St Nicholas Abbey, Lookin At Lucky and Pierre Jourdan
(Photo : Zoot/Racing Life/JC Photos)
THE KENTUCKY DERBY, THE 2000 GUINEAS
AND THE SOUTH AFRICAN DERBY
The postponement last weekend of the South African Derby to Saturday, has meant that we’re not the only ones staging a Triple Crown event this weekend. The difference is, Pierre Jourdan’s tilt at our Derby includes a shot at the final leg of the Triple Crown, whilst those horses across the seas are only commencing theirs.
The Kentucky Derby, over ten furlongs under the twin spires of Churchill Downs, has been robbed at the last moment of one of its most legitimate Triple Crown aspirants of the past few decades in Eskendereya, a towering son of Giant’s Causeway, who’s blazed a trail of daylight destruction on his way to Louisville. By “daylight”, we mean the extent of his winning margins, and while no-one can quite fathom what he’s had behind him in the way of opposition, his Beyer figures tell us he’s among the best contenders in the past few decades. Eskendereya’s soft tissue injury elevates Lookin At Lucky(by Strike Smartly), last season’s Champion Juvenile in the US, to the top of the board. As a son of Strike Smartly, you would expect the trip to be no trouble for him, which begs the question, who and what will he have to beat.
It would seem, on paper at least, the most legitimate contender is Sydney’s Candy, who “end-to-ended” his field in an impressive victory in Santa Anita Derby (Gr.1) over nine furlongs. There are few horses though, who can lead start to finish over the extra furlong of the Kentucky Derby, particularly when you bring to the equation the best of the American classic crop. So unless the form is turned upside down, it looks like fate has dealt Lookin At Lucky a very kind hand.
Across the “pond” at UK racing’s headquarters in Newmarket, the first of the season’s classics, the StanJames.com 2000 Guineas, takes place over the straight mile of the Guineas course. Here matters appear to be a little more clear cut, with last season’s stand-out juvenile St Nicholas Abbey (by Montjeu) heading the programme at 4-5 on, despite making his seasonal debut. Without the benefit of a prior run though, there’s always the possibility of a lack of experience or the shortage of a trial, to throw a spanner in the works.
Unlikely as that may be, since Aidan O’Brien knows what he’s up to, (having won the Guineas countless times before,) it does seem that his one serious opponent is Elusive Pimpernel (by Elusive Quality), runner-up to the favourite in last season’s Racing Post Trophy (Gr.1), and who couldn’t have been more impressive when taking the laurels in the Greenham Stakes (Gr.2) a fortnight ago.
Long before these races are scheduled to be run, we’ll know whether Pierre Jourdan’s crack at a Triple Crown for the first time since Horse Chestnut, will have manifested itself in the greater glory which accompanies the immortal, or in the sort of anti-climax that characterizes these things when they go awry. One thing we do know though, is that “PJ” has breathed new life into the game, providing racing operators with a matchless marketing opportunity, not to mention the unprecedented publicity South Africa’s Olympic body, SASCOC, and the makers of Pierre Jourdan champagne, have gleaned from his escapades.
On class, he seems unopposed, so the only questions which remain to be answered are those around his well-being, and whether or not he’ll get the trip. We have to take the former on trust, while there’s been enough written about his prospects of seeing out the distance for readers to formulate their own ideas.
Perhaps the biggest clue comes from the many repeats we’ve seen on television of the way he moves. Every panther would be proud to possess his action, and it may be his economy of movement that has him running to the line, as well as, if not better than, any of his previous efforts.