04/15/2015 8:16PM

Favorites have mixed results in preps for European classics


The prep-race season for 2015 classic races in the U.S. is over, but overseas, it is in full swing.

At Newmarket in England on Wednesday, there were two such races, following a race in France on Tuesday and one last Sunday in Ireland, with more preps to come Thursday and Saturday this week.

Last Sunday at Leopardstown saw John F Kennedy, at the time the antepost favorite for the English Derby, finish last of three in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes, a somewhat-shocking 10 1/2-length defeat in his first start at 3. Trainer Aidan O’Brien offered up a bevy of post-race potential excuses for the defeat, but even under less-than-ideal circumstances and at something below his supposed best, John F Kennedy should have delivered more.

The Ballysax winner, who led the short field, was Success Days, who is not considered anything like a legitimate English Derby contender, while another O’Brien charge, Ol’ Man River, moves to the front of the Derby antepost market.

On Tuesday at Saint-Cloud in France, Queen’s Jewel, a Wertheimer et Frere homebred trained by Freddie Head, ran her career mark to 2 for 2 with a sharp victory in the Group 3 Prix Penelope, and she has the Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) as a major early-season goal. A winner over 10 furlongs in her career debut March 15, Queen’s Jewel, a daughter of Pivotal, was geared down late by jockey Maxim Guyon en route to a 1 3/4-length victory in a 9 1/2-furlong race in which she was favored.

Head said Queen’s Jewel will start once more before the June 15 Prix de Diane, either in the Prix Cleopatre at Saint-Cloud or the Prix Saint-Alary at Longchamp.

Wednesday at Newmarket saw another winter-book favorite for an English classic lose his 2015 debut, as Faydhan finished a one-paced third as the odds-on favorite in the seven-furlong, straight-course European Free Handicap. Trained by John Gosden for Sheikh Hamdan, Faydhan shot to the top of the 2000 Guineas antepost market after a six-length debut score last July at Haydock, but his defeat Wednesday spurred Gosden to remove him from consideration for the Guineas, Gosden saying the colt would better suit the Royal Ascot meeting.

Longshot Home of the Brave led all the way to win the European Free Handicap, as front-runners fared well Wednesday at Newmarket, which made Osaila’s win in the Group 3 Nell Gwynn Stakes perhaps better than its bare nose margin of victory.

Making her first start since finishing third behind Lady Eli in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Osaila broke from the outside and raced well off the rails for the entire trip, rallying to lead in the final furlong and holding clear a resurgent New Providence for a narrow victory. Trained by Richard Hannon for Al Shaqab Racing, Osaila is expected to make her next start in the 1000 Guineas, for which she is a general 15-1 chance with overseas bookmakers.

There’s another classic prep Thursday at Newmarket, the Group 3 Craven Stakes at one mile for colts and geldings, which drew a field of seven, none of whom are – before the race, at least – considered the cream of this year’s crop. Nafaqa is the most accomplished of the bunch, having finished second in his most recent start, the Royal Lodge Stakes last October, to Elm Park, who would go on to win the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy Stakes.

On Saturday, the 3-year-old races of greatest note come at Newbury, which hosts the Group 3 Greenham over seven furlongs for males and the Group 3 Fred Darling at the same trip for fillies.