[caption id="attachment_67376" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Aidan O'Brien."][/caption]
Irish fillies were all the rage in Breeders' Cup prep races in Kentucky and Ontario over the weekend. Aidan O'Brien, true to his word, ran Together in Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland off just a week's rest, and she won convincingly. He was less successful north of the border, where Irish-bred fillies flew home ahead of the fields in the Canadian International and the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine.
Together, a 3-year-old Irish-bred daughter of Galileo, entered the QE2 without a win since the summer of 2010, although she'd been second in five Group or Grade 1 races in that time, including Keeneland's First Lady Stakes, a week prior against older fillies and mares. Jockey Colm O'Donoghue kept her out of the early fray, crept closer around the far turn, challenged for the lead in upper stretch and edged clear late to win by just over a length. She paid $11.20 as the third choice in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies.
"I had a great trip," said O'Donoghue, who credited Together's sire for her ability to prosper at this level. "[Galileo's] just phenomenal. He just gives them that speed and that energy and that strength."
"She came out of the race well and now we'll take her back home," said Kieran Murphy, an assistant to O'Brien, who oversaw Together's preparations in Kentucky. "She didn't have to run very hard and she was pulling away at the end. She had a great trip and Colm rode her perfectly. I think she can run even better."
Murphy said that the Ballydoyle braintrust would decide within the next week whether to return Together to Kentucky for next month's Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.
ON TO CANADA
The Ballydoyle contingent then moved on to Woodbine for Sunday's program, pinning their hopes in the International on Treasure Beach, the Irish Derby hero that successfully tried the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in August.
The International was interesting on several levels. First, the runners that comprised last year's trifecta - Joshua Tree, Mores Wells and Redwood - all returned for an encore performance. Secondly, three members of the 16-horse field, including Joshua Tree, at one time called Ballydoyle home but had since been exiled to other yards.
Joshua Tree, last year's winner, now does his racing under the tutelage of Marco Botti and he again showed his fondness for Woodbine, although that was good for only second place.
Sarah Lynx, the only filly in the race, came up the rail under Christophe Soumillon, to scamper off for a 4-length tally. Treasure Beach closed out the trifecta.
Sarah Lynx, an Irish-bred, paid $46.90 to win and comprised the upper half of a $659.50 Irish-bred exacta with Joshua Tree, sent off at 11-1 despite his status as defending champ.
"It was a little bit messy," said Adam Kirby, Joshua Tree's rider. "Our horse missed the gate. I'd have liked to have gotten out a little sooner than I did but it was blocked up there and you have to wait for the space to happen. When it opened up, he quickened up good, but I think we just met one that was too good on the day."
O'Donoghue, on Treasure Beach, felt that the ground might have compromised his mount's chances.
"The ground was probably too soft for him," O'Donoghue said. "It was very dead. He jumped great and he traveled really well. I had a great position turning in and he was traveling so easy. He tried very hard for me."
The two other former O'Brien runners finished up the course - Quest for Peace, the 7-2 second choice, was fifth, while Mikhail Glinko checked in 14th of 16. As for Mores Wells and Redwood, they finished eighth and seventh, respectively.
The E.P. Taylor, which preceded the International by about an hour, finished with Irish-breds in the top three spots, led by Miss Keller, which had a head in front of I'm a Dreamer, which was a nose better than Dream Peace. Miss Keller paid $25.30 to win, while the exacta came back $265.30 and the trifecta paid $1,612.20.
LONGSHOTS FROM DOYLE AND WALLS
Mike Doyle also caused something of a stir on the Sunday Woodbine card, although his Celtic Conviction could do no better than 10th in the International. Doyle won the fourth race, a claiming sprint, with his homebred gelding Celtic Connection. The win price came back $59.20.
With attention at Woodbine fastened on those Breeders' Cup preps, you can be sure that trainer Joe Walls was flying far under the radar, which might explain how his first-time starter, Players Club, was able to go off at 50-1 and spring the upset in Friday's fourth race, a maiden claiming sprint for 2-year-old fillies. Only members of the Walls fan club and those still celebrating Paul McCartney's return to the marriage altar (Players Club's dam is Lady Madonna) were likely to cash those $103.90 win ducats after Jeff Alderson got the filly up by just over a length with a hand ride.
Eddie Kenneally sent out another winner at Keeneland when JEOG Racing's Scatman drew off in the stretch of Thursday's third race to reach the wire three lengths in front of a field of 2-year-old maiden sprinters. Scatman and rider Corey Lanerie disposed of the only real challenge via an early speed duel. Scatman paid $9.00 to win.
Friday was David Carroll's turn to get lucky in Lexington. He cracked first time out of the box with David and Marylyn Randal's Capetown Devil, a homebred 2-year-old gelding that he risked losing for $30,000 in a main track sprint. Lanerie had the mount here, too, put the "Devil" on the lead out of the gate and stayed there throughout, offering aggressive encouragement all the while in winning by one and one-half lengths. Carroll's trainee paid $10.80 to win and was not claimed.
Thirteen proved to be a lucky number for the David Duggan-trained Strikealinethruit, as the New York-bred filly finally broke her maiden in her 13th career start at Belmont Park on Columbus Day. A daughter of Irish Actress, a stakes winner under Leo O'Brien once upon a time, Strikealinethruit sat in midpack under Ryan Curatolo and set out for the lead at the top of the lane, reaching the wire a 3-length winner in this turf sprint. She returned $10.00 to win.
Duggan then started a half-sister to Strikealinethruit in Sunday's seventh race at Belmont. Irishtocat closed well from the back of the pack to get third place, and, hopefully, won't need 12 more starts to break her maiden.