For years, European-trained runners shipping across the Atlantic to contest valuable North American turf races have more often than not started favourite and been expected to win. And a high percentage of them have obliged. Graded stakes on grass proved to be easy pickings, compared to going for gold at venues like Ascot, Newmarket, Longchamp and Chantilly.
If last year's results are anything to go by, things are beginning to change, however.
Look at what happened last year. Aidan O'Brien, the world’s top-ranked trainer, had just one single top-level success in North America - Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn. And this, remember, was a year when the Irishman broke the world record for the number of G1 wins in a calendar year. The master of Ballydoyle sent out 21 runners in North American turf G1s in 2017, with just Mendelssohn obliging.
O'Brien was not the only European trainer to miss the target in the U.S. last year.
Before the Breeders’ Cup, where Europe was represented by 34 runners and won three races, European trainers had saddled 33 runners in North American G1s on turf. Four were successful:
- Zhukova (trained by Dermot Weld), who captured a depleted Man o’ War Stakes in testing ground at Belmont Park
- Capla Temptress (Marco Botti), winner of the Natalma Stakes at Woodbine
- Suedois (David O’Meara), victorious in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland
- Blond Me (Andrew Balding), winner of the E P Taylor Stakes, again at Woodbine.
Take out Canada, which attracted five European G1 runners through the year, and European-trained contenders won just two U.S. G1s in 2017, from 62 runners - an uninspiring 3.2 percent strike rate. That's a sharp drop compared to 2016, when European-trained runners were 4-for-42 in U.S. G1s.
What has changed? There are many factors, but the main answer lies in two words: Chad Brown.
Brown, currently the world’s fourth-ranked trainer, saddled the winners of ten of the 35 G1s on turf in America last year - with eight different horses. Bobby Frankel’s former assistant looks to have virtually single-handedly upped the game on turf in the States?
Below is a look at the types of horses he relies on as he dominates the U.S. turf division. I have picked what I consider to be the ten most exciting turf runners in Brown’s care last year? They include his eight 2017 turf G1 winners.
Six of them were bred in the U.S., with breeders in Chile, France, Britain and Ireland providing one apiece. Four were ex-European runners. So it’s clear there is no particular type Brown focuses on. They come in all shapes and from all corners of the breeding industry. Here is a trainer able to quickly spot a natural turf runner, whatever the horse’s pedigree might indicate.
Which is one of the reasons Chad Brown will continue to be a hard man to beat in top-level turf events in years to come. Shipping a G3 performer from Europe to go up against him simply will not do anymore.
6yo gelding. Dubawi - Baqah (Bahhare)
Almanaar is a British-bred gelding racing for Shadwell Stable. Initially trained by Freddie Head in France (he won a pair of G3 at Chantilly back in 2015), he was making his third start for Brown when beating Beach Patrol (who was demoted to fourth) by three parts of a length to win the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap in February, 2017.
Almanaar’s dam, Baqah, a daughter of Bahhare, was also trained by Head. She peaked in the summer of her 3-year-old campaign, when won the G2 Prix de Sandringham at Chantilly. Baqah produced two other winners. Her dam, Filfilah (Cadeaux Genereux), was a 100-rated handicap winner for the late Peter Walwyn, and one of six winners (five on the flat) out of El Rabab, probably best known as the dam of the smart chaser Without A Doubt. El Rabab was a daughter of 1986 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Brave Raj. Quite a mixed family.
Analyze It (US)
3yo colt. Point Of Entry - Sweet Assay (Consolidator)
Some observers saw him as a possible Kentucky Derby contender in the winter, though Brown stated that he was more likely to kept to turf racing.
He made all to crush 11 rivals in what looked a well above average mile maiden at Belmont Park in late October, and did the same to a more accomplished group in a G3 at Del Mar a month later.
Analyze It was the best turf juvenile trained in North America last year, and he took another nice step forward when reappearing in the G3 Transylvania at Keeneland in early April, winning by 5¼ lengths.
He heads the first crop of runners by high-class turf performer Point Of Entry. A neat colt, he is a late developing sort but he came from the OBS March breeze-up sale, where he cost $190,000.
He is the first foal out of Sweet Assay, who did not make it to the races until she was four. She won twice (6½ furlongs and 5), leading virtually throughout both times. Analyze It runs the same way.
His sire possessed stamina, but the bottom half of Analyze It’s pedigree is most definitely all about speed, and a mile might prove to be his optimum trip.
5yo mare. First Defence - Ixora (Dynaformer)
Another of Brown’s G1 winners to have begun her career in France, Antonoe was second favourite for the G1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp in 2015 but she ran as if something was amiss and finished seventh of eight. She had prepped with a fine G2 win i at Chantilly. Three runs were also all she got at three, with a third-place finish in the a G3 her best showing.
She was out of action from mid August, 2016 to mid April 2017, when she made her first start for Brown a winning one. Her U.S. debut came in allowance company at Keeneland and she was visually most impressive as she came from well off the pace to win easily. Her running style was pretty much the same, though the company considerably tougher, when she followed up in the G1 Just A Game Stakes over a mile at Belmont Park in June.
Further success was not to come Antonoe’s way. She was third to Lady Eli in the G1 Diana Stakes (after breaking through the stalls before the race and being hampered at the finish), then fifth to that same rival in the G2 Ballston Spa.
Antonoe’s sire, the Unbridled’s Song son First Defence, is currently standing at the Haif Stud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, having been sold by Juddmonte in 2016. First Defence was a smart sprinter who won the G1 Forego Handicap at Saratoga as a 4-year-old. His dam, Honest Lady, another G1 winning sprinter for the Juddmonte operation, was a half-sister to Empire Maker and Chester House, and their dam, Toussaud, was Kentucky Broodmare of the Year for 2002.
Beach Patrol (US)
5yo horse. Lemon Drop Kid - Bashful Bertie (Quiet American)
Brown has described Beach Patrol as one of the most consistent horses he trains. This son of Lemon Drop Kid has been a steady improver and he could continue doing so in 2018.
He finished in the first three in all but one of his seven runs last year (though he was demoted to fourth once). His finest hour came when he outclassed Fanciful Angel and Oscar Performance to the tune of five lengths in the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park in late September, seven weeks after having beaten Fanciful Angel and Deauville in a close finish to the G1 Arlington Million.
Beach Patrol went on to split the French-trained winner Talismanic and Ireland’s Highland Reel in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
He made his seasonal debut earlier this month, when an encouraging threequarter-length runner-up to the Bill Mott-trained Yoshida in the G1 Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
Beach Patrol, bought by agent Ben Glass for $250,000 at Keeneland’s November sale in 2013, has a background quite different the others on this list. He joined Brown’s team in the summer of 2016, after having been trained by Wayne Catalano at two and by Philip d’Amato for his first three runs at three. Although he is by a Belmont winner and comes from a family of dirt runners, his three handlers have agreed that he is a turf horse. All of his 17 starts to date have been on grass.
6yo mare (retired). Scat Daddy - Daja (Seeker’s Reward)
Dacita was retired to the paddocks after finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Stakes at Del Mar last November, her 21st race, of which 12 were for Chad Brown, who got her from trainer Juan Silva Gajardo in her native Chile after the 2014 season.
Dacita moved north with a solid record, having won three G1s on home soil. She continued as a game and consistent performer for Brown, winning at the highest level in 2016 – taking the G1 Diana Stakes at Saratoga by a nose from Recepta – and again in 2017, when she outstayed dead-heaters Dona Bruja and Grand Jete (also trained by Brown) in the G1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park.
Bred by Haras Paso Nevado, Dacita is by Scat Daddy, and her dam is the Chilean bred Daja, a daughter of Seeker’s Reward (Gone West). Daja won as a juvenile but was no star at the track. She shone in the paddocks though, producing ten winners from ten runners (12 foals). She was voted Broodmare of the Year in Chile in 2015.
Lady Eli (US)
6yo mare (retired). Divine Park - Sacre Coeur (Saint Ballado)
Lady Eli was unfortunate in her farewell race, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Struck into early on, she was throwing her head in the air and pulling hard – quite uncharacteristically. It came as no big surprise to learn that she came back with injuries to her hind legs.
A winner of her first five races, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2014 and the G1 Belmont Oaks in 2015, Lady Eli was taking a three-race win streak into the Filly & Mare Turf, a race she had lost by just a nose to Queen’s Trust in 2016. She produced a no-nonsense performance to beat Goodyearforroses by half a length in the G1 Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita last May, and a gritty one when wearing down the front-running Quidura by a head in the Diana at Saratoga in August.
Because of her injuries at Del Mar, Lady Eli was withdrawn from the Keeneland November Sale, and she was officially retired on January 17. Bred by Runnymede Farm Inc. and Catesby W. Clay in Kentucky, she has been trained by Chad Brown from day one.
Lady Eli’s sire, Divine Park, won the G1 Met Mile in 2008 but, Lady Eli apart, did not excel as a stallion and was exported to South Korea in 2016. Her dam, Sacre Coeur, won an 8½-furlong turf maiden at Aqueduct as a juvenile, and has also produced Bizzy Caroline (Afleet Alex), winner of two turf G3s at Churchill Downs.
Racehorses make pedigrees, not the other way round, and Lady Eli is a classic example. Her family does not stand out as one likely to throw up a champion, but it did in her case. Can she live up to her racing reputation in the paddocks? She was due to be bred to War Front.
New Money Honey (US)
4yo filly. Medaglia d’Oro - Weekend Whim (Distorted Humor)
A $450,000 Keeneland graduate, New Money Honey contributed to Brown’s success in valuable turf races once again last year, having won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2016.
The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro lost her form in the second half of the season, failing to make an impact in the G1 Alabama Stakes (on dirt), G1 Queen Elizabeth II and G1 American Oaks. But Brown produced her to top form in July, when she won the G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational over a mile and a quarter, a race she secured by a neck and 1¾ lengths from two French imports, Sistercharlie and Uni – both also trained by Brown.
Looking at New Money Honey’s distaff side we are, once more, dealing with a classy turf runner whose pedigree points more towards dirt racing. Her unraced dam, Weekend Whim, is a sister to G1 Haskell Invitational winner Any Given Saturday.
Medaglia d’Oro has had tremendous success with daughters Songbird, Rachel Alexandra, Elate and Plum Pretty – all dirt runners of course – but he has also sired smart turf horses like Astern, Mshawish and Talismanic. New Money Honey, Talismanic and Astern all have Danzig in the bottom half of their pedigree, but their families have little else in common.
Off Limits (Ireland)
6yo mare. Mastercraftsman - Ravish (Efisio)
She won a Leopardstown maiden at two and a Killarney listed event at three. She left David Wachman to cross the Atlantic after the 2015 season, but five runs without a win in 2016 did not make her an immediate success for her new connections. 2017 was to be totally different. Off Limits won five of her six races, culminating in a cheeky one-length verdict over Hawksmoor in the G1 Matriarch Stakes over a mile at Del Mar in November.
Her dam, Ravish, comes from a Phipps family line going back decades. Ravish was placed over a mile in England at three and she is also dam of the Italian six-time winner Seinellanima and Swift Ceder, who managed ten wins in England.
Ravish is a daughter of Looks Sensational, a Majestic Light daughter who made it to the races only twice but was a half-sister to Awe Inspiring, a winner of the G1 Flamingo Stakes and G1 American Derby who ran third to Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby and fourth to Easy Goer in the Belmont Stakes.
Rushing Fall (US)
3yo filly. More Than Ready - Autumnal (Forestry)
Rushing Fall gave Brown his fourth success in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. With three wins from as many starts, over three different tracks, she progressed sharply with experience in her first season.
She has run twice so far in 2018, winning a one-mile G2 at Keeneland and going down by a neck to the Neil Drysdale-trained Toinette over 8½ furlongs at Churchill Downs earlier this month. She is now a possible for the G1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Secured for $320,000 at the Fasig-Tipton August sale in 2016 by agent Mike Ryan, Rushing Fall is a half-sister to the four-time winner Milam (Street Sense), who was runner-up in a G3 over seven panels at Churchill Downs, and third in two other G3s (all on dirt). Milam, trained by Eddie Kenneally, was tried over further but seven furlongs was probably her best trip.
It’s hard to see turf potential in this family and perhaps Rushing Fall is like Beach Patrol, a runner ready to dramatically change, and indeed upgrade, her pedigree page. Her sire, More Than Ready, is a versatile stallion, having hit the headlines with top-class runners as different as last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Roy H and More Joyous, a New Zealand-bred mare who captured nine G1s down under (from seven to ten furlongs on turf).
4yo filly. Le Havre - Foreign Raider (Lend A Hand)
Rymska had an interrupted campaign in 2017 but showed enough to suggest she is up to living with the best in the distaff turf division. She was strongly fancied for the G1 American Oaks in December only to be ruled out due to lameness on the morning of the race.
It wasn’t her first setback. Some mild tendonitis put her on the shelf after she took a G3 at Gulfstream Park in February. Her next run wasn’t until September 30, when she produced another strong finish to beat Taperge in a G3 at Laurel. A near two-month break followed and Rymska was even better as she outclassed the ex-English runner Dancing Breeze at Aqueduct in November.
Provided she stays healthy, Rymska should be an important player on Brown’s team, which she joined from France-based trainer Pia Brandt after running second to New Money Honey in a G3 at Belmont in 2016. New Money Honey next won at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, with Rymska fifth.
Rymska won minor events at Deauville and Craon in France. Her dam won eight races, including handicaps on turf at Baden-Baden and La Teste Buch, and she was also successful in handicap company over the Polytrack at Chantilly. She was effective from a 8 to 9½ furlongs. Foreign Raider was out of Chania (In The Wings), a G2 winning half-sister to Creator, winner of the G1 Prix d'Ispahan and G1 Prix Ganay.