American Pharoah’s First Group 1 Winner in Europe

Pierre Charles-BoudotAmerican Pharoah’s prowess as a sire was demonstrated when Aidan O’Brien’s Van Gogh left his rivals for dead to win the Group 1 Criterium International run over a mile at Saint-Cloud, France on October 24.

Van Gogh was ridden by Pierre-Charles Boudot, the French champion jockey. He started second favorite and crossed the wire four lengths clear of his closest pursuer on the heavy ground.

The two-year-old Van Gogh’s victory was the first top level scorer for American Pharoah’s progeny in Europe. It was particularly impressive as the colt had lost a front shoe during the race. Losing a hind shoe can compromise the chances of many horses, losing a front one is much more serious and is universally recognized as a valid reason for a disappointing performance.

Van Gogh demonstrated his sire’s grit but had the benefit of a super talented dam too and O’Brien trained her. A daughter of Sadler’s Wells, Imagine was a top quality turf performer. She was a surprise winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas when sent off at 16/1 and subsequently won the Oaks at Epsom as a 3/1 favorite.

American Pharoah’s progeny are evidently capable of transferring his talents to turf, he was trained by Bob Baffert and took the Triple Crown but might have done well elsewhere. His star daughter Harvey’s Lil Goil was saddled by Bill Mott to win the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland on October 10. That was against three-year-old fillies over a mile and a furlong on good ground and it was the filly’s first top level triumph. Unlike Van Gogh, Harvey’s Lil Goil’s pedigree is a dirt one on both sides. Bred by Harvey A Clarke, she is out of a Tapit mare.

Wesley Ward’s Four Wheel Drive is another of American Pharoah’s colts who is performing well on turf, scoring in Grade 2 and three contests. He is yet to line up in a Grade 1. Out of a More Than Ready mare, there is no obvious suggestion that he should be suited to the surface but watch this space.

Van Gogh had Imagine’s influence to help him and his win was a particularly welcome one for O’Brien. He had been down on his luck in France lately. He had to withdraw Love, the long-term favorite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe after torrential rain left the track at Longchamp deeper than some of the veteran French jockeys had ever seen it. O’Brien’s three-year-old filly was unbeaten in her three Group 1 starts this year but would not have been able to perform in such testing conditions.

O’Brien’s Epsom Derby winner Serpentine was consequently supplemented for the race giving him four chances of Arc glory. None of his trainees was particularly popular with bettors, all were available at double figure odds which makes sense as they were all sons of Galileo who generally prefer good ground. One of them had recently posted an impressive performance: Mogul had won the Grand Prix de Paris over course and distance.

Mogul’s chances of victory were never put to the test. Shortly before the Arc an issue emerged with the accidental contamination of a particular brand of Irish racehorse feed. O’Brien used it and all his horses had to be withdrawn at the last moment when they tested positive for a banned substance.

O’Brien is ultra-fastidious and did not deserve that. He had been unlucky in Australia too. On the same day as Van Gogh’s victory one of his other colts, Armoury, finished second in the $3.6m ($5m AUD) Group 1 Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. He was beaten by a colt he had previously trained, Sir Dragonet. Second always sucks but is so much worse in that scenario.

It was the four-year-old son of Camelot’s first run for new connections and he notched a first victory since May 2019, straight off the plane. Sir Dragonet started as the favorite in three of his four runs for O’Brien this year and finished second in all of them. Bettors had understandably lost faith in him when he was sent off at 18/1 in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh on July 26. He finished second again suggesting there was hope for more.

He was purchased from Ballydoyle by Aziz ‘Ozzie’ Kheir, the incredibly successful Lebanese-born property development and nightclub-oriented businessman based in Melbourne, for an undisclosed sum that was rumored to be in the region of $1.3m USD. He had wanted to buy him for some time and thought he got lucky when the sale was agreed. The Cox Plate purse has instantly repaid the investment with plenty of interest and now he heads to the even richer Melbourne Cup next week on November 3

Another of his purchases denied an O’Brien trainee in the Caulfield Cup a week before Van Gogh’s win. His star mare Verry Elleegant beat Anthony Van Dyke by a short head. Ozzie Kheir has the Midas touch with horses as well as property. O’Brien has a number of American Pharoah’s offspring with which to oppose them.