January 27, 2023

Caravaggio, Happily secure Breeders’ Cup tickets at the Curragh

Caravaggio could go for a rubber match versus Harry Angel in the British Champions Sprint (Photo courtesy Champions Series via Twitter)

After sustaining the first two losses of his career, Coolmore’s Caravaggio restored his luster in Sunday’s Flying Five (G2) and booked his spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar.

One of three big winners on the conclusion of Irish Champions Weekend for Aidan O’Brien, the 10-11 favorite sluiced through the soft-to-heavy ground at the Curragh to prevail by an emphatic length. His 50-1 stablemate Alphabet concluded the O’Brien exacta.

Caravaggio, who had compiled a perfect record through the Commonwealth Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, now has options. The cutback to five furlongs, the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, proved no problem here, albeit in much slower conditions. Aside from the lure of Del Mar, connections are contemplating a return to six furlongs for the British Champions Sprint (G1) October 21, which would serve as a rubber match with fellow sophomore sprint star Harry Angel. Australia’s lucrative Everest (G1) isn’t totally out of the picture, but O’Brien’s postrace comments suggest he’s not enthused about putting the Scat Daddy colt through that trek.

O’Brien sent out the trifecta in the Moyglare Stud (G1), with Happily nipping Magical in the “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). The top two, both by Galileo, pulled 3 3/4 lengths clear of September, with 2-1 favorite Alpha Centauri from the Jessica Harrington yard back in fifth.

Another O’Brien who would have been a prime contender, Clemmie, was scratched on account of the ground. Her rider Ryan Moore switched to Magical, the 9-4 second choice, leaving Donnacha O’Brien to pick up the mount aboard the 13-2 Happily. That worked out well for young Donnacha, who’d won last year’s Moyglare, also in a photo, aboard brother Joseph O’Brien’s Intricately.

Happily was runner-up to front-running Magical in the August 20 Debutante (G2), so the pair reversed placings in the main event. Two starts back, Happily scooted home by five lengths in the Silver Flash (G3) on far better ground at Leopardstown. As a full sister to firm-turf seeker Gleneagles, she’s shown admirable adaptability. She was capping a big weekend for the family, as her close relation Decorated Knight had upset Saturday’s Irish Champion (G1) for Roger Charlton.

Before any Breeders’ Cup decisions are made, the fabulous fillies will be in action again. O’Brien told the Racing Post that the Fillies’ Mile (G1) or Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) were potential targets for the Moyglare trifecta and the Cheveley Park (G1) could be next for Clemmie.

Moore gained Group 1 compensation by steering 2-5 favorite Order of St George to a ruthless, nine-length conquest over Torcedor in the Irish St Leger (G1). A similarly dominant winner of this race in 2015, the O’Brien star came up a half-length short of Wicklow Brave last year when leaving his rally a bit too late. There was no hanging about here, with Moore delivering the coup de grace a long way out. Order of St George gave Moore a double after Caravaggio, and sire Galileo a double after Happily.

Although the Melbourne Cup (G1) is a possible target for the world-class stayer, O’Brien mentioned that he could tackle the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) once again. Order of St George was a gallant third in last year’s Arc in fast time, and a soft-ground Arc could see him go closer.

O’Brien had to withdraw red-hot favorite Gustav Klimt from the Vincent O’Brien National (G1) for juveniles, thanks to a stone bruise. But given how convincing a winner Verbal Dexterity was, it is questionable if Gustav Klimt would have coped with him.

Trained by Jim Bolger for his wife, the 5-2 Verbal Dexterity was turning the tables on 6-4 favorite Beckford. In their prior meeting, Beckford had bested him in the six-furlong Railway (G2). But the seventh furlong proved a different story, as Verbal Dexterity drew off by 3 1/2 lengths beneath Kevin Manning. The O’Brien-trained Rostropovich checked in a further 2 3/4 lengths adrift in third.

Verbal Dexterity, bred by Bolger and John Corcoran, is the first Group 1 winner for sire Vocalised, a Vindication stallion whose second dam is Serena’s Song. Bolger left no secret about how highly he regards Verbal Dexterity, prognosticating he could become European champion two-year-old via the Dewhurst (G1).

Although there was no big surprise as on Day 1 of Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown, the Blandford (G2) did produce a 9-1 winner as the Aga Khan’s homebred Shamreen successfully defended her title. The Dermot Weld trainee was facing a deeper cast, including 5-4 favorite Sea of Grace, and O’Brien comebacker Seventh Heaven along with her stablemate Rain Goddess. But Shamreen turned in a front-running display with Pat Smullen, opening up by three lengths from Beautiful Morning and Rain Goddess. Sea of Grace was fourth in her first try at 1 1/4 miles, while Seventh Heaven was eased across the line last.

Weld said that Shamreen, a daughter of Dubawi from the extended family of Shahrastani, would go for a Group 1 laurel in the Prix de l’Opera (G1). She was coming off a victory over males in the Royal Whip (G3) at this course and distance.