By Sid Fernando
Musing, I tweeted this from @sidfernando last Sunday, after Japanese-bred Wagnerian (Deep Impact–Miss Encore, by King Kamehameha) won the GI Tokyo Yushun, the 2400-meter Japanese Derby equivalent: “It’s possible that Deep Impact, who got his fourth Japanese Derby winner today, could also have the winners of the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby, and French Derby.”
It’s not far fetched to imagine this scenario unfolding with well-fancied sons of Deep Impact contesting the Epsom Derby and its French equivalent, the Prix du Jockey Club, this weekend. However, it will require some racing luck and all the classic stamina that Deep Impact can impart for this to take place. If it does happen, the burgeoning international reputation of the Shadai-based son of Sunday Silence will enter the stratosphere.
It will also be historic. Never before has a Japanese-conceived horse won a major European Derby, although Japanese-bred Karakontie did win a Guineas.
Japanese-bred Saxon Warrior (Deep Impact–Maybe, by Galileo) will be the favorite at Epsom on Saturday to add the 12-furlong Derby to his 2000 Guineas victory and keep alive the publicity machinery of a Triple Crown bid. Irish-bred Study of Man (Deep Impact–Second Happiness, by Storm Cat) is as low as 4-1 behind favorite Olmedo (Declaration of War) in the 2100-meter French race at Chantilly on Sunday. Either or both sons of Deep Impact could come back in the Irish Derby at the Curragh on June 30.
Saxon Warrior is owned by the Coolmore triumvirate of Derrick Smith, Mrs. John Magnier, and Michael Tabor and was bred by another Coolmore-affiliated partnership, Orpendale, Chelston, and Wynatt. Study of Man is a homebred for Flaxman Stables, the Niarchos family’s entity. They, along with some other select breeders such as the Wildensteins, Maktoums, Wertheimers, and Sheikh Fahad al-Thani in Europe and Canadian Charles Fipke in North America, have sent mares to Deep Impact in Japan and have been at the forefront in recognizing the quality of the stallion, the Japanese Triple Crown winner of 2005 who also finished third in the 2006 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Arc before a DQ.
In the cases of Saxon Warrior and Study of Man, Coolmore and Flaxman sent Deep Impact sharper mares on the classic spectrum, perhaps because of the impression in the West that he’s a legitimate source of 12-furlong-and-up stamina and the Japanese program in which he thrives is based on more stamina than speed. The Japanese Guineas, for example, is contested at 2000 meters and the St. Leger equivalent is at 3000 meters– farther than their European counterparts.
But Japanese racing is also characterized by flat, firm, and fast turf courses, and the 2400 meters in Japan may be easier to get than 12 furlongs in Europe over undulating ground with give in it. Perhaps that’s why Deep Impact was tested in the Arc and why Orfevre, another Japanese Triple Crown winner from the Sunday Silence line, was twice second in the race over soft and heavy ground.
So far, Deep Impact’s lone European classic winner is the GB-suffixed Wildenstein homebred Beauty Parlour, who won the French Guineas in 2012 on good to soft ground. Stepped up next out to the 2100 meters of the Prix de Diane, the Oaks equivalent, the filly was second to Valyra over similar going.
The first son of Sunday Silence to get a European classic winner was Japanese-bred Divine Light, whose French-bred daughter Natagora won the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket over good to firm going. She was ambitiously sent to the 2100-meter French Derby in her next start and ran well but was third behind Vision d’Etat after getting cut down after hitting the front. The soft ground that day no doubt tested her stamina.
Saxon Warrior is a big physical specimen, undefeated in four starts, and has shown as much grit as talent in his career to date. This was clearly on display in the GI Racing Post Trophy over a mile at Doncaster last year. In the latter stages of the race, US-bred Roaring Lion (Kitten’s Joy) veered sharply left into Saxon Warrior and passed him, but Saxon Warrior fought back, took the lead again, and won by a neck from Roaring Lion over good to soft ground. In his first two starts, Saxon Warrior had also shown the ability to handle yielding and soft ground, and in his last start, he won the 2000 Guineas by a length and a half on good ground, with Roaring Lion two-and-a-half lengths away in fifth.
The Derby, however, will test Saxon Warrior’s bloodlines despite the hoopla of Triple Crown talk. On the face of it, his pedigree sounds bulletproof for the trip as a son of Deep Impact from a Galileo mare. But that mare is Maybe, an undefeated seven-furlong Grade I winner at two from five starts. At three, she placed in the Guineas, was fifth in the Oaks at 12 furlongs, and failed to win in her subsequent two starts. Stamina was not her forte.
Maybe was a product of the Galileo/Danehill cross, a combination that has proven to be exceptionally potent for class but was designed to sharpen some of the stamina of Galileo. It’s of course the same cross as Frankel, a brilliant miler who won at 10 furlongs but only later in his career.
By my count, there are 12 Group I winners by Galileo from Danehill mares, and only three of these–Tapestry, Noble Mission, and Highland Reel–won at the top level at a trip of 12 furlongs or more. And in Noble Mission’s case, his was on a DQ.
Maybe got her speed from both Danehill and her dam, Sumora, who in turn was from a mare by the sprinter Indian Ridge. Sumora won two of 12 starts, both at two, and both at five furlongs. Sumora’s dam, Rain Flower, was a three-quarter sibling to Epsom Derby winner Dr Devious, which does point to some classic heft under the third dam, and it’s fortified by such sires as Alleged and Northern Dancer farther back. Still, Aidan O’Brien, the trainer of six Derby winners, will have to showcase his extraordinary skill and strategy to get Saxon Warrior home in front. The colt drew a disadvantageous post in stall one and will also have to deal with softer ground over a longer trip, which will test his reserves. O’Brien has four other runners in the race, and some of them will be used to make conditions as easy as possible for the stable star, who will become a valuable and iconic stud prospect for Coolmore should he prevail. Incidentally, the last and only time a stallion was represented by the winners of the Epsom Derby and the Japanese equivalent in the same year was 2010, when King’s Best had British-bred Workforce and Japanese-bred Eishin Flash.
Study of Man
Pascal Bary trained the previously mentioned Natagora and he trains Study of Man, a physical contrast to Saxon Warrior. Study of Man is a smaller and neater horse more in the mold of his sire, and like his sire he has outstanding acceleration when called upon to produce, something he showcased in his last start in the 2100-meter GII Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud. Bary opted to take the lightly raced colt–he’s won two of three starts–to the French Derby over the same trip rather than try the mile and a half at Epsom, and he cited in press reports the colt’s shorter pedigree and preference for firm ground as reasons.
Study of Man is from the family of Flaxman’s classic winner Miesque–one of the best European milers, period. It’s a family renowned for producing homebred classic-winning milers, too, including such as Kingmambo and more recently Japanese-bred Karakontie and this year’s Irish 1000 Guineas winner Alpha Centauri.
If he gets the ground he likes, Study of Man may be a better bet at Chantilly than Saxon Warrior at Epsom, but both colts are outstanding examples for their sire, whose international appeal will only grow. It’s just a matter of time before Deep Impact will be represented by a top-class son or sons in Europe, and these two figure to be the pioneers of that inevitability.
Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.