The Europeans have won both races in the Jockey Club Derby (G3) so far, and the change of venue to Aqueduct in the ‘Belmont at the Big A’ season is unlikely to change the equation on Saturday.
Coach Charlie Appleby sent Yibir out to conquer last year, while current rival, Pride of Nations, practically became a resident while summering in Saratoga. We will focus more on the two new international interests, Ardakan in the Derby and the filly Toskana Beautiful in the fellow Jockey Club Oaks (G3), the two German shippers representing Australian shipowners.
Derby du Jockey Club (G3) – Pride of nations
Probably unlucky not to have won two-thirds of the Turf Triple, Nations Pride were left behind by a slow start from a wide post in the Belmont Derby (G1). Super-sub Frankie Dettori might have tried to improve his position sooner, and he settled for second at Classic Causeway. Godolphin’s homebred made amends in the Saratoga Derby (G1) with a better draw, and a more favorable pass. Nations Pride wasn’t that far off, but regular driver William Buick propelled him into a third-place finish, and he asserted his class. With Buick required at Woodbine on Saturday, Dettori gets another chance to arrange a trip aboard the favorite.
Since a less than stellar start may not be an issue here, the only knock is its ability to go 1 1/2 miles. Nations Pride had the worst race of their life on their only distance attempt, an eighth in the Derby (G1) at Epsom. Yet I do not consider this conclusive proof of his refusal to stay. Epsom’s unique contours aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, to put it mildly, and the rain has exacerbated its difficulty. On better ground, around an American track, 1 1/2 miles should be within reach.
If it was all about his mother, Important Time, I might have more reason to stop. Important Time, a Listed winner over nine furlongs in Cologne, is a daughter of Oasis Dream out of Satwa Queen, who was a three-time Group 1 winner around 1 1/4 miles away.
But Nations Pride should inherit the endurance of his sire Teofilo. Galileo’s son was considered a British Triple Crown hopeful by Jim Bolger before his career ended miserably with injury. Teofilo has spawned several top-notch stays, including last year’s Gold Cup (G1) winner Subjectivist and a few Melbourne Cup (G1) winners (Cross Counter in 2018 and Twilight Payment in 2020).
Derby of the Jockey Club – Ardakan
There is no doubting the stamina of Germany’s Ardakan, who like Nations Pride received early entry into the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). Although beaten in his previous tests at 1 1/2 miles, his austere style suggests he would enjoy it even more.
Fielded by Darius Racing until recently acquired by Bennett Racing, Ardakan is Markus Klug’s first North American starter. The three-time Deutsches Derby (G1) winning coach came awfully close to a fourth trophy this summer, narrowly missing out in a thriller with second and third places. According to galopponline.de, Ardakan will be transferred to another coach after Saturday.
Klug also trained Ardakan’s mother, Alaskakonigin, winner of a 10 stadia stake in Dortmund. She also produced Alaskasonne, herself a student of Klug, who recently wired a Group 3 in Baden-Baden on males. As their names beginning with “A” suggest, the Gestut Rottgen belong to the family embracing champion and famous matron Anna Paola.
Ardakan’s sire, Reliable Man, won the 2011 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) and went on to become a top-level winner in Australia at the 2013 Queen Elizabeth (G1).
A $47,404 year-old purchase from Baden-Baden, Ardakan was twice placed with young girls at home as a juvenile. After a third in Munich, he was second by half a length over about 1 1/4 miles in Baden-Baden. He broke through in Rome during the Premio Guido Berardelli (G3) last November. The heavy ground made the roughly 1 1/8 mile affair a true test of endurance, and he passed with flying colors by six lengths.
Ardakan reappeared in France, finishing second in the Prix de l’Avre on May 1 at Longchamp. The 10-1 shot set a leisurely pace and bravely fended off Appleby favorite Hafit, but Martel got past them both. Hafit gives Ardakan key collateral form as next time he was close third again in the Queen’s Vase (G2) at Royal Ascot. Queen’s Vase hero Eldar Eldarov is coming off September 11 St Leger (G1), and Zechariah, beaten a pixel at Royal Ascot, finally beat elders on August 13 Geoffrey Freer (G3).
Race director Holger Faust told galopponline.de that it was the preparation designed by Ardakan for the Derby Italiano (G2). The tightener had its effect, as the gray returned to Rome to establish himself again in spectacular fashion as the favorite.
Installed in the middle of the pack inside, Ardakan gradually improved his position until he was just behind the leaders. He bowed to throw his offer, only to be overtaken by a sudden wider move from Tempesti. Although Tempesti’s toe turn seemed decisive, the never-say-die Ardakan called on his superior stamina, clawed his way back and pushed his neck forward after 1 3/8 miles.
The Deutsches Derby didn’t go so well. Releasing very early from post 14 (out of 20), he gained ground regularly without threatening in the eighth, beaten at only 2 3/4 lengths. The victorious Sammarco returned to beat older opponents in the Grosser Dallmayr-Preis Bayerisches Zuchtrennen (G1) on July 31. In his last, Sammarco finished third in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) ahead of Mendocino and last year’s Arc disruptor Torquator Tasso, after briefly appearing to win.
Ardakan played honorably against the elders in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) in Hoppegarten. He took a much better early position in a third gain, was passed in the stretch, but stubbornly stayed in the header for the third. The winner was Appleby’s Rebel’s Romance, the 2021 UAE Derby (G2) bubbler that was scratched from the Belmont (G1) and has now reinvented itself on the turf.
Ardakan has himself been signed up for a rematch with Sammarco in Baden-Baden on September 4. Once the sale to its new Australian owners was complete, however, it was retired and New York became its focus. According to the Bennett Racing website, Ardakan is expected to campaign overseas with a view to visiting Australia next year.
The Jockey Club Derby will likely feature a familiar scenario, where Ardakan continues to muddle through for a minor price while succumbing to Nations Pride’s stronger kick. His best chance for an upset lies if Classic Causeway goes too fast, emphasizing relentless endurance. Ardakan has that in spades, and jockey Andrasch Starke knows how to roll it out. On his final trip to the United States, Starke steered Loft to a record win in the June 10 Belmont Gold Cup.
Jockey Club Oaks (G3) – Toskana Belle
Winner at the head of the Preis der Diana (German Oaks) (G1) in record time, Toskana Belle brings a tactical dimension as well as a proven affinity for the 1 3/8 mile course.
Coach Andreas Wohler has enjoyed success in his forays into the United States, from Silvano in the Arlington Million (G1) in 2001 to Red Cardinal in the 2017 Belmont Gold Cup (G3). Toskana Belle shares links with Wohler’s 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Red Cardinal and Protectionist, all affiliated with Australian Bloodstock.
Bred by Ecurie Normandie Pur Sang in France, Toskana Belle is the first headliner of their stallion Shamalgan. The paternal grandson of “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway, Shamalgan finished in the French Classic before claiming victory in the 2013 Premio Vittorio di Capua (G1). Toskana Belle, a half-sister to multi-staked Frohsim, is out of a mare by the aforementioned Teofilo.
Failing to sell for a $47,384 bid to Arqana in October, Toskana Belle began his career for Stall Picadilly and jockey-turned-trainer Marian Falk Weissmeier. She started 65-1 in a rookie race on April 5 at Saint-Cloud, remaining fourth. Toskana Belle was favored next time to an easier spot in Evreux, set the pace and drove flawlessly.
Twelve days later, Toskana Belle appeared in a listed stake in Düsseldorf, the Henkel-Stutenpreis. The 6-1 odds continued and jumped to 1:34.90 for the metric mile.
This caught the attention of Australian Bloodstock, and Toskana Belle was privately brought into their fold. Her debut in their silks, the June 5 Diana Trial (G3) at Hoppegarten, proved a messy race. A new jockey had her too far back, she was unwieldy, swerved (or pushed?) in a rough first turn, and gained rank. Under the circumstances, Toskana Belle did well to make slight progress late for third place, although there was no match for favorite Wagnis.
Toskana Belle was then transferred to Wohler and completed at the German Oaks on August 7. She also secured a decisive driver change for Australian Kerrin McEvoy, who put her in the lead safely. Now in her comfort zone, ears pricked, Toskana Belle created a 16-1 upset. She just lasted by a Wagnis header skirting in a stakes record 2:11.21.
Toy, the favorite of Aidan O’Brien, moved up to seventh, never regrouping after going wide at the first corner and losing her initial good position near Toskana Belle. Toy offers no clear form guide, as she has now been well beaten in three Classics, and her second Irish Oaks (G1) is an outlier.
Mountaha, fourth, is more consistent. She has since finished fifth, beaten by roughly the same margin, in the Prix du Prince d’Orange (G3) against the men.
Toskana Belle also has form that intersects with Txope, the German 1000 Guineas (G2) winner who didn’t put her best foot forward when she was 10th in the Del Mar Oaks (G1). But Txope’s flop there shouldn’t affect Toskana Belle’s chances in a very different setup here – a small field from a longer distance.
Picking up Dettori, Toskana Belle seems to be in a good position throughout. She won’t have things her way, but her stamina will likely keep her in the frame. Connections reflect on the Breeders’ Cup, according to NYRA notes, if it performs well.