A Feast of Fabulous Fillies

Two outstanding fillies landed the major prizes over the weekend.

On Saturday it was Minding who added the Qatar Nassau Stakes to her incredible haul of Group 1s. She’s now won seven of her 10 career starts, with six of those at the highest level. She probably wasn’t at her outstanding best at Goodwood, with a combination of fast ground and a busy schedule resulting in a workmanlike performance, rather than dazzling.

She hit the front two furlongs from home, and fought off a persistent challenge from Queen’s Trust, with just over a length to spare at the line.

Aidan O’Brien appeared more than satisfied when speaking after the win, saying: “I’m delighted with this filly. She's thriving from race-to-race at the moment and is physically very strong. She loves racing and has a super mind. It all comes alike to her - she's very versatile. She's a real professional and conserves herself, doing only what she has to. There are a lot of options open to her and she is ready to go down most roads.”

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Her jockey Ryan Moore, pointed to the small field as a factor in her performance, saying: “It was always going to be a messy sort of race. I just tried to keep it as simple as I could. She was only doing what she had to do. She is a very special filly.”

The runner-up is probably useful, and would have appreciated the sounder surface, having run a decent race in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot in June on soft ground. Nevertheless, that is five Group 1 races in just three months for Minding, and I fancy she’d appreciate a summer holiday if she is to maintain her exceptional run of success during the latter part of the season.

Yesterday attention turned to France with the prestigious Prix Rothschild taking place at Deauville. In a strong looking renewal, it was Royal Ascot winner Qemah who proved herself an outstanding miler, when storming to victory from fellow French trained filly, Volta. Held up in midfield for much of the race, she was delivered to challenge by Gregory Benoist inside the two-furlong pole. She quickly asserted, and probably had a little more in hand than the winning margin of a length and a quarter suggests.

She was adding her name to an illustrious list of winners in recent times, including Moonlight Cloud and Goldikova. Her trainer Jean-Claude Rouget holds her in high regard. After this impressive victory, he said: “She is really good. We have seen other good fillies here in recent years like Goldikova and Moonlight Cloud and I think that she is up there in that kind of company.”

Rouget added: “Today Qemah confirmed all of her quality. People said she didn't handle a straight track but she was still quite immature in the Poule d'Essai and she benefited a lot from going to Ascot. Today she showed she is the best filly over a mile. A filly like her gives everything and it will definitely be the Matron [Stakes at Leopardstown on September 10] next.”

She’s sure to face a number of O’Brien fillies on that occasion, maybe Minding herself. Alice Springs disappointed yesterday at Deauville, possibly feeling the effects of her Falmouth romp a few weeks earlier. She too could head to the Matron for another crack at the French filly.

Another to disappoint yesterday was the Mark Johnston trained Lumiere. She faded tamely when asked serious questions, and finished second-last of the 10 starters. The run was hard to fathom after such an impressive performance at Newmarket last time. Maybe she needs rattling firm ground, or maybe more time between runs, to be seen at her best. It would come as no surprise if she were dropped back in trip, as she’s undoubtedly doing herself no favours in running with the ‘choke out’.

One filly that wasn’t in action over the weekend, was the undefeated dual Classic winner from France, La Cressonniere. Arguably the best of the bunch, she has a victory over Qemah to her name, though she appears to be heading towards a shot at the Arc later in the year, and maybe there a clash with Ballydoyle’s Minding.

Whatever the plans for the remainder of the campaign, there’s no doubting that we are witnessing the exploits of three exceptional three-year-old fillies.

Johnston’s Prolific Juveniles

He’s yet to capture a major prize so far this season, but there’s no doubting that Mark Johnston’s juveniles are firing on all cylinders.

Lumiere and Buratino were juvenile stars of 2015, and were expected to take high order as three-year-olds. Unfortunately, Buratino has failed to progress from two to three, and is yet to show anything like the form of his juvenile campaign, which brought two placed finishes in Group 1 events and a victory in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. He’s yet to get his preferred fast ground, though it would take a leap of faith to believe that even that would bring about a return to winning ways.

Lumiere also flopped on her seasonal reappearance, when trailing home last in the 1000 Guineas. However, last year’s Cheveley Park winner bounced back to form with a stunning success at Newmarket last week. She has a couple of options at the end of the month including the Group 2 Qatar Lennox Stakes at Goodwood, though Johnston appears to favour the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville on July 31.

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The trainer spoke of his classy filly on Monday, saying: “We'd like to go for a Group 1, and a Group 1 against fillies in France sounds ideal. She's in the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood and we'll look seriously at that.” Speaking of her long-term targets, he added: “She's not had a busy season and there's the Sun Chariot and Matron but, again, you're getting into soft-ground time. But we have our feet on the ground, last week's was a race she needed to win. Thankfully, she didn't just win it, she won it by six lengths and she won it in a very fast time that suggested she was at least back to her form of last year.”

Johnston has broken through the 200 winner barrier in six of the last seven campaigns. He currently lies on 107 and is just about on target to maintain his recent outstanding record. Big wins have yet to come his way this summer, but time is on his side, and he certainly has a group of classy youngsters, with the potential of making a mark at the highest level. He’s currently at an impressive 25% winning strike rate with his juveniles.

One such youngster is Love Dreams, a huge colt by Dream Ahead out of a King’s Theatre mare. He romped home at Pontefract last time and has lofty entries including the Gimcrack Stakes at York in August. He certainly has scope to progress and still looked pretty green last time. He’s a nice sort with a bright future.

Johnston has a progressive young filly on his hands in the form of Miss Infinity. She ran a cracker on debut behind next year’s Guineas favourite Fair Eva, before winning her next two in fine style. Her last win at Haydock, was on soft ground, and she’s bred to be a better horse on a sounder surface. By Rock Of Gibraltar out of a High Chaparral mare, she should also improve for a step up in trip. The trainer hinted at just a ‘small step’ up in class next time, with no doubt loftier targets on the radar.

Johnston also has a nice sort in Aardwolf, a colt by Cape Cross. He’s a stocky, solid built sort, who won impressively at Chester last time. He has an interesting pedigree, with a blend of speed on the sire’s side and a splash of stamina on the dam’s. Decent ground looks essential, and he could prove a nice long-term prospect.

I mentioned a lack of high profile winners, but Johnston came mighty close in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, with The Last Lion looking a winner before being gunned down late on. He has since won a five furlong listed event at Sandown. He’s by the mighty Australian speedster Choisir, and looks an out and out sprinter. He holds an entry in the Gimcrack at York, though I fancy six furlongs would stretch him. Interestingly, he also holds an entry in the Nunthorpe.

There’s no doubting Mark Johnston’s ability as a trainer, and in Lumiere he may still get that ‘big win’ before the summer ends. He also has a battalion of youngsters waiting in the wings, many with the potential to compete at the highest level.

A Dubai Fillies’ Mile full of Promise

Promising Run - Full of Potential

Promising Run - Full of Potential

Established in 1973, the Fillies’ Mile has become one of the season’s most prestigious juvenile events.

Originally run at Ascot, the race now takes place at Newmarket over the Rowley Mile. Upgraded to Group 1 status in 1990, the event now forms part of the eagerly anticipated Future Champions Festival.

When looking at recent winners it comes as no surprise to see that Godolphin and Coolmore have dominated. Six of the last nine renewals have been shared between the two powerhouses, with Aidan O’Brien taking the race last year thanks to the Galileo filly Together Forever. She appeared to cope best with the testing conditions that day, and failed to build on her Group 1 success. Lucida was arguably the most talented filly in the race, but failed to pick up in the holding ground.

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Godolphin’s run of success has been severely tainted by the fall from grace of trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni. Certify and Lyric of Light were winners for the disgraced handler, but the Godolphin operation powers on, and both Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby have continued to churn out top-class racehorses capable of winning major prizes.

The former is responsible for one of tomorrow’s most fancied runners. Promising Run was impressive last time when winning the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes. Staying on strongly on that occasion, this step up in trip looks sure to suit. She’s a lovely big filly, powerful looking with a long stride. A winner already on good to soft, her action suggests that any rain that has fallen in recent days should not inconvenience her.

Aidan O’Brien may well arrive double-handed with both Coolmore and Minding set to line up. The latter defeated the Prix Marcel Boussac winner Ballydoyle last time out at the Curragh. She appeared to improve for the slight ease in ground conditions, and won somewhat cosily. Alice Springs was back in third that day, giving the form an even more impressive look.

Coolmore carries the family name and has been gradually warming to the task with experience. The most recent run was her best, though she took every yard of the seven furlongs to get going. A full sister to Gleneagles, she’s certainly bred to be top-class, but still looks a work in progress, and if her brother is anything to go by, the word soft in the ground description may not be ideal.

One that certainly won’t be inconvenienced should there be a little give in the Rowley Mile turf is John Gosden’s filly Nathra. The daughter of Ifraaj out of a Danehill mare was visually stunning last time at Newbury. The form doesn’t amount to much, and this is a huge step up in class, but with trainer sweeping all before him it’s no real surprise to see her near the head of the betting. She sits there more on promise than substance.

Of the remainder, Hawksmoor will be more suited by both trip and any give in the ground. Hugo Palmer’s filly needs to bounce back from a thumping last time at the hooves of Promising Run. Ground does look crucial to her chances, the softer the better for this daughter of Azamour.

Marenko is another capable of a decent run at a big price. It would be a huge turn-up if she was to win, but her last run at Doncaster when second to Turret Rocks in a Group 2 was a solid performance. Out of a Pivotal mare, expect her to improve for any give in the ground.

It looks a suitably high class renewal with such a valuable prize on offer. The juvenile events have thrived over the summer with names such as Shalaa, Emotionless, Lumiere and Ballydoyle instantly springing to mind.

The action at Newmarket over the next few days looks sure to add an appropriate gloss to a thoroughly enjoyable season, with the Fillies’ Mile a potential highlight.

Shalaa the Star as Gosden’s Dominance Continues

Exciting Speedster Shalaa

Exciting Speedster Shalaa

John Gosden’s dominant campaign continued on Saturday and the signs are that next season could prove just as fruitful.

Foundation opened the show when running out an impressive winner of the Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes. The Highclere-owned juvenile is another classy son of Zoffany, a stallion that continues to have an outstanding season with his first crop of two-year-olds. A big strapping colt, he saw off Aidan O’Brien’s Deauville to maintain his unbeaten record. Sent for home by Dettori at the furlong marker, he stayed on well and looks a decent Derby prospect.

A horse with a huge stride, he does however look lean and gangly at present, and is sure to flourish once strengthening into his frame. Back in the winners’ enclosure Gosden said: “He's a grand horse and he's still learning. He handled it well as he's quite a big, gangly horse and he was still doing quite a bit of looking about when he hit the front with a furlong to go.”

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Gosden hinted that he could head for the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster as a season finale; a renowned pointer for the following year’s Derby.

It proved to be quite a day for Gosden and Dettori, when Shalaa confirmed himself as the summer’s leading juvenile. He took the Middle Park Stakes with the minimum of fuss. Leading from the off, the result never looked in doubt with only Buratino from Mark Johnston’s yard getting within sniffing distance.

The winner looks sure to become a high-class sprinter, and is likely to be aimed at the Commonwealth Cup next summer. His sire, Invincible Spirit, was also a classy sprinter, winning the Haydock Sprint Cup as a five-year-old. An outstanding stallion, his most successful offspring include Fleeting Spirit, Kingman and Moonlight Cloud.

The F-word appeared prominently in Gosden’s post-race assessment, when he said: “He's gone very, very fast and Ryan Moore (on board fifth-placed Rouleau) said he had never been so fast over four furlongs up the Rowley Mile. I said this would be the last race of the year for him and he's not put a foot wrong. He's very, very fast - the fastest two-year-old I've trained. He's incredibly fast and we are lucky to have him.”

The trainer then likened his colt to one of his previous sprinting sensations, when saying: “He has so much speed and has that sprinters build, so he reminds us all of Oasis Dream who probably broke the juvenile record here and was not only champion two-year-old but also champion sprinter at three. He's of that mould. He looks like a pure fast two-year-old and is not crying out for a mile.”

Mark Johnston may have just missed out in the Middle Park with the classy Buratino, but his stunning filly Lumiere proved unstoppable in a thrilling Cheveley Park Stakes. The imposing grey held off Hannon’s Illuminate and the Haggas trained Besharah to take the prestigious Group 1. After the win Johnston said: “We always thought there was no shortage of stamina but we also know she's very fast and has a tremendous cruising speed. I'm very, very hopeful she can stay a mile.”

The trainer fought hard to supress his excitement but clearly sees her as a major Classic hope. The bookies were taking no chances with Paddy Power and William Hill making her an 8-1 shot for next year’s 1,000 Guineas.