Saturday's Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket, the first race on the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system, includes a half-brother to 2008 Kentucky Derby-winning champion Big Brown -- Afonso de Sousa. The son of Henrythenavigator is the lone entrant from the yard of Aidan O'Brien, who won last year's Royal Lodge with Daddy Long Legs and also finished third with Wrote.
The Royal Lodge is unique in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, as the lone juvenile race outside North America and the only grass race on the schedule. As with the other races during the first stage of the series, it will award points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Although it's far too soon to discern if this test down the Rowley Mile will have any bearing on the 2013 Run for the Roses, the Royal Lodge could have a more immediate impact for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf as a "Win and You're In" event. Those who place in the Royal Lodge could also have a Breeders' Cup date, for Wrote went on to upset the 2011 Juvenile Turf.
Afonso de Sousa, a $300,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, romped by nine lengths in a July 26 maiden at Leopardstown in his third try. Making his stakes debut in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes at York August 22, he set the pace before yielding to the well-regarded Dundonnell and Steeler.
Steeler once again looms as a dangerous opponent in the Royal Lodge. The Mark Johnston trainee has since come back to take the September 4 Stardom Stakes at Goodwood, over the same course and distance as his maiden win. Ironically, Steeler is by 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Raven's Pass, the archrival of Afonso de Sousa's sire Henrythenavigator.
Trainer Jeremy Noseda sends out the unbeaten Fantastic Moon. A maiden winner over Newmarket's July Course, the Dalakhani colt showed a terrific turn of foot late when going last to first in the Group 3 Solario at Sandown September 1.
Godolphin will be represented by Artigiano, who is bred on the potent Distorted Humor/A.P. Indy cross. The Mahmood al Zarooni juvenile was last seen finishing a close second to the classy Olympic Glory in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood August 1.
Juddmonte Farms' homebred Excess Knowledge hopes to follow in the hoofsteps of the mighty Frankel, a dominating winner of the 2010 Royal Lodge for the same owner/breeder. Trained by John Gosden, the son of Monsun was most recently runner-up in the August 18 Washington Singer Stakes at Newbury.
Frankel's trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, fields a promising type in Al Waab, who captured his first two starts here on the July Course. He suffered his first loss last time out in the September 8 Ascendant Stakes at Haydock, beaten just a head by Havana Gold, who just won Thursday's Group 3 Somerville Tattersall Stakes.
Rounding out the group are Birdman, Mocenigo and One Word More.
Post time for the Royal Lodge is scheduled for 8:55 a.m. (EDT).