European Racing Report: Going Global

Published in the Sept. 1 issue of The Blood-Horse
Early on, Johannesburg's value was declining. The Kentucky-bred son of Hennessy went from a $240,000 Keeneland November weanling to a $200,000 Keeneland September yearling. Now, at two, the sky's the limit.

Johannesburg took his fifth consecutive race at Deauville, Aug. 26, romping home in the Prix Morny Casinos Barriere (Fr-I) despite losing a shoe. Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier's colt has now won two group I and two group III races in the span of three months. Bookmakers are running scared, slashing the Tabor/Magnier star to 3-1 favorite for next year's Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I).

Trainer Aidan O'Brien and stable jockey Michael Kinane combined to win their third Morny in the last four years with Johannesburg, having already collected with Fasliyev two years ago and Orpen in 1998. The Morny was the 13th group I success for the Ballydoyle trainer this year.

"I think he (Johannesburg) deserves a rest now until later in the season," O'Brien said. "He could go for the Dewhurst Stakes (Eng-I, Oct. 20) or the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I, Oct. 27)."

Johannesburg raced fifth in the field of 11 during the middle stages of the six-furlong Morny, was asked for some run approaching the furlong pole, and was eased late by Kinane in winning by 1 1/2 lengths. Prix Robert Papin (Fr-II) winner Zipping, owned by Robert Strauss, finished second by the same margin ahead of Sheikh Hamdan's Meshaheer. The 3-5 winner was coupled in the betting with pacemaker Line Rider.

"I was bumped a little one-and-a-half (furlongs) out and he may have lost his shoe when I pulled him out to challenge," Kinane said. "We finished full of running and he's got more than a little stamina."

Trainer Robert Collet said Zipping could go for Newmarket's Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I, Oct. 4) or the Grand Criterium (Fr-I, Oct. 7). Jockey Davy Bonilla reported Zipping "tense" early in the Morny but that he had finished well although "we would never have caught Johannesburg."


MIXING IT UP

York's mid-August "Ebor" meeting, dubbed the "Royal Ascot of the North," again delivered its mix of fun and top-class racing. Despite a slipped saddle, Kinane kept Mozart on course for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) on World Thoroughbred Championships Day with a victory in the Victor Chandler Nunthorpe Stakes, Britain's only group I race at five furlongs; Sakhee demolished the Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng-I) field by seven lengths; and Italian shipper Super Tassa made her 25-1 Aston Upthorpe Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I) odds look like easy money as she drew clear late to win by a length, denying trainer Henry Cecil his first group I winner of a disappointing season.

O'Brien got a lift to the start to talk to Kinane before the Nunthorpe, but as he said later: "I was only panicking. He (Kinane) knows me by now and he told me to relax." Then, as Kinane related, "he (Mozart) broke awkwardly and the saddle went. You're not in control then, and I couldn't wait for the winning post to come up."

Despite the drama, 4-9 favorite Mozart looked almost as good as he did winning Newmarket's Darley July Cup (Eng-I), getting home at York two lengths clear of French-trained defending champ Nuclear Debate. Bishops Court was another three-quarters of a length back in third in the field of 10.

"He's done it over seven, six, and five furlongs so I wouldn't imagine he'll race here anymore," O'Brien said. "It will be America or nothing." (Coral Eurobet's Breeders' Cup Sprint odds remained static after the Nunthorpe with Mozart 10-1 behind 11-4 favorite Kona Gold.) The O'Brien-trained Stravinsky finished sixth in the Sprint after completing the July Cup/Nunthorpe double in 1999.

Distant Music went past tiring pacemaker Darwin early in York's 4 1/2-furlong straight but looked like the Juddmonte International winner only for a couple of strides. Godolphin's Sakhee collared him coming to the three-furlong pole and at the two the rout was on, Frankie Dettori pushing the 4-year-old son of Bahri to win by seven lengths.

Sakhee, trained by John Dunlop for Sheikh Hamdan last year, when he was the only Epsom Derby (Eng-I) runner who could give Sinndar a race, went wrong in a knee and was operated on in Dubai during the winter. Returning in the Godolphin silks, he trotted up in a listed race at Newbury last month and pronounced himself a serious autumn horse with his International win.

"Sheikh Hamdan will make the program for him but he is likely to go for the Champion Stakes (Eng-I, Oct. 20) at Newmarket," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford. "We have Fantastic Light for the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I, Sept. 8) and then the Breeders' Cup."

Dettori felt his main International opposition, St James's Palace Stakes (Eng-I) winner Black Minnaloushe and Medicean, undefeated in three starts this year, were best at one mile so he "expected to win" over York's 10-plus furlongs.

"This horse is just as good as Halling (1995-96 International winner for Godolphin)," said the rider. "He has been working brilliantly and in the last three weeks has gone to a different level."

Halling's breeder, Cyril Humphris, was in the winner's circle after the Oaks as two-thirds owner of victorious Super Tassa. Trainer Valfredo Valiani invited him on board when the previous owner wanted out, and, with two victories already under her belt, superstitious Humphris insisted the 5-year-old mare continue running in Valiani's silks. Valiani sent the daughter of Lahib to Luca Cumani, to whom he had been assistant for two years in the early '80s, 10 days before York and she sparkled on the Newmarket gallops.

Cecil's 2-1 favorite Sacred Song went clear with three furlongs of the 12-furlong Oaks remaining but Super Tassa, under Kevin Darley, wore her down late, grinding out a length win with Rockerlong another 2 1/2 lengths back third in the field of nine.

"She probably won't run in the 'Arc' (Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Fr-I, Oct. 7) and may be bred now," said Valiani, who trains 30 horses at Pisa. "She needs a fast pace on good ground and we thought the long straight at York would suit her. I've waited 15 years to have a runner in England. I should have come earlier...this was easy!"

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