The European Road to the Kentucky Derby took a couple of significant turns on March 6, as one noteworthy name lived up to expectations and another fell short in his first start of the season.
Jahbath was a clear favorite to win the one-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes over the all-weather track at Kempton in England, which was hardly a surprise since he’d won his last three starts (including two course-and-distance victories) in decisive fashion. Securing a fourth straight win proved no obstacle, as Jahbath comfortably tracked the leaders before seizing the lead and pulling clear with authority to win by two lengths.
In contrast, Aidan O’Brien’s Western Australia was expected to prevail in the Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland, which had been postponed from March 1. The Group 1-placed son of Australia was well-positioned in second place for much of the race and launched a bid in the home straight, but ran into trouble when the front-running Colfer Me drifted in and forced the favorite to steady in tight quarters. Western Australia did re-rally, but failed to out-finish Playa Del Puente, who forged clear to win by a half-length and record his third straight victory at Dundalk.
These results significantly shook up the European Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Jahbath and Western Australia are now the joint leaders with 20 points apiece, though neither have been nominated to the Triple Crown and will have to be supplemented if their connections wish to continue their journey toward Churchill Downs. Meanwhile, Western Australia earned eight points for his runner-up finish, bringing his total to 10 to place a joint third on the leaderboard.
Although Western Australia failed to win, his performance could be considered encouraging since he was making his first start since last October, and O’Brien’s runners have a reputation for improving off their seasonal debuts. We’ll have to hope this proves true for Van Beethoven, another of O’Brien’s Triple Crown nominees, who never really threatened while finishing fourth by 2 ¼ lengths in the Patton Stakes.
Plans for the O’Brien runners remain in flux, but presumably the March 30 UAE Derby (UAE-II) at Meydan in Dubai and the April 11 Cardinal Condition Stakes at Chelmsford City in England are among the possibilities. The UAE Derby is definitely the target for Jahbath, with trainer William Haggas even mentioning that goal prior to Wednesday’s score at Dundalk, while RacingPost.com has reported that Playa Del Puente is heading for Hong Kong in the near future, making him unlikely to further pursue a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.