A clash between the European powerhouses came to a head in epic fashion on Friday at Keeneland as the Aidan O’Brien-trained Victoria Road edged out Godolphin’s Silver Knott in a thrilling finish to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
The pair locked horns down the stretch to pull well clear of the third Nagirroc. Silver Knott had already overcome a tight inside trip to get himself into a challenging position under William Buick but Victoria Road was also in full flight down the centre of the track and at the wire, it was his nose that was down at the right moment to hand the Coolmore team and jockey Ryan Moore a second Breeders’ Cup win of the day after Meditate’s victory in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Aidan O’Brien. “He’s been progressing always. Ryan (Moore) was very patient on him. He had a nice draw and went fast. He’s a horse that likes to come late which we learned in the last couple of runs.
“Obviously, he’s Saxon Warrior’s first Group (Grade) 1 winner, he’s from a very fast pedigree. we started him early on over shorter trips and when we started to let him go up in distance, he just improved and improved. The pace was solid, Ryan had a nice position and knew he was going to be patient. We knew he wasn’t going to try and get there too early with him. He’s a lovely and nimble horse. He handled the bends very well and handled the nice ground. Ryan gave him a great ride.”
Moore added: “We were in a nice spot when the pace steadied, and we weren’t going mad doing the backside. He managed to thread a gap and when he got there, he just moved out a little to the right and just gave everyone a half a chance. This horse has a lot class and he’s gotten better as he goes longer.
“I thought he was sitting on a big race, especially after the draw. He was stepping up in class in his last four races. Hopefully there is more to come next year when he goes to the Classic races.”
Victoria Road provides an important landmark moment in the fledgling stud career of Saxon Warrior as the young Coolmore stallion’s first Group or Grade 1 winner. The son of Deep Impact is already the sire of six stakes horses out of his first crop, including the Group 3 scorers Lumiere Rock and Moon Ray in addition to Victoria Road.
The colt was bred by Trevor Stewart out of his Group 3-winning sprinter Tickled Pink, a daughter of the breeder’s illustrious mare Cassandra Go. He becomes the second top-flight juvenile winner of the past month to hail from the family after the Vertem Futurity scorer Auguste Rodin; like Saxon Warrior, that colt is a son of Deep Impact.
On what was an excellent day for the Coolmore team, they also celebrated success in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf courtesy of an authoritative display from Meditate.
Settled towards the rear of the field by Ryan Moore, the daughter of No Nay Never took closer order two furlongs out and once given the office, soared past the leaders to win ears pricked by a widening two-and-a-half lengths from Pleasant Passage.
“She was always very comfortable,” said Moore. “And she started well. She’s got a lot of pace. There’s a bit of speed inside of me that went forward early. And I thought we’d just come back. And the pace steadied once we got around the bend.
“And I just walked myself out wide. I was following a filly I didn’t want to be following, but the pace was slow so that brought me far enough. She had them covered very quickly. And the race was over a furlong and a half out and I felt she had a lot left. She was probably just a level above all of them really.
“She’s very straightforward, does everything you want her to do. She’s just got an awful lot of class and I thought she was a level above these. She was dominant, really.”
Meditate caps a remarkable season for No Nay Never, one that also includes the Middle Park Stakes and Prix Morny hero Blackbeard alongside the Group 2 winners Trillium and Aesop’s Fables. Another Group 3 winner, Midnight Mile, also ran a good race to be fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf despite a difficult trip.
Godolphin and Charlie Appleby had previously picked up where they left off at the meeting last year when Mischief Making handed the powerhouse operation yet another Breeders’ Cup success with an emphatic score in the Juvenile Turf Sprint.
Under a masterful ride from his pilot, Mischief Making made his move from the rear of the field to swoop past the Karl Burke-trained Dramatised to win going away. Dramatised held on for second ahead of the Steven Asmussen-trained Private Creed in fourth. Another European, Persian Force, ran an excellent race for Richard Hannon to finish fourth.
“Going over to the Middle Park Stakes [when fourth], it was in our minds it was going to be a stepping stone on to this race,” said Appleby. “And we were very pleased with what we saw in Middle Park. He was pitching it with some of the best sprinters around in the UK.
“Coming into today, you know, William sort of read the race in the pilot that they were going to go hard. Obviously the plan was to try and potentially run a bit closer. But going back quick early doors, that William was happy to let his horse find his legs. And as William quite rightly said earlier, once you get him on the turn on the rail, you can ride the rail. It just makes life a bit easier.”
Buick added: “He’s a closer in the UK. So we expected him to come from off the pace, and we expected it to be pace on in the race.
“Lucky he just got a little bit of lost and took him a bit to get into things the first furlong, furlong and a half. Once I switched him in around the turn he was traveling nice, and I was following the English filly, Dramatised. And it sort of opened up just as we turned into the straight on the inside. I had to switch out and just pick my run. But he was always full of running. And it was really only a matter of getting the split and for him to finish it off.
“It was a great performance. And I think coming off the turn today really, really set him alive. It really woke him up. When he switched leads, he just flew.”
By Exceed And Excel, Godolphin homebred Mischief Making hails from a famous Gerald Leigh family as a son of Veil Of Silence, an unraced Elusive Quality daughter of Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Gossamer, herself a sister to Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Barathea.