Things We Learned » U S a phenomenon

U S a phenomenon

Plenty has been written and said about U S Navy Flag since his July Cup victory at Newmarket on Saturday, and there are many aspects of the performance that set it apart.

Aidan O’Brien’s horse was racing for the 16th time in his relatively short life on Saturday, and for the eighth time at Group 1 level.  He was taking on his elders for the first time, and he beat them well.

Of course, it is not unprecedented for a three-year-old to win the July Cup.  On the contrary, the Classic generation have a decent recent record in the race, and it appears that their record is being enhanced by the relatively recent introduction of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.  Two of the previous three July Cup winners had come via the Commonwealth Cup, a race that was only inaugurated in 2015.  

But when the first Commonwealth Cup winner Muhaarar won the Newmarket race in 2015, he was racing for just the ninth time.  When the 2017 Commonwealth Cup runner-up Harry Angel won the July Cup last year, he was racing for just the sixth time.

U S Navy Flag raced 11 times last year as a juvenile and, with the exception of his final run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar in November, his first run on dirt, and a forgettable run in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, he improved with every run.  So of his 11 runs as a juvenile, nine of them were career-bests.

The War Front colt has longevity and he has toughness and he has pace and he has class.  He won the Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes, two of the defining races of the juveniles’ European Pattern.

A full-brother to triple Group 1 winner Roly Poly, he had already raced four times this season before Saturday, each time without success, and he has in danger of being labelled a juvenile only, although his run to finish second behind Romanised in the Irish 2000 Guineas was a high-class effort.  It was that effort that undoubtedly convinced Aidan O’Brien and Team Ballydoyle that he was worth another shot at a mile, that the St James’s Palace Stakes rather than the Commonwealth Cup was the race for him at Royal Ascot.

But he is an aggressive racer.  It is difficult to stretch his aggression out over a mile, even around a bend.  Easier to allow him jump and run over six, which is exactly what Ryan Moore did on Saturday.

His route from Ballydoyle to July Cup glory via the Irish Guineas and longer distances at Royal Ascot is not unprecedented.  Mozart finished second in the Irish 2000 Guineas in a Ballydoyle 1-2-3 in 2001, then won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot over seven furlongs before going to Newmarket and landing the July Cup.  Stravinsky didn’t run in the Irish Guineas, and he could only finish fourth in the Jersey Stakes before he won the July Cup in 1999.

Aidan O’Brien’s other July Cup winner, Starspangledbanner, originated in Australia, which is apparently where U S Navy Flag is heading now.

Everest next

It is exciting that Aidan O’Brien mentioned The Everest as a target now for U S Navy Flag.  The Everest was run for the first time last year, a $10 million race run at Randwick in Sydney in October, the richest race in the world, for which 12 starting gate ‘slots’ are sold for $600,000 each. 

Last year’s inaugural running was a wholly Antipodean affair, although Coolmore’s filly Tulip, trained by David A & B Hayes & Tom Dabernig, finished fifth.  Tulip was one of three three-year-olds who lined up in the race, all fillies, each of whom received 17lb, or 9.5kg, from the older colts and geldings.  Yet, if U S Navy Flag makes the trip, he will receive just 0.5kg from the older horses, even though he is only three.

But U S Navy Flag is a Northern Hemisphere three-year-old, he is in theory a half a year older than the Southern Hemisphere three-year-olds, who receive 5.5kg from their elders.  It seems like a big difference between the weight received by three-year-olds from the different hemispheres, but the concession is broadly in line with the European weight for age scale.  If a three-year-old colt or gelding races against older horses over six furlongs in October here, he receives 1lb from his elders.  Like in the British Champions Sprint at Ascot last October, Harry Angel and Carravagio received just 1lb from Librisa Breeze and Tasleet. 

It doesn’t render the task that Aidan O’Brien and U S Navy Flag would face in Australia in October any less arduous, but it would be a fascinating challenge to undertake.  Everest indeed.

Mile high on agenda

Continuing the international theme, it is not surprising that Alpha Centauri has the Breeders’ Cup Mile high on her agenda. 

Jessica Harrington’s filly was superb again in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket, and Colm O’Donoghue again kept things brilliantly simple on her.  When you know you are on the best horse in the race, there is no need to complicate things.

The Breeders’ Cup Mile is a race that is high on the list of Alpha Centauri’s international-oriented owners, the Niarchos Family.  It was back in 1987, just three years after the inauguration of the Breeders’ Cup, that Stavros Niarchos’ brilliant filly Miesque won it, and the Francois Boutin-trained filly won it again in 1988. 

The Niarchos family have won the race four times in the interim under the Flaxman Holdings banner, with Spinning World in 1997, Domedriver in 2002, Six Perfections in 2003 and in 2014 with Karakontie.  They have won the race six times, twice as many times as any other owner. 

All things being equal, Alpha Centauri will have optimum conditions at Churchill Downs in November, fast ground, fast pace, and she is obviously proven around a bend.  A lot of water will flow under the bridge between now and November but, as things stand at present, the outstanding miler in Europe, she is the correct favourite for the race.

Mullins’ record

It was a fine achievement by Patrick Mullins to get to 546 winners at Sligo on Sunday, to beat Ted Walsh’s long-standing record and become the winning-most amateur rider in the history of Irish racing. 

The rider himself will tell you that it is down to the fact that he is riding Willie Mullins’ horses, but it isn’t all down to the fact that he is riding Willie Mullins’ horses, and the rider is tops in a golden era of Irish amateur riders.

He has proven that he can mix it among the professionals too, at the highest level, on numerous occasions, most notably on Bacardys in the 2017 Deloitte Hurdle and on Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase at Punchestown last April, and on that golden day at Punchestown in 2017, when he rode a treble, the spine of which was made up of two Grade 1 winners Bacardys and Wicklow Brave.

Then he went out on the same Wicklow Brave in the qualified riders’ race at Killarney on Wednesday and brought his tally to 567.

Easiest headline of the week

Alpha Female


© The Irish Field, 21st July 2018