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Donn McClean: Exciting times ahead as Ten Sovereigns delivers on July promise

Donn McClean maps out the next destination for the Ballydoyle sprint star.

Winner alright: Ten Sovereigns (centre), in the hands of Ryan Moore, takes the July Cup.
Winner alright: Ten Sovereigns (centre), in the hands of Ryan Moore, takes the July Cup.
Image: Darren Staples

THERE WAS PRECEDENT. Not just because Aidan O’Brien had trained the July Cup winner four times before, but because of the type of horse with which he had majored in the race.

The similarities between Ten Sovereigns and three of Aidan O’Brien’s four previous July Cup winners were apparent. Stravinsky in 1999 and Mozart in 2001 and US Navy Flag in 2018, all three-year-old colts, all dropping back down to six furlongs after racing over further. The odd one out was Starspangledbanner in 2010, a Southern Hemisphere-bred three-and-a-half-year-old colt who had won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot on just his second run for Aidan O’Brien.

Ten Sovereigns had lots in common with Stravinsky and Mozart and US Navy Flag going into Saturday’s race. Winner of his three races last year as a juvenile, all over six furlongs, including the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, his trainer spent the winter and the spring working on trying to help him get a mile and win the Guineas. He almost got there too in the Guineas, he led his group in the centre of the track until well inside the final furlong at Newmarket, before his stamina ebbed, and he faded inside the final 100 yards to finish fifth behind his stable companion Magna Grecia.

They had to have a go. See if they could get Ten Sovereigns to win a Guineas, to win a Classic. See if he could stretch his speed out to a mile. After he had come up short at Newmarket, however, it was always likely that it was as a sprinter that his immediate future lay.

The Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot over six furlongs was the logical target, but the ground was softer than ideal on Commonwealth Cup day at Ascot this year. Also, it was interesting to hear his trainer say on Saturday that, mentally, the No Nay Never colt wasn’t quite there. He finished fourth in the Commonwealth Cup, two and a half lengths behind the Martyn Meade-trained Advertise.

Stravinsky came up short too at Royal Ascot in 1999. There was no six-furlong Group 1 race for three-year-olds back then, there was no Commonwealth Cup, so Stravinsky ran in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes instead over seven furlongs, and he finished only fourth.

Mozart was different, he won the Jersey Stakes in 2001 before going on to Newmarket and landing the July Cup.

There was a Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot when US Navy Flag came along last year, but the War Front colt ran in the St James’s Palace Stakes over a mile instead. You could see the rationale. Like Mozart back in 2001, he had finished second in the Irish 2000 Guineas, so you could easily argue that he was deserving of another shot at a mile. Only ninth in the St James’s Palace Stakes, he bounced forward next time when he stepped back in trip to six furlongs, and he danced in in the July Cup.

Ten Sovereigns danced in too on Saturday. Ryan Moore bounced him out of the gate, and he led his group in the centre from flagfall. Glorious Journey headed him on the near side on the run to the three-furlong pole, but Ten Sovereigns was strong. Always in control in the centre, he lengthened impressively when his rider asked him to, and he powered up the final incline to win by almost three lengths, going away at the finish.

O’Brien spoke candidly afterwards about the strategy. About trying to stretch him out to a mile for the Guineas, and then about getting him back to six furlongs for the July Cup. He also spoke about the colt’s final piece of work before Saturday, about four sub-11-second furlongs in a row. That’s fast.

It is a pity that Blue Point was retired after Royal Ascot. The King’s Stand Stakes winner and Diamond Jubilee winner. A match-up between the Godolphin horse and Ten Sovereigns would have been something to savour.

So what next for Ten Sovereigns? Sprinting for sure. Back to precedent. Three of O’Brien’s four previous July Cup winners went to York after their respective July Cup victories to contest the Nunthorpe Stakes. Stravinsky and Mozart both won the Nunthorpe, while Starspangledbanner finished second to Eddie Lynam’s little-known (at the time) three-year-old gelding, the 100/1 shot Sole Power.

The talk is of the Nunthorpe too for Ten Sovereigns. The Nunthorpe would represent a new challenge for Ten Sovereigns, given that it is run over five furlongs, not six. He has never run over the minimum trip before in his life. Even his maiden victory on his racecourse debut last year as a juvenile was gained over six. And he was strong in the finish on Saturday. He ran through the line, away from his rivals, up the hill. He saw out the sixth furlong well.

That said, Stravinsky had never run over five furlongs before he won the Nunthorpe. Mozart had never run over five furlongs before he won the Nunthorpe. Mozart had actually won his maiden over seven furlongs, and he had finished second in an Irish Guineas over a mile.

There is the Flying Five now at The Curragh on Irish Champions Weekend in September, now a Group 1 race, and that is an option for Ten Sovereigns. He could run there after the Nunthorpe if he wanted. There is a good gap between the two races.

There is also the option of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint now, inaugurated in 2008, a race in which Ten Sovereigns’ sire No Nay Never finished second in 2014. We didn’t have the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in 1999 or 2001. Stravinsky and Mozart both had their respective swansongs in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, against the Americans, on dirt. If Ten Sovereigns goes to the Breeders’ Cup this year, he will have the option of racing on turf over a sprint distance.

Exciting times ahead.

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About the author:

Donn McClean

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