U S S Michigan Seeks Kentucky Derby Berth in Cardinal Conditions Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 9th, 2019

The European Road to the Kentucky Derby will conclude on Thursday with the running of the Cardinal Conditions Stakes at Chelmsford City in England, and I’d advise everyone to keep a close eye on what transpires in this one-mile race.

Held over a Polytrack course similar in size and shape to Churchill Downs, the Cardinal Conditions Stakes has attracted nine starters, and while only two have been nominated to the Triple Crown, one of those is the highly-regarded #9 U S S Michigan, a colt with definite Kentucky Derby aspirations.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien, this Kentucky-bred son of War Front finished second in his debut at the Curragh last summer, then returned from an eight-month layoff to win a six-furlong maiden race over the Dundalk Polytrack on March 1. O’Brien’s top jockey Ryan Moore was in the saddle, and U S S Michigan had little difficulty employing pace-tracking tactics to win by 2 ½ lengths.

In terms of Racing Post Ratings, U S S Michigan is among the slower horses in the Cardinal Conditions Stakes, but that’s not surprising given that he’s only run twice. He could improve substantially while stretching out to a mile, and he’ll retain the services of Ryan Moore for Thursday’s race. I have to think the screws will be tightened for U S S Michigan to run a bang-up race and secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

The other Triple Crown nominee in the field is #8 Shir Khan, a five-length maiden winner over the Tapeta track at Wolverhampton last November. He’s a well-bred up-and-comer with solid connections (rising star jockey Oisin Murphy will be in the saddle), but the real threat to U S S Michigan might be #6 Dark Vision. Owned by Godolphin and trained by Mark Johnston, this son of Dream Ahead opened his career with three straight victories (including a triumph in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood) before finishing last of six against a tough field in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster.

Dark Vision has never run over a synthetic track, but his high-class form on turf suggests that he has the talent to be competitive in the Cardinal Condition Stakes. The same might be said for #4 Bye Bye Hong Kong, who finished fifth in the Champagne Stakes before improving to second in the Group 3 Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket.

Then there’s #7 Fanaar, who likewise showed decent form on turf in 2018. But unlike Dark Vision and Bye Bye Hong Kong, Fanaar also demonstrated the ability to win on Polytrack when rallying to a narrow triumph in the seven-furlong Spring Cup Stakes at Lingfield last month. Trainer William Haggas knows what it takes to win a European Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race (he sent out Jahbath to win the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes in March), and in terms of Racing Post Ratings, Fanaar wouldn’t need to improve much to challenge the best numbers posted by Dark Vision and Bye Bye Hong Kong.

Primarily, this race is worth watching just to see if U S S Michigan or Shir Khan can earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. But if you want to have a monetary interest in the outcome, here’s how I would play the race:

$8 exacta: 9 with 6,7 ($16) $1 trifecta: 9 with 6,7 with 2,4,6,7,8 ($8) $1 trifecta: 9 with 2,4,8 with 6,7 ($6)

Good luck!