Brave Chelmsford Bid Could Lead to Kentucky Derby

Brave Emperor | Archie Watson Racing


Amid much ado about the start of the turf season in Britain on Saturday, it is important not to overlook the day's second-most valuable race after the Lincoln. Chelmsford City's Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions S., worth a decent £100,000, is the last of seven races in the European Road to the Kentucky Derby. 

Launched in 2019 by the enterprising team at the Essex track, which continues to punch well about its weight on the prize-money front, the Cardinal's three winners to date (there was no race in 2020 during the pandemic) have not taken up the challenge for Churchill Downs. This year, however, two of the 11 declared runners have already earned points elsewhere, and a win on Saturday, which is worth 30 points, would have both sets of connections seriously considering a trip to Kentucky in early May.

Leading the charge in this regard is Middleham Park Racing's Brave Emperor (Ire) (Sioux Nation), who has already given his syndicate of owners much cause for cheer by winning five of his seven starts to date, including the Listed Prix de la Californie at Cagnes-sur-Mer followed by Kempton Park's 'Road to the Kentucky Derby' Conditions S. on March 15, for which he earned 20 points for the American Classic. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Cairo (Ire) (Quality Road) accrued the same number of points for winning Dundalk's Listed Patton S. and was subsequently tenth in the G2 UAE Derby on Saturday. 

“It's been a bit of a whirlwind,” Middleham Park Racing's Tom Palin told TDN. “It only really came on our radar since he got his head in front at Kempton. I must admit it was never really something we had thought about, or a careful piece of race placement to try to target him at the Kentucky Derby. But when he won at Kempton we realised that he picked up 20 points and we were made aware that he was joint-top of the European series with Cairo, and then Cairo didn't pick up an extra points at the weekend.”

Middleham Park Racing also fields the George Scott-trained four-time winner Coco Jack (Ire) (Wings Of Eagles {Fr}), who was previously fifth to Brave Emperor at Kempton, while Charlie Appleby is represented by the treble winner and 101-rated Bold Act (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}). James Tate's unbeaten Iconic Moment (Ire) (Harry Angel {Ire}), recent winner of the Listed Spring Cup at Lingfield and a dual scorer at Chelmsford, looks likely to start favourite. 

Palin continued, “Obviously we need to see what happens on Saturday. It looks a very competitive race, and I even think our other horse, Coco Jack, could come in and upset the applecart. George is very bullish about him. It's a super-competitive race but if he picks up enough points to secure his berth, that's when the syndicate will have to have a bit of a grown-up chat. There would still be the small matter of about $30,000 to run and more than that to get him across there and back. But as the saying goes, 'you've got to be in it to win it', and that's exactly what we did last Monday, we put him in there. Everybody has heard of the Kentucky Derby, everybody wants to run for the roses, so if you've got a secure berth it's certainly something one should be having a serious conversation about.”

A stellar 2022 season saw another of the Middleham Park Racing syndicates win the G1 Prix de l'Abbaye with The Platinum Queen (Ire) (Cotai Glory {GB}), who was subsequently sold for 1.2 million gns to Katsumi Yoshida. She has remained in training for the leading Japanese owner and has been switched from Richard Fahey's stable to that of Roger Varian.

Eddie's Boy (GB) (Havana Grey {GB}) was another to carry the silks with aplomb, winning the valuable Weatherbys Super Sprint and the G3 Prix Eclipse, and finishing second in the G2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte. He was sold at the Tattersalls Horses-in-Training Sale for 320,000gns to continue his career in Qatar. The Middleham Park Racing model clearly raises the possibility of Brave Emperor being fully or part-sold should he earn a start at Churchill Downs. 

“Absolutely,” Palin agreed. “The decision is ultimately up to the people in the syndicate. It's not what we want to do, it's what the owners want to do. But they also want to fund their racing for the next four or five years so in some ways the ideal scenario for everybody would be if we were to partner up with somebody, perhaps an American client who wanted a runner in Kentucky Derby and was interested in taking half. 

“Getting him there would wipe out all of the prize-money he has earned so far, and that represents several years' racing for the owners. But it really is very special stuff to be able to talk about it. We were at the Cheltenham Festival after Red Risk had run there and we just finishing up in the bar when Brave Emperor won at Kempton. It was a bit surreal, thinking we were standing there at Cheltenham and suddenly we had the possibility of the Kentucky Derby.”

He added, “He's been fantastic and what's really quite special is that the vast majority of the owners who are involved in Brave Emperor were involved in Eddie's Boy as well. So they are having a real time of it at the moment, they're living the dream.”

Archie Watson, who trains Brave Emperor, a gelded grandson of Scat Daddy, said, “How many times do you get the opportunity to have a runner in a race like that? Personally, I feel he would probably suit the Preakness more, but he's done nothing wrong. On pedigree you'd probably say that it would be worth giving the dirt a try, and also on the way he runs, because he does tend to grind it out. That style of running should suit the dirt, but I guess there are a lot of unknowns, like going up two furlongs for the Derby.

“He's as tough as nails and we definitely haven't got to the bottom of him. He responds well and is tough in a battle.”

He added, “I know he's a Listed winner already but I'd say Saturday will be his hardest test yet. With the Godolphin horse coming in and another horse who has won his last three that we haven't met yet, it looks a strong race. I haven't seen the betting but I'd be hopeful he'll confirm his form with the others, for all that it might be close.”

It was a bit surreal, thinking we were standing there at Cheltenham and suddenly we had the possibility of the Kentucky Derby

Among Brave Emperor's rivals, and with six Kentucky Derby points to his credit following his third-place finish behind Cairo in the Patton S., is the Charles Fipke homebred Stormy Entry (Point Of Entry). Having made his debut when second at Dundalk on December 16, he has subsequently won twice there under the tutelage of the man best known as a breeze-up maestro, Willie Browne.

“Mr Fipke is a sportsman, and he likes his racing, so he wants to give it a go,” said Browne, who also trained the Listed Star Appeal S. winner Spirit Gal (Fr) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) for the same owner-breeder last season.

“The handicapper would suggest that we have little chance but he's a nice horse and I'm sure that even though he does look like one of the lesser ones in the field he'll probably give a good account of himself. A truly-run race would suit him, he's in good form, and he travelled over well [Thursday morning], so we're going to give it a go.”

Stormy Entry is also luring leading jockey Seamie Heffernan across the Irish Sea on Saturday.

Browne added, “Having Seamie is a plus for us as he knows the horse and he likes him, so why not?

“I think he has improved and the style of racing in Chelmsford in particular–they seem to go a good gallop–would suit him, but that said this does look tough and we probably haven't the best draw. Mr Fipke loves his horses and he bred this horse. Needless to say, if something did happen, he's be on his way to Kentucky in a hurry. It's ambitious, but you never know.”

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