Updated on 09/16/2011 7:08AM

Filly spoils Johannesburg's perfect record


THE CURRAGH, Ireland - Johannesburg's reign as unbeaten future book favorite for the Kentucky Derby came to an end on a sunny, windswept afternoon at Curragh Race Course on Sunday when he was beaten a short head by the older filly Rebelline in the Group 3 Gladness Stakes.

Offering no excuses for Johannesburg's first defeat in eight career starts, trainer Aidan O'Brien took pains to praise the efforts of Rebelline, an English Oaks hopeful last year and a 4-year-old daughter of Robellino, describing her finish as "coming like a great train" to just nip the heavy favorite on the wire. The winner carried 136 pounds to 125 by Johannesburg.

Contested at seven furlongs on a right-to-left course, the Gladness marked Johannesburg's first start since his victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last Oct. 27 and subsequent acclamation as champion 2-year-old in North America and Europe.

After tracking the early pace around a short right-hand elbow and down a slight incline, jockey Mick Kinane had Johannesburg in the clear with only stablemate Shoal Creek ahead of him.

As the field made its way uphill through the final three-sixteenths of a mile, however, Johannesburg did not burst away from his opposition as he had done at Belmont Park last fall. Inside the final furlong, he managed to collar Shoal Creek, but then Rebelline charged through up the inside rail to spoil the party. Shoal Creek held on to be third, beaten a length by Johannesburg.

"Obviously, we're disappointed he got beat," O'Brien said. "All horses do, but it was the first for him.

"I think he might have been just a little bit fresh today," O'Brien added. "He'd been off for a time, so I think he just just got a bit tired on the tacky ground."

The Curragh course was described as yielding after a very wet several weeks followed by a rainless few days leading up to the Gladness. The final time was 1:31.70.

Asked if Johannesburg was still on course for the Kentucky Derby, O'Brien declined to commit.

"I just don't know, but I'd be telling you the same thing if he'd won," O'Brien said. "We'll get him back home and take a look at him this week before deciding anything. But if we were to have any two colts in the Kentucky Derby, it would be Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo. He ran quite well yesterday."

O'Brien was referring to the Foster's International Trial Stakes at Lingfield Park south of London on Saturday, in which Castle Gondolfo - like Santa Anita Derby winner Came Home a son of Gone West - raced to a comfortable win over a mile on an all-weather surface. Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo are stabled side by side at O'Brien's Ballydoyle training center in County Cashel, about 90 miles south of The Curragh.

O'Brien noted that both Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo are also nominated to the English 2000 Guineas, to be run the same day as the Kentucky Derby, May 4.

Johannesburg's appearance in the Gladness helped attract a large crowd of 6,709. The Gladness winner, Rebelline, won the Group 3 Pretty Polly Stakes last year and faced such accomplished runners as Lailani, Terre a Terre, and Nayef. She was ridden by Declan McDonogh, trained by Kevin Prendergast, and is owned by Lady Chris Reilly, wife of Gladness Stakes sponsor Sir Anthony Riley.