather surface often described as being nearest to dirt. Note he’s still green in wanting to stay on his left lead a lot longer:
They don’t come over for the fresh air! @JosephOBrien2’s Dune Of Pilat has a Derby entry and makes the trip over from Ireland to bolt up at @Southwell_Races under @CrosseShane pic.twitter.com/8OG4SwFf5K— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) January 28, 2020
In his postrace comments, Joseph specifically mentioned the possibility of a Dubai or American venture. The Sun Bloodstock colorbearer also holds Epsom and Irish Derby engagements.
Joseph’s other two nominees are Charles Fipke homebreds. Choice of Mine is the more exotic as an Australian-bred who was conceived on Northern Hemisphere time and foaled in January. By Redoute’s Choice and from the same female line as his sire – the all-star family of Rags to Riches and War of Will – Choice of Mine stayed on powerfully at Dundalk to win second time out. He is eligible for the Irish 2000 Guineas, but his unraced stablemate, Dances With Stars , doesn’t have any other “fancy entries” at this point. Dances With Stars is a son of the great Sea the Stars and Dance Secretary, who is a Danehill Dancer half-sister to Canadian champion Perfect Soul.
The Irish squad is rounded out by two from Dermot Weld, who sent out Go and Go to surprise the 1990 Belmont (G1). Shekhem, just edged by Innisfree after a prolonged duel in the Beresford (G2), is the only nominee besides Royal Dornoch on the European Road leaderboard.
A 19th success in the G2 Beresford Stakes for Aidan O'Brien as innisfree gets the better of Shekhem in a thrilling finish to the mile event pic.twitter.com/IhukuTodhq— The Curragh Racecourse (@curraghrace) September 29, 2019
As an Aga Khan homebred, Shekhem has a robust turf pedigree being by Zoffany and out of a Dalakhani mare. His more natural progression would be to the European classics, and accordingly he’s entered in the Irish 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and Irish Derby. Unraced stablemate Coltor, who also sports a couple of classic entries, likewise has turf-oriented bloodlines. From the first crop of past Weld star Free Eagle (himself a son of High Chaparral), Coltor comes from the family of Weld legend Vintage Crop, the first European to hoist the Melbourne Cup in 1993.
The sole French-based nominee, Criterium de Saint-Cloud (G1) hero Mkfancy, is trained by Pia Brandt. The Abdullah al Maddah homebred hasn’t lost since his debut third to Victor Ludorum, who’s since captured the Prix Jean Luc Lagardere (G1) to remain perfect. Mkfancy progressed from a convincing maiden score to a front-running victory in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, repelling Ballydoyle’s Mythical and Arthur’s Kingdom.
No joy for the Ballydoyle trio as Mkfancy stretches clear to win the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud for Théo Bachelot and Pia Brandt pic.twitter.com/3LTjT1lFim— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) October 26, 2019
Mkfancy is nominated to the UAE Derby, and given Brandt’s past success at the Dubai Carnival, he’d be intriguing. Although most of his pedigree is turfy, he descends from the Mr. Prospector sire line via the late, great Dubai Millennium and his son Dubawi, whose progeny often take to dirt. Mkfancy is by Dubawi’s son Makfi.
The John Gosden-trained Mishriff also hails from the Dubawi line, but via Makfi’s young son Make Believe. Prince Faisal’s homebred is out of a mare by Raven’s Pass (the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner on Santa Anita’s old synthetic surface) from the black-type rich family of Invincible Spirit. Mishriff has improved in each of his starts. Fourth on debut at Yarmouth, and a slightly troubled third at Newbury, he romped in a Nov. 6 maiden at Nottingham. That competition was suspect, but the Irish Guineas nominee took full advantage.
Impressive!— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 6, 2019
Mishriff saunters into contention and powers clear in a fine performance to open his account for John Gosden and David Egan at @NottsRacecourse
Results ➡ https://t.co/glajGV55GR pic.twitter.com/pMKrr19OuM
Most of Godolphin’s nominees are based stateside, and a couple are in Japan, but homebred Laser Show is wintering in Dubai after an education in England. The Saeed bin Suroor pupil made a fine impression in his 14-1 debut win at Sandown, gaining in deep stretch to collar the favorite. Laser Show appeared to make it two straight Kempton, only to be run down late in a possible loss of focus by both horse and rider.
Not seen again until the Dubai Carnival, Laser Show showed nothing in the Jan. 9 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial. Then came a massive turnaround on a step up in trip, and the addition of a visor, in the about 1 3/16-mile Al Bastakiya Trial – held over the same track and distance as the UAE Derby:
Although Laser Show flopped when shortening up in last Thursday’s UAE 2000 Guineas (G3), his previous performance on dirt can’t be discounted. And he’s nicely bred as a son of New Approach and the Group 3-placed Street Cry mare Entertains, herself closely related to current Australian Group 1 winner Trekking, who was third in last year’s Everest. Laser Show’s second dam is Australian champion Serenade Rose, and the cosmopolitan family ranges from English co-champion Circus Ring to Italian highweight Voila Ici and Hong Kong supremo Viva Pataca. With that in mind, the Irish Derby nominee might find turf his true home.
The Japanese-based Triple Crown nominees are coming next…