Where Does Top Euro Roaring Lion Fit Best in Breeders’ Cup Puzzle?

Racing
European turf star Roaring Lion, shown winning the QIPCO Irish Champions Stakes on Sept. 15, has won three consecutive top-level stakes races this summer. (Eclipse Sportswire)

With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule underway for 2018, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Qatar Racing Limited’s Roaring Lion, winner of the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 15, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. Roaring Lion in August won the Juddmonte International Stakes, also a qualifying race for the Longines Turf.

News broke on Tuesday that the connections of elite European runner Roaring Lion were strongly considering coming over to the United Stakes for the Breeders’ Cup. Perhaps more importantly, it could be the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic on the main track rather than the $4 million Longines Turf that is the target.

So let’s take a closer look as this rising European star and evaluate how he fits as a contender for the Longines Turf as well as the Classic.

Roaring Lion was a $160,000 purchase at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale who proved well worth that price as a 2-year-old by winning three of four starts with one runner-up finish. He opened his career with three straight wins, including a victory in the Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket, before closing out the year with a second to Saxon Warrior in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy, in which he was beaten by a neck.

Roaring Lion took a couple of races to find his best stride as a 3-year-old this season, finishing a nonthreatening third in the Group 3 Bet365 Craven Stakes in April and then fifth by 2 ½ lengths behind winner Saxon Warrior in the QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas on May 5.

From there, trainer John Gosden opted to stretch Roaring Lion out to longer distances and the results have been sensational. He won the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes by 4 ½ lengths going about 1 ¼ miles on May 17 before running third, beaten by two lengths, in the Group 1 Epsom Derby at 1 ½ miles. 

Roaring Lion’s next three races firmly established him as a legitimate star. He turned the tables on familiar rival Saxon Warrior to win the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes by a neck in July before a dominant 3 ¼-length runaway (again defeating Saxon Warrior) in the Juddmonte International on Aug. 22, both races at about 1 ¼ miles.

On Sept. 15, he again got the better of Saxon Warrior with a gutsy victory by a neck in the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Roaring Lion won a group stakes at one mile as a 2-year-old, but his wins this year have all come at about 1 ¼ miles, with both the Dante and the Juddmonte International just slightly longer than that.

Gosden said Roaring Lion would make his next start in the 1 ¼ mile QIPCO Champion Stakes on British Champions Day on Oct. 20 at Ascot, unless the turf comes up heavy due to excessive rain.

In watching Roaring Lion’s races, I’d wager he’ll have little trouble stretching out to 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs if his connections target the Longines Turf – his third in the Epsom Derby was creditable race – and Gosden echoed that opinion.

“The mile and a half around three bends is not that different to a stiff mile and a quarter uphill at Ascot,” Gosden told Racing Post.

Roaring Lion (inside) wins in Ireland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In fact, Roaring Lion would be a logical favorite in the Longines Turf, even with the short, two-week turnaround. His stablemate Enable, the 2017 European Horse of the Year, made her 2018 debut in September and is on target for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 7. She also could be a serious candidate for the Longines Turf.

Should Gosden and owner Qatar Racing opt instead to point Roaring Lion to the Classic, the Kitten’s Joy colt probably would not be among the favorites. However, it might be foolish to dismiss his chances.

First, it does look like he is a true 1 ¼-mile horse, so the Classic is his ideal distance.

Second, he does own a win on the main track, having won his second career start on the synthetic main track going a mile at Kempton Park.

Another factor in his favor is the absence of a true superstar in the division this year in the U.S. with no Gun Runner, Arrogate, or American Pharoah to contend with and Triple Crown winner Justify retired. Top U.S.-based contenders Accelerate and Diversify both have solid credentials, but Accelerate has never won outside of California and all 10 of Diversify’s wins have come in New York. Three-year-old McKinzie’s return last week in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby was very impressive in victory, but he’s never faced older horses.

Roaring Lion has won three straight against older males but, of course, we have no idea whether his immense talent will transfer to the dirt. Perhaps his pedigree will offer some useful insight …

Pedigree

Roaring Lion has a distinctly American pedigree as he is by top U.S. turf sire Kitten’s Joy out of Grade 1-placed Vionnet, by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

Kitten’s Joy’s elite runners in North America have been grass horses: champion turf male Big Blue Kitten, 2015 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten, 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Bobby’s Kitten, and Grade 1 winners Real Solution, Oscar Performance, Sadler’s Joy, and Divisidero come to mind.

There is some versatility with Kitten’s Joy, who has had some nice winners on synthetic and dirt surfaces. Stephanie’s Kitten won the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades on the synthetic surface at Keeneland in 2011. Oscar Nominated won the Grade 3 Horseshoe Casino Spiral Stakes on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park before finishing 17th in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, while Dean’s Kitten won the Grade 2 Lane’s End Stakes on Turfway’s synthetic track while also finishing unplaced in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Derby Kitten won the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington Stakes on the synthetic surface at Keeneland and was subsequently 13th in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Camelot Kitten won the Kentucky Cup Classic Stakes on the synthetic surface at Turfway in March 2018.

Pick of the Litter won the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes on the dirt at Keeneland in the fall of 2014, which was the first season after the Lexington racetrack went back to a dirt main track. Csaba was a multiple graded stakes winner on dirt; Home Run Kitten won the Grade 3 American Stakes at Santa Anita Park in 2016 after it was washed off the grass; and Politicallycorrect won the Oklahoma Derby on a dirt main track.

By this point, you get the picture. Kitten’s Joy is primarily a turf sire, especially when it comes to his truly elite runners, but he has enjoyed success in stakes races on both synthetic and dirt surfaces as well.

The bottom half of Roaring Lion’s pedigree definitely also slants toward turf.

Although she was by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Roaring Lion’s dam (mother), Vionnet, was winless in two starts on the main track before winning three races and placing in three stakes on grass, including the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes in which she was third by a half-length.

Roaring Lion’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Cambiocorsa, won a pair of graded stakes and one other stakes on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita and also won a pair of one-mile stakes on the grass. She produced four stakes winners, all on the grass.

Cambiocorsa’s full-brother (same dam, same sire) California Flag was an elite turf sprinter who won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

While this might be the ideal year to take a shot at the $6 million Classic, Roaring Lion’s pedigree suggests the Longines Turf is the far better play.

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