***Friday afternoon update: Dundalk canceled racing after the 2ND race due to a "serious medical incident," Racing Post reports via Twitter. Stay tuned for updates on when the Patton might be rescheduled.
The European Road to the Kentucky Derby awakens from its winter hibernation in Friday’s Patton S., a one-mile affair over the Polytrack at Dundalk. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has won four of the race’s six runnings, including the past three in a row, and the master of Ballydoyle is triple-handed in pursuit of another.
Although none has the cache of last year’s winner, Mendelssohn, O’Brien still has the leading players in Western Australia and Van Beethoven. Both are among his Triple Crown nominees, but the third of his trio, Albuquerque, is not. All three are eligible, however, for the UAE Derby (G2), so it would be no surprise if the Patton serves as a launching pad to Dubai World Cup night, just as it did for Mendelssohn.
The Patton offers points on a 20-8-4-2 scale to the respective top four, twice the amount as last fall’s European Road scoring races. So there will be a new European leader, pending the March 6 Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions race at Kempton and the finale, the April 11 Cardinal Conditions race at Chelmsford.
Western Australia rates as the early favorite with jockey Ryan Moore. That’s an unfamiliar role for him after going off at double-digit odds in his six prior starts. But he’s achieved it as the close third in the October 27 Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1), the most recent scoring race on the European Road. Western Australia exceeded expectations as a 50-1 shot that day, when he served as the pacemaker for highly regarded stablemate Magna Grecia. The only Patton entrant who has contested a points race, Western Australia earned 2 points from the Vertem Futurity.
From the first crop of blueblood Australia (son of Galileo and Breeders’ Cup legend Ouija Board), Western Australia was previously a well-beaten fourth in the KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2) and the Autumn S. (G3). The Patton will help to determine if his Vertem Futurity run were just an outlier, or if he really has improved.
Van Beethoven, from the last crop of Justify’s sire Scat Daddy, is a major threat at his best. Last season’s Railway S. (G2) hero went off form in the second half, but that was also around the time Ballydoyle was reeling from a virus. Van Beethoven has two further questions to answer: he must give his rivals five pounds as the 134-pound highweight, and prove he can handle the mile. Given his pedigree as a maternal relative of 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Stopchargingmaria, he deserves benefit of the doubt. The trainer’s son, Donnacha, picks up the mount from Moore.
Albuquerque, a full brother to multiple Group 1-winning highweight Rip Van Winkle, makes his stakes debut. Sidelined after a non-threatening 12th in his May unveiling, the Galileo colt resurfaced in October to break his maiden at Gowran. Seamie Heffernan has the return call.
British shipper Barys rates the biggest danger. The Archie Watson trainee was underachieving until adding blinkers, and now he’s two-for-two in the headgear. After romping by five lengths at Lingfield November 17, Barys upset the February 10 Prix de Californie at Cagnes-sur-Mer.
Others sport wins at Dundalk. Playa del Puente, third on debut at the Curragh, boasts a two-for-two mark here for Michael Halford. Joseph O’Brien, the jockey-turned-trainer son of Aidan, fields a pair of contenders in Numerian and Colfer Me. The two have traded decisions of late, with Colfer Me winning at this trip before finishing third to Numerian last time over seven furlongs.
Manjeer has a stealthy look for trainer John Oxx. The Footstepsinthesand colt broke his maiden at Leopardstown October 27, overturning an Aidan O’Brien favorite (Turnberry Isle) who came back to win. Judging by his pedigree, Manjeer is likely capable of progressing this season.
The Patton is carded as the 6TH race, with a scheduled post time of 2:45 p.m. (EST). You can watch and wager at TwinSpires.com.