Remarkable weekend of racing in England, Japan promises visits to U.S. tracks

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Romantic Warrior storms to victory in Sunday's Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse. Photo by and courtesy of Katsumi Saito
Romantic Warrior storms to victory in Sunday's Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo Racecourse. Photo by and courtesy of Katsumi Saito

June 3 (UPI) -- After a weekend of remarkable success on the Epsom Downs in England, Ireland's Coolmore juggernaut is targeting America for an unprecedented invasion, while in Japan, another of the world's best turf runners now holds a free pass to November's Breeders' Cup.

It was a signal few days of international racing. While the long-term impact will take time to play out, it's safe to say the remainder of 2024 will feel the effects. Think a potential meeting between the winners of last month's Kentucky Derby and Saturday's Betfred Derby at Epsom.


Let's start with ...


For the second straight year, trainer Aidan O'Brien and jockey Ryan Moore pulled off a massive turnaround from disappointment in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas to the Betfred Derby.

Last year, it was Auguste Rodin staging a dramatic turnaround from a no-show outing at Newmarket to a decisive victory on the Epsom Downs. This year, it was City of Troy.


The Justify colt was perfect in three starts at age 2, culminating in a smashing victory in the Dewhurst Stakes in October. Then he floundered on return in the Guineas, never running much and finishing ninth of 11, Moore not persevering when he turned up empty.

O'Brien blamed himself for not attending to important details for the Kentucky-bred colt's first start of the year but retained his confidence in his greatness.

City of Troy, and Moore, more than justified (pun intended) that confidence in the Derby.

Starting from the disadvantageous No. 1 gate, Moore kept City of Troy near the back of the field as O'Brien's other two, Euphoric and Los Angeles, dictated a stiff pace.

Moore worked through horses heading to Tattenham Corner, found room inside his main rival, Ambiente Friendly, with a furlong to go and quickly drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over that one.

"I'd say there's no doubt he's the best Derby winner we've had," said O'Brien, who now has had 10.

So what was that about the Breeders' Cup Classic?

"I would say it's definitely still on the cards," Racing Post quoted M. V. Magnier, son of Coolmore kingpin John Magnier. "The biggest dream we could have would be the Breeders' Cup Classic.


"We've tried it before and we'll try it again. People want to see these horses competing. The hope would be that we could get him on the dirt. It would be great for European racing. We'll try to make the world a smaller place."

And it's worth remembering O'Brien was talking about the 2024 Classic for Auguste Rodin after that one triumphed in the 2023 Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

Impressive as it was, the Derby wasn't the only top-level action at Epsom.

Ezeliya, an Aga Khan homebred, kicked clear of a final rival, Godolphin's homebred, Dance Sequence, in the final furlong to win Friday's Group 1 Betfred Oaks at Epsom by 3 lengths. Both are daughters of Dubawi.

War Chimes was a long shot third and the favorite, Ylang Ylang, rallied to finish sixth of 12 after racing last much of the way.

Treasure, racing in the Royal colors, prompted the pace, faded and finished next-last. The King and Queen were on the course to oversee the proceedings, raising hopes for Royal Ascot.

Ezeliya, trained by Dermott Weld, got her third straight win and trainer Dermott Weld said her schedule remains fluid.

"We'll see how she comes out of the race," he told Racing Post. "She's in the Irish Oaks, but we'll decide whether we give her time off for an autumn campaign, which may involve the Arc."


While the Oaks went to a late-runner, Friday's Group 1 Coronation Cup was another kettle of fish altogether. On-course commentator Simon Holt called it a "Ryan Moore master class" as the jockey got home first aboard Luxembourg, defeating Hamish after leading throughout.

Moore, in fact, timed the 1 1/4 miles perfectly, dictating the pace, letting Luxembourg run after passing the 3-furlongs marker and getting just enough daylight in front of the field to hold on by 1 length.

O'Brien was talking international travel with Luxembourg, too.

"A horse like that in front, the way Ryan was riding him, he was always going to be difficult to deal with." he said. "The good thing is, we're now able to take him abroad too, as he loves fast ground and handles the journey well."


On Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse, Hong Kong's Romantic Warrior rather handily dispatched a laudable field of local milers in winning the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen by 1/2 length.

The victory was his fifth straight at the top level -- a streak that started with the Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia in October.

The 6-year-old Acclamation gelding earned a "Win and You're In" spot to the Breeders' Cup Turf as well as entry to two of France's top mile races.


Trainer Danny Shum immediately ruled out a run in the Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen on June 23 at Kyoto Racecourse, saying his star is headed home and done for the Hong Kong season.

That would leave open the possibility of a late autumn campaign heading into the Longines Hong Kong International Races in December.

"He's a proven champion," winning rider James McDonald said. "He's won one of the toughest races in Australia in the Cox Plate, he's won two Hong Kong Cups taking on strong opposition and now has come to Japan and won a mile race, a little bit shorter than his best distance.

"He always rises to the occasion and that's the beauty of this horse. He's got a heart of a lion and tremendous ability."

Namur finished second, a whisker in front of Soul Rush. Both are proven international travelers.


Look De Vega surged to the lead inside the 200-meter mark in Sunday's Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club or French Derby at Chantilly, and then drew off nicely to win by 2 lengths and remain undefeated after three days at the races.

First Look was second, a neck in front of Sosie.


The favorite, Fast Tracker, lived up to his name, leading and then fading in the straight to finish next-last of 14. The O'Brien-Moore machine left its luck at Epsom as their runner, Diego Velazquez, finished eighth.

Look De Vega, a son of Lope De Vega, has not been threatened in the late going in any of his three wins. None of the connections hinted at any firm plans for the colt, although any horse winning a Classic in such a fashion automatically enters the conversation for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

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