Breeders’ Cup: the international picture after Royal Ascot

Mikki Rocket just holds Werther in a driving finish to the Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin yesterday. Photo: Japan Racing Association

There’s no let-up in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, the international series of ‘Win and You’re In’ races for which the winners receive automatic fees-paid places in a corresponding race at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 2-3.

No sooner had the excitement died down after Royal Ascot, which had four races included in the series for the first time last week, than the action split off in separate directions immediately.

First up yesterday was the 9½-furlong $3 million G1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin in Japan, the latest qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. The race featured a bold bid by the former Hong Kong Horse of the Year, the New Zealand-bred Werther, but the 6-year-old son of Tavistock, ridden by world #3 jockey Hugh Bowman, failed by a just a neck to peg back Mikki Rocket, a son of Kinghameha. See video below.

It was a first G1 for Mikki Rocket, owned by Mizuki Noda, trained by Hidetaka Otonashi and ridden by Ryuji Wada. The win was Otonashi’s ninth JRA-G1 victory. It was jockey Wada’s eighth, but his first in 17 years since the 2001 Tenno Sho (Spring) with the famed T.M. Opera O.

Werther’s trainer, John Moore, said after the race, “With a better draw, I reckon we could have won. He lost a lot of weight but he was all heart. He knows where the winning post is and, considering he was racing with the weight loss, he still showed a lot of internal fortitude to hit that line. Hugh said that, at the corner when he hit that straight, he thought he was going to win but the winner just kept grinding to the line. But from a Hong Kong point of view, I think we’ve shown how good our best stayer is.”

“Although we couldn’t win, I couldn’t be happier with the horse’s performance,” said Bowman. “At the top of the straight, I thought we had him covered, had a beautiful running transit. He enjoyed the genuine speed here in Japan and, to be honest, if he didn’t have the setback earlier in the year and had the time to prepare for this from the start, he would have won.”

A few hours later Stud Starbucks’ Smart Choice swept powerfully down the stretch at Hipodromo de Monterrico in Peru (see video below) to catch La Divina at the wire for a quarter-length victory in the 1¼-mile G1 Gran Premio Pamplona, earning an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Miky Chamy, of Stud Starbucks, confirmed to Breeders’ Cup South American representative John Fulton afterwards that Smart Choice, a 4-year-old bay daughter of Grand Reward out of the Victory Speech mare Sweet Victory, will be pointed to the Filly & Mare Turf.

The Gran Premio Pamplona was the last of five Breeders’ Cup Challenge races in South America this year. Here we look at the 16 qualifiers outside America so far this year in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series:

Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf

Four qualifying races run have been so far, with these winners:

  • Poet’s Word, owned by Saeed Suhail and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who won the G1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot last week, upsetting hot favourite Cracksman. Poet’s Word is a son of Poet’s Voice (world-ranked 26).
  • Mikki Rocket, owned by Mizuki Noda, winner of the $3 million G1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin in Japan yesterday. Mikki Rocket is by King Kamehameha (world-ranked 35).
  • Haras de Moro’s 3-year-old Quarteto De Cordas, a son of Rock Of Gibraltar, who won the Gran Premio Brasil over a mile and a half at Gavea this month.
  • Haras de la Pomme’s 4-year-old filly La Extrana Dama (a daughter of world #138 sire Catcher In The Rye), easy winner of the G1 Gran Premio 25 de Mayo, also over a mile and a half, at San Isidro, Argentina, in May.

Breeders’ Cup Mile

The Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last week became the latest of five races run so far in 2018, which provide these qualifiers:

  • Accidental Agent, trained by Eve Johnson Houghton and owned and bred by her mother. The son of Delegator (world-ranked 193) won the one-mile G1 Queen Anne on the opening day of Royal Ascot.

  • Two-time South African Horse of the Year Legal Eagle (by Greys Inn), winner (for the third time) of the G1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate at Kenilworth in January.

  • Happy Clapper (by Teofilo), who took the G1 Star Doncaster Mile at Randwick in April.

  • Stud Don Alberto’s 4-year-old homebred Nuevo Maestro, who won the 1¼-mile G1 Gran Premio Club Hipico Falabella at Club Hipico in Chile in May (he past the post second but was upgraded on the disqualification of stablemate Penn Rose for interference). Connections have indicated that Nuevo Maestro, a son of Ivan Denisovich, is a likely runner at Churchill Downs.

  • Mozu Ascot, a son of Frankel, who won the G1 Yasuda Kinen over a mile at Tokyo on June 3.

Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf

Three qualifiers:

  • Stud Starbucks’ Smart Choice, winner of the 1¼-mile G1 Gran Premio Pamplona at Hipodromo de Monterrico in Peru. Smart Choice, who is being aimed at the Filly & Mare Turf, is by world #239 sire Grand Reward.

  • Drakenstein Stud’s Australian-bred 3-year-old filly Oh Susanna, a daughter of Street Cry, who took the nine-furlong G1 Carter Paddock Stakes at Kenilworth in January.

  • The Godolphin 3-year-old filly Alizee, a daughter of Sepoy, who won the G1 Coolmore Legacy Stakes over a mile at Randwick in April.

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

  • Merchant Navy, narrow winner of a thrilling G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (six furlongs) at Royal Ascot on Saturday. The Australian-bred son of Fastnet Rock (world #10) is owned by Coolmore Partners and the Merchant Navy Syndicate. His victory clinched the Ascot trainers’ title for Aidan O’Brien and the jockeys’ crown for Ryan Moore.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

  • Athough she qualifies for Churchill Downs as an international winner, Shang Shang Shang, who took the G2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, is all-American. The daughter of Shanghai Bobby (world #179) is owned by Breeze Easy LLC and trained by Wesley Ward. She was ridden to victory by U.S.-based world #14 jockey Joel Rosario.

Breeders’ Cup Classic

Just the one qualifier as yet:

  • Nonkono Yume, winner of the one-mile G1 February Stakes on the dirt at Tokyo. The 6-year-old gelding is a son of Twining.

Longines Distaff

The only qualifier so far:

  • Sinfonia Fantastica, a 4-year-old daughter of Cima De Triomphe, who won the G1 Gran Premio Criadores at Palermo in Argentina in May.

Seventeen international qualifiers are still to be run - one in Japan and 16 in Europe, the next being the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 28.

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