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Impressive USA Fightback In Europe In ’16
Thursday, December 29, 2016 RSS Feeds

The Thoroughbred is a hybrid breed of horse created, if that is the right word, in England, albeit partly from various breeds whose roots lie around the eastern and south-eastern edges of the Mediterranean. For much of racing history, therefore, the ‘new-world’ countries have drawn from the British Isles for their stock. However, that changed during the 20th century after so many high-class and influential stallions and mares had been sold from Europe to North America that Europeans had to bring American-bred horses to Europe if they were to win the best races.

In 1929, after the horse had been at stud in England for just one season, Lord Derby leased Hyperion’s G1 2000 Guineas-placed half-brother Sickle (GB) (Phalaris {GB}) to Joseph E. Widener of Elmendorf Stud in Kentucky (with an option to buy in three years’ time for $100,000, an option which naturally was taken up when the time came). That deal eventually led to the production of Sickle’s great-grandson Native Dancer, thence to Raise a Native and Mr. Prospector. In 1949, Nasrullah (Ire) (Nearco {Ity}) was sold from Brownstown Stud in Ireland to Bull Hancock of Claiborne Farm in Kentucky for $370,000, a deal which massively upgraded the American thoroughbred, thanks largely to his sons Bold Ruler and Never Bend. At the Tattersalls December Sale in Newmarket in 1952, E. P. Taylor of Windfields Farm in Canada bought Pretty Polly’s great-great-granddaughter Lady Angela (GB) (Hyperion {GB}), in foal to Nearco (Ity) (Pharos {GB}). The foal which she was carrying, Empire Day (GB) was born in England in 1953, after which she was bred back to Nearco and brought to Canada in-foal. Thus was bred the GB-conceived but Canadian-foaled Nearctic who in turn sired Northern Dancer and thus turned the bloodstock world on its head.

A consequence of these and many other similar deals was that through the 1970s and ’80s American horses were dominating Europe. However, a crucial decision was taken at the end of the 1984 racing season. During that campaign Vincent O’Brien had trained two top-class 3-year-old colts for Robert Sangster and the Coolmore team, both US-bred sons of Northern Dancer: El Gran Senor and Sadler’s Wells. There was more money to be made in the USA, so the more talented of the pair was dispatched to stud in Kentucky at a fee of $200,000, while Sadler’s Wells took up residence at Coolmore in Ireland, covering for 125,000 Irish guineas. (Another pertinent factor in the plans might have been that El Gran Senor already had a full-brother standing at Coolmore at the time, Try My Best). El Gran Senor turned out to be a very good stallion, but a subfertile one, only siring small crops. Sadler’s Wells, of course, turned out to be an all-time great, almost single-handedly raising the standard of horses bred in the British Isles so much that eventually European horsemen felt that they hardly needed to go to the States to buy horses at all.

In 2016, though, the USA has been fighting back. This season in Europe has been notable for the extent of US-bred success in big races.

At Royal Ascot in June, arguably two performances stood out among a plethora of superlative displays of galloping: the victories of Tepin (Bernstein) in the G1 Queen Anne S. and of ‘TDN Rising Star’ Lady Aurelia (Scat Daddy) in the G2 Queen Mary S. One could not find two better advertisements for the American Thoroughbred than these two utterly dominant performances: each winner was not only bred in the USA, but trained there too. Each kept a winning streak going with her mighty triumph, and in Tepin’s case that meant winning for the seventh consecutive time in a sequence which already included three Grade I races headed by the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile. Both then won in Group/Grade 1 company next time out, Lady Aurelia in France and Tepin in Canada.

Lady Aurelia ended the season voted Cartier’s Champion 2-Year-Old Filly of Europe, notwithstanding that by that time she had lost her unbeaten record when favourite for her final start of the year, finishing third in the G1 Cheveley Park S. at Newmarket. No caste was lost for the American Thoroughbred in that race, however, at it featured a US-bred trifecta, the two horses finishing ahead of Lady Aurelia being the Aidan O’Brien-trained pair of War Front fillies Brave Anna and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Roly Poly, previously winners, respectively, of the G3 Albany S. at Royal Ascot and the G2 Duchess of Cambridge S. at Newmarket.

That race did not produce Aidan O’Brien’s only US-bred Group 1 quinella of the summer. In August, he had provided first and second in the G1 Keeneland Phoenix S. at The Curragh, courtesy of the outstanding Caravaggio (Scat Daddy) leading home his compatriot and stablemate Courage Under Fire (War Front). This was the second year running that O’Brien had taken this race with a US-bred colt, having landed it in 2015 with that season’s champion 2-year-old Air Force Blue (War Front). This impressive triumph was the highlight of a stellar unbeaten campaign for Caravaggio, who had previously played a starring role at Royal Ascot when taking the G2 Coventry S. by 2 1/4 lengths, trouncing 17 rivals headed by the dual Group 2 winner Mehmas (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}).

Following Royal Ascot, another midsummer highlight in England is the G1 Eclipse S. at Sandown in early July. In 2016 this race again produced one of the highpoints of the season when Godolphin’s US-bred 3-year-old Hawkbill (Kitten’s Joy) outgunned Aidan O’Brien’s wide-margin G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains winner The Gurkha (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in a thrilling finish. Hawkbill was not the only high-class son of Kitten’s Joy racing in Europe during the season: the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained colt Taareef enjoyed an excellent campaign in France, highlighted by his triumph in the G2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Chantilly on Arc Day. Furthermore, former G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Bobby’s Kitten was trained in Ireland during 2016 (before retiring to Lanwades Stud) where his only outing saw him land an ultra-impressive 8 1/2-length triumph on what should have been unsuitable ground in the Cork S. over six furlongs at Cork. In his Breeders’ Cup victory, incidentally, Bobby’s Kitten had been chased home by two American horses who each won top races in Europe: 2013 G1 Prix Morny winner No Nay Never (Scat Daddy) and 2015 G1 Diamond Jubilee S. winner Undrafted (Purim).

The Eclipse Meeting at Sandown, where Hawkbill topped the bill, fits snugly into the British calendar between the Newmarket’s July Meeting and Glorious Goodwood, two meetings at which, as discussed, US-bred juveniles had played major roles. As mentioned above, the best 2-year-old winners at Royal Ascot in June had been Lady Aurelia and Caravaggio, while Newmarket’s July Meeting had seen Roly Poly star among the fillies’ ranks by taking the Duchess of Cambridge S. Equally impressive at the July Meeting had been the victory of Godolphin’s US-bred colt Boynton (More Than Ready) in the G2 July S., a race in which he was chased home by his Ballydoyle-trained compatriot War Decree (War Front). At the end of the month War Decree went one better at Glorious Goodwood, taking the G2 Vintage S. in impressive style.

Other good American-bred horses to take Pattern races in Europe during 2016 included Cannock Chase (Lemon Drop Kid), Royal Artillery (War Front), Syphax (Arch), Nemoralia (More Than Ready), Hathal (Speightstown), War Flag (War Front), Long Island Sound (War Front) and Intelligence Cross (War Front). The last-named was one of two US-bred colts whom Aidan O’Brien dispatched to Santa Anita late in the season for the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, along with last-start G1 Dewhurst S. runner-up Lancaster Bomber (War Front). Of the pair, Intelligence Cross was seemingly the stable’s first string but did not enjoy the run of the race, finishing only a never-nearer ninth. Lancaster Bomber, though, ran a mighty race to finish second behind Oscar Performance (Kitten’s Joy), a performance which suggests that, like Caravaggio, War Decree, Brave Anna and Roly Poly, he and Intelligence Cross ought both to figure prominently in Aidan O’Brien’s Classic plans for 2017.

Courtesy of the TDN

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