A pair of key races on Sunday offered Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) implications. At Deauville, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Blackbeard secured a berth in the “Win and You’re In” Prix Morny (G1), and later at Saratoga, Love Reigns burnished her credentials for Wesley Ward in the Bolton Landing S.
Prix Morny (G1)
Blackbeard was capping a big weekend for Ballydoyle juveniles, including Saturday scores by Aesop’s Fables and Meditate, respectively, in the Futurity (G2) and Debutante (G2) at the Curragh. Ryan Moore was aboard the trio, all by hot Coolmore sire No Nay Never.
The slight 13-10 second choice in the Morny, Blackbeard was coming off a victory in the July 17 Prix Robert Papin (G2). The 6-5 Morny favorite, Persian Force, was most recently best of the rest behind O’Brien’s stellar Little Big Bear in the Aug. 6 Phoenix (G1). That Richard Hannon pupil got nearer to Blackbeard here, but still had to settle for second.
After putting on his idiosyncratic pre-race exhibition (see video below), Blackbeard broke alertly from his rail draw and flashed speed along with the filly Manhattan Jungle wider out. Persian Force and Blackbeard’s stablemate, The Antarctic, initially tracked her before tacking over in Blackbeard’s direction.
By that point, The Ridler, who already has his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint ticket from Royal Ascot’s Norfolk (G2), was beginning to come under pressure. The Ridler found little and ultimately dropped back to last, as though the sixth furlong of the Morny were too far. Manhattan Jungle likewise faded from contention late.
Blackbeard continued on with gusto, as Persian Force emerged as his only challenger. The Ballydoyle colt saw him off by a half-length, completing about six furlongs in 1:09.91 on a good course.
The Antarctic kept on for third, another 1 1/2 lengths back. Manhattan Jungle was clear of the trailing The Ridler.
Blackbeard was turning the tables on Persian Force, illustrating his progression over the past couple of months. Their prior meeting came in the June 14 Coventry (G2) at Royal Ascot, where Persian Force was second and Blackbeard fourth, in his lone unplaced effort. Blackbeard had won his first three career starts – a Dundalk maiden, the First Flier S., and the Marble Hill (G3). He was just denied in the June 25 Railway (G2), and regained the winning thread in the Robert Papin. His resume now reads 7-5-1-0.
The Blackbeard-Persian Force rivalry could resume at Keeneland, with both O’Brien and Hannon reportedly expressing interest in the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Ward, who has won the past three runnings of the Juvenile Turf Sprint, has a prime player to extend that record in Love Reigns. Rebounding from a fourth in the Queen Mary (G2) at Royal Ascot, the Stonestreet Stables runner displayed a new stalking dimension at the Spa.
When Sweet Harmony dashed forward through an opening quarter in :22.34, Love Reigns was tractable to let her go. Indeed, the 7-10 favorite merely used Sweet Harmony as a target. Collaring the pacesetter by the half in :44.87, Love Reigns forged to a 2 1/2-length decision. The daughter of freshman sire U S Navy Flag finished 5 1/2 furlongs on the firm Mellon turf in 1:02.03.
Danse Macabre and Redifined rallied for second and third, respectively. Ward’s other entrant, No Kay Never, rounded out the superfecta, and Sweet Harmony tired to fifth in the nine-filly field. Grand Oak was scratched after winding up fifth in Saturday’s Catch a Glimpse S. at Woodbine.
“She did everything perfect,” winning rider Irad Ortiz Jr. said. “She broke good and the other horse came out faster than she did. I came over, sat second in the clear and waited for the time to go and she did the rest.
“I thought I was going to be on the lead. That was my plan,” Ortiz added. “But, when we broke out of there Javier (Castellano on Sweet Harmony) was faster than me. He outbroke me, so I went to plan B and Wesley Ward horses, these kind of horses, they always (train) in behind some horses to teach them. His exercise rider, Julio Garcia, he always teaches them before they run to settle and finish, so I wasn’t afraid. She was going really, really relaxed. I said ‘all right, fine,’ and then when I come to the quarter-pole she responded and gave me a good run.”
Love Reigns has bankrolled $117,431 from her 3-2-0-0 line. A smashing debut winner over the same Keeneland course and 5 1/2-furlong distance as the Juvenile Turf Sprint, the bay will try to leverage that home court advantage.
“She’s a nice filly,” Ward said. “She came through today. I’m looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup at her home track at Keeneland, I’ll tell you that.
“It was nice today that she rated kindly. She had been doing that in the morning, but morning and afternoon are two different animals. We had that other filly (Sweet Harmony) go up there with her and Irad eased her back in second. When he went ahead and tapped her on the shoulder, she kicked away from them. That’s what you want to see, especially from a 3-5 shot. She certainly stamped herself here as our top prospect for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.”
Love Reigns will try to emulate Stonestreet’s 2021 Juvenile Turf Sprint heroine, Twilight Gleaming. They have broadly similar backgrounds as Irish-breds sourced by Ben McElroy, as agent, as yearlings at the Goffs Orby Sale. Love Reigns, a $186,832 purchase out of the Pivotal mare Humble and Proud, is a half-sister to 2018 Sword Dancer (G1) hero Glorious Empire.
“I would prefer to train up to it (the Breeders’ Cup) like Twilight Gleaming did last year,” Ward said, “but we’ll talk it over with Ben McElroy, who bought her, and the rest of the Stonestreet crew and we’ll go from there.”