Sept. 30 (UPI) -- As the European flat racing season rushes to a close, some potential candidates for this year's Breeders' Cup 2-year-old races were on display during weekend horse racing, not to mention early qualifying heats for the Kentucky Derby and the Investec Derby
There also was plenty of action in Japan, where Grade 1 racing returned with a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", and in Ireland and Australia.
Around the world, around the clock:
Benbatl made all the going in Friday's Group 2 Shawell Joel at Newmarket and got home first, 5 lengths to the good of the favorite, King Of Comedy. Zaaki was third. Benbatl, a 4-year-old son of Dubawi, had not raced since finishing a gallant second, 2 lengths adrift of Winx, in the Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia last Oct. 27. The Godolphin runner is a multiple Group 1 winner for trainer Saeed bin Suroor. King Of Comedy, a 3-year-old Kingman colt trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori, was cutting back to1 mile after finishing fourth in the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York a month ago.
Bin Suroor said Benbatl has options on British Champions Day at Ascot and also could head back to Dubai, where he had a sterling 2018 season.
Also Friday at Newmarket, Daahyeh had to work for it but got the job done in the Group 2 Shadwell Rockfell Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, picking up her third win from five starts. The daughter of Bated Breath, with William Buick up for trainer Roger Varian, hit the front with 2 furlongs to run in the 7-furlongs affair and held off Stylistique by 1/2 length at the end, again denying Dettori. Daahyeh entered the fray following a narrow second-place finish in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh Sept. 15.
The victory gave Daahyeh a "Win and You're In" entry to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf Nov. 1 at Santa Anita and Varian said that option is on the table. Last year's Rockfell winner, Just Wonderful, finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.
The "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" series got off with an upset in Saturday's Group 1 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket. The heavy favorite, Kameko, a Kentucky-bred colt by Kitten's Joy, hooked up in a long duel with 16-1 outsider Royal Dornach, the latter prevailing by a neck with Wayne Lordan up for trainer Aidan O'Brien.
Royal Dornach, a Gleneagles colt, came to the Royal Lodge with but a single previous win -- that in a 7-furlongs race at Gowran Park. Kameko, by contrast, was beaten just a nose in a Group 3 at Sandown in his previous outing.
The autumn legs of the European series are run on the turf and are less likely to turn up legitimate candidates for Louisville than the spring events run on England's all-weather courses. British bookmakers, however, were offering low double-digits for the colt in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Earthlight just got the better of Golden Horde in the final yards of Saturday's Group 1 Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes for 2-year-olds at 6 furlongs at Newmarket. The Godolphin homebred, a son of Shamardal, ran his undefeated record to three with a gutsy close under Mickael Barzalona.
Summer Sands was third at triple-digit odds and Siskin, winner of the Group 1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh, was withdrawn after acting up in the gate. Monarch of Egypt, an American Pharoah colt who was second in the Phoenix, faded to finish last on Saturday, beaten 6 1/2 lengths. Earthlight's trainer, Andre Fabre, said he is confident the colt can stretch out to a mile or "even a bit farther on his pedigree."
Millsile chased down the favorite, Raffle Prize, in the final furlong of Saturday's Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Newmarket, posting the upset victory by 1 3/4 lengths. Tropbeau was third. Millsile went to the post a 16-1 chance despite a record of two wins and two seconds in four previous starts.
The Starspangledbanner filly was, of course, stepping up in class against the likes of Raffle Prize, a two-time Group 2 winner who had just missed to Earthlight in the Group Prix Dorny in her previous outing. Shane Foley had the winning ride Saturday for trainer Jessica Harrington.
And on Epsom Downs ... You'd think if Epsom Racecourse offered a free shot into the following year's Derby, there would be a caravan of youngsters lining up for the chance. Not so in Sunday's Investec Derby "Wild Card" Conditions Race, which drew only three starters to try 1 mile and 113 yards.
Grand Rock, ridden by James Doyle and trained by William Haggis, got the prize, taking the lead in the final few furlongs and easing home a neck in front of Night Colours. King's Caper was third. Grand Rock, an Acclamation colt out of the Rock of Gibraltar mare Miss Gibraltar, rolled to his second win from three starts.
The race is not a gimmick, either. Dee Ex Bee won in 2017, returned the following year to finish second in the Derby and since has become the best stayer in business not named Stradivarius.
The "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" continued Sunday at the Curragh with Innisfree narrowly edging Shekham in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes. Innisfree, a Galileo colt with Donnacha O'Brien in the irons, made it nine straight Beresford wins for trainer Aidan O'Brien.
Although relatively unexalted in its own right, the race has gone O'Brien's way nine straight times now and has pointed to career excellence for the likes of St Nicholas Abbey, Saxon Warrior and Japan. Consequently, UK bookmakers listed the Coolmore colt at middle prices for the 2020 Investec Derby although the trainer said he's not chomping at the bit to test him at 1 1/2 miles. Even less likely is an impact on the 2020 Run for the Roses.
Tower of London came running late under a well-timed ride by Christophe Lemaire to win Sunday's Group 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama and, with it, a "Win and You're In" bid to the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
The Raven's Pass 4-year-old took station well back in the 16-horse field and Lemaire said he had his eye on the favorite, Danon Smash, while Mozu Superflare was carving out the early fractions. Heading into the turn, Tower of London found running room and advanced quickly outside rivals while Danon Smash took a few extra seconds to get clearance.
Tower of London mowed down Mozu Superflare in the final 50 yards, winning by 1/2 length, with Danon Smash just missing second.
"I was a bit worried that we were not in a good striking position since the fast track today at Nakayama was definitely an advantage for the front-runners," Lemaire said. "Tower of London has great talent and stretched strongly all the way to the wire today," Lemaire said. "I knew he was an exceptional horse but he's getting stronger with every sprint start."
It was the seventh win from 14 starts, first at the Group 1 level, for the colt, bred by Darley Japan and owned by Godolphin. There was no early tip whether the Breeders' Cup opportunity might be taken up.
Another potential contender for the looming AUS$14 million Everest: Bivouac. The Godolphin runner laid claim with a hard-won victory in Saturday's Group 1 Golden Rose. With Hugh Bowman back quickly from a broken finger to take the mount, Bivouac held off Yes Yes Yes in the final yards to win by a short neck.
Exceedance was third, another 1/2 length in arrears at the end of the 7 furlongs. "He's still got plenty more in store, I can assure you," Bowman told Sky Racing. Trainer James Cummings said he will not be in a hurry to decide what's next for the 3-year-old Exceed and Excel colt.
Nine-year-old Black Bart, at triple-digit odds, edged the favorite, Homesman, for the lion's share in the Grade I Hyland Race Colours Underwood Stakes at Caulfield Sunday. Gailo Chop was third and Hartnell was a close fourth.
The Underwood was Black Heart Bart's third race back from what turned out to be a premature retirement and he clearly enjoyed returning to a longer distance than the first two efforts. "Even though those two runs might have looked a bit plain, he was warming up and I've been happy with him," said winning rider Brad Rawiller.