Royal Dornoch surprises Royal Lodge on European Road to Kentucky Derby

Sep 28, 2019 Kellie Reilly/

Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien won the Royal Lodge (G2) for the seventh time on Saturday, but with his apparent third-stringer at Newmarket. The longest shot on the board in both the British and North American betting, Royal Dornoch floored favored Kameko in the first scoring race on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Named after a Scottish golf course like his sire, Gleneagles, Royal Dornoch appreciated the step up to a mile and set a new juvenile course record of 1:35.13. The bay showed fine tactical speed under Wayne Lordan to track pacesetter Sound of Cannons, who was stalked by Kameko on his other flank. Both overtook the early leader, and Kameko soon edged away from Royal Dornoch.

But Royal Dornoch responded to deny Kameko by a neck and paid $31.40 as a 14-1 chance on this side of the pond. Aside from earning 10 points on the European Road scoreboard, Royal Dornoch secured a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) with the Royal Lodge serving as a “Win and You’re In.”

Kameko took home 4 points for his near-miss. His relative lack of experience in just his third start may have told late. O’Brien’s other runners placed third and fourth. Iberia rallied from last for his 2 points, while better-fancied stablemate Year of the Tiger didn’t make much of an impact in fourth, good for 1 point. Sound of Cannons faded to fifth. Highland Chief ran well below his best in sixth, and Pyledriver regressed to last. Surf Dancer was scratched.

Royal Dornoch improved his record to two wins, one second, and a third from seven starts. Beaten in his first two outings, he nevertheless tried top company when third in the August 1 Richmond (G2) and seventh in the Prix Morny (G1). Royal Dornoch then dropped back into a maiden at Galway to score his first win. Instead of progressing from there, though, he took a step backward when last of five in the September 14 Champagne (G2) at Doncaster.

O’Brien’s postrace comments on sum up the ever-evolving picture:

“Horses change a lot at this time of year and they come and go very quickly.”

The trainer was speaking in the context of plans for Royal Dornoch, including the possibility of the October 26 Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1), another European Road points race. Yet considering that the Irish-bred juvenile is a half-brother to millionaire turfiste Hawksmoor, who enjoyed a productive career stateside, Royal Dornoch might be one to take up the Breeders’ Cup offer at Santa Anita.

Other family members have also thrived on the American turf. Royal Dornoch’s dam, the Danehill Dancer mare Bridal Dance, is a half-sister to Grade 3 winner Millennium Dragon from the family of 1993 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) star Kotashaan.

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