Moment of 2020: Kameko


Kameko winning the G2 Joel S. |


In Moment of 2020, the staff of TDN Europe reflect on their favourite moments in racing for the year.

Future Classic winner Kameko (Kitten's Joy) first came on my radar with his nose second in the G3 Solario S. in August of 2019 after winning on debut at Sandown in July. I especially noticed the flashy dark bay because he bore the same Qatar Racing silks as another favourite of mine, the late Cartier Horse of the Year Roaring Lion, also a Kentucky-bred incidentally by Kitten's Joy.

A $90,000 Keeneland September yearling, the Calumet Farm-bred Kameko gave every indication he was moving in the right direction in his next start, this time second by a neck in the G2 Royal Lodge S. at Newmarket in September of 2019 for trainer Andrew Balding. His progression continued with a smart win-by 3 1/4 lengths–in the G1 Vertem Futurity Trophy in November last term, but the race was also notable as the first British Group 1 race ever contested on a synthetic surface. As such, perhaps its overall form carried less clout ahead of the 2020 Classics than if it had been contested on a traditional turf course. Regardless, for me I had settled on my Classic horse for the 2020 season.

The winter of 2019/2020 seemed to be stretching endlessly, despite the weather gradually improving. And then COVID-19 hit, turned the world on its head and racing ceased in the UK on Mar. 17. By the time French racing resumed with a quartet of group races on May 11, I was just grateful for racing anywhere in Europe, let alone worrying about the impending Classics.

British racing began again on June 1 and just five days later Kameko, under regular rider and champion jockey Oisin Murphy, stamped his quality on the G1 QIPCO 2000 Guineas in race record time, despite not having the clearest of runs late on. After failing to stay with a fourth in the G1 Investec Derby at Epsom on July 4, Kameko faced his elders for the first time in the G1 Qatar Sussex S., but he was once again fourth after a troubled trip. He fared the same in the Aug. 19 10 1/2-furlong G1 Juddmonte International S. trying older heavy weights Ghaiyyath (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and Magical (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and connections determined he was strictly a miler.

Newmarket's G2 Joel S. appeared to be a top-flight race in all but name, and much was riding on the outcome of the one-mile test. Back at HQ for the first time since his Classic victory, Kameko was facing an  accomplished older horse in Godolphin's MG1SW Benbatl (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) while also carrying top weight in the six-horse field. It was a definite acid test for the Qatar Racing runner, who needed to prove that his Classic win, although accomplished in a wonderfully fast clocking, had not been a fluke.

Needless to say, I was glued to my computer screen that September morning. Would Kameko bounce back to his best at his preferred distance? He'd ducked no one throughout his campaign and this was his first try outside of Group 1 company since his G2 Royal Lodge second just under a year prior.

Second choice on the board behind Benbatl, the son of GIII Senorita S. heroine Sweeter Still (Ire) (Rock of Gibraltar {Ire}) was away in good order, but was already being scrubbed on by Murphy at the half-way point. Kameko readily responded to his pilot's cajoling and he split horses decisively to emerge with a slight advantage in the climb to the line. He wore down the pacesetting Benbatl and fended off the rallying Regal Reality (GB) (Intello {Ger}) to post a clear score. The latter edged Benbatl for second and it was on to the GI Breeders' Cup Mile in November for the son of Kitten's Joy.

Although unplaced at Keeneland, the 2021 Tweenhills Stud recruit deftly advertised his ample talent and class during his two campaigns and I look forward to his foals lighting up the course in years to come.

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