In a highly anticipated clash, Moonlight Cloud easily wore down elite sprinter Lethal Force and stormed to a Deauville course record Aug. 4 in winning the Larc Prix Maurice de Gheest (Fr-I) for a third time.
The Invincible Spirit mare rallied powerfully on the outside from midfield under Thierry Jarnet, overtook pacesetter Lethal Force entering the final 200 meters, and shook clear to an impressive 1 3/4-length triumph.
Lethal Force, the 16-5 second choice after back-to-back wins in the Darley July Cup (Eng-I) and Diamond Jubilee (Eng-I), outfinished French group I winner Gordon Lord Byron by three-quarters of a length for second in the 14-horse field.
Moonlight Cloud, the 6-5 favorite with Racing Post, covered the 1,300-meter (about 6 1/2-furlong) turf race in a record time of 1:14.33.
Entering off a win in her 2013 bow in the Prix de la Porte Maillot (Fr-II) July 6, Moonlight Cloud posted the fourth group I victory of her career for Pennsylvania-based owner-breeder George Strawbridge and took her overall record to 10 wins and two seconds from 17 career starts.
Her resume includes a victory in the 2012 Qatar Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (Fr-I) but more notable is her runner-up finish in her start prior to that at Royal Ascot in the Diamond Jubilee (Eng-I) in which she nearly upended undefeated Black Caviar and finished second by a head.
Jarnet said Moonlight Cloud might be in better form than ever.
"She was always going so well in behind very good horses and she's beaten the track record,” Jarnet said after the Maurice de Gheest hat trick.
Moonlight Cloud is conditioned by Freddie Head and matched the feat of Head’s European champion sprinter Marchand d'Or, who won the Maurice de Gheest in 2006, 2007, and 2008.
Moonlight Cloud could make a quick return and contest the Prix du Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard Jacques Le Marois (Fr-I) next weekend at Deauville, where she could meet classic-winning 3-year-olds Dawn Approach and Intello.
The Jacques Le Marois is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series, in which the winner receives an automatic starting berth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. Moonlight Cloud finished eighth to eventual U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan in last year’s Mile after taking a bump in tight quarters midway through and weakening.
Bred in Great Britain out of the stakes-placed Spectrum mare Ventura, Moonlight Cloud is a half sister to Hollywood Park course record-setter Cedar Mountain, who is grade II-placed. Second dam Wedding Bouquet, a group III winner in Ireland who was group I-placed, is a half sister to Irish champion, classic winner, and sire Generous and English classic winner Imagine.
Sire Invincible Spirit stands at the Irish National Stud and ranks among the top 20 stallions in England and Ireland this season. Moonlight Cloud is among 67 stakes winners from his eight crops racing.