11/19/2015 3:32PM

Hovdey: Adding a little blanc et bleu to the Red Carpet


If horse racing would like to adorn its product with the French tricolor in solidarity and sympathy with a nation traumatized by terrorist attacks, look no further than Saturday’s Red Carpet Handicap at Del Mar.

The race has attracted a salty group of fillies and mares going 11 furlongs on firm turf for a share of a $100,000 purse, which is the rock-bottom minimum for a stakes event to retain a Grade 3 rating. Del Mar is getting a lot of bang for its buck, with a field that includes John C. Mabee Stakes winner Elektrum, Del Mar Oaks winner Personal Diary, and defending Red Carpet champ Three Hearts.

But if fate and reasonably good form carry the day, look for the French filly Trophee and the widely traveled mare Beat of The Drum to have something to say about the outcome.

Trophee is a product of the Head family’s Haras du Quesnay breeding establishment near Deauville that produced, among many others, the two-time Arc de Triomphe winner Treve. Trophee is a half sister to Treve, which means her future as a broodmare is secure in spite of her record of just two wins from 13 races. Still, a graded bauble wouldn’t do any harm, and her last three starts fit well with the Red Carpet contenders.

Trophee, owned by John and Leslie Malone’s Bridlewood Farm, is trained by New York-based Christophe Clement, a native of Paris, while Beat of The Drum hails from the local stable of Leonard Powell, a country boy from Normandy and son of the renaissance horseman David Powell – owner, breeder, agent, and journalist. (Full disclosure: This reporter has known Leonard Powell since he was 2, having enjoyed a weekend at his parents’ farm in 1978 when we all were young.)

To complete the package for the Red Carpet, Brice Blanc, from the French town of Lyon, will ride Beat of The Drum for the first time. It is a coincidence that seems fitting.

“We are all pretty emotional about what happened last week,” Powell said of the tragedy in France. “It does not matter what part of the country you are from. It has really touched everybody, especially because so many of the victims were young people in their 20s and 30s who were just getting going in life.”

In Beat of The Drum, Powell has hooked into a fascinating story of international ambition. She began life bred in Ireland and racing for Coolmore in England, where she didn’t do much more than win a maiden race on the all-weather surface at Kempton. Richard Hannon trained her then.

Midway through her 3-year-old season in 2013, Beat of The Drum was sold to the fledgling China Horse Club, an ownership group described as a “lifestyle experience” that is anxious to import runners not only for the developing Chinese Thoroughbred industry but also for international targets as well.

The CHC, as it is known, went high profile at the Kentucky late-season sales of 2014, buying the multiple stakes-winning mares Iotapa, for $2.8 million, and Parranda, for $800,000. Iotapa went immediately into CHC’s breeding program, but Parranda was still a racehorse. She rewarded her new owners earlier this year by winning the Marshua’s River at Gulfstream and then the rich Singapore Cup, a race sponsored by her new owners.

Beat of The Drum surfaced first in China in September 2013 at Mengjun Racecourse, near the Inner Mongolian capital of Hohhot. The track itself was still a work in progress and appeared as little more than a country fair, but its primary backer was Malaysian billionaire Teo Ah Khing, the founder of the China Horse Club whose company designed and built the Meydan racing complex in Dubai. Teo also made headlines as part owner of 2014 Epsom Derby winner Australia, with Coolmore.

Beat of The Drum rose to the occasion at Mengjun and won a one-mile stakes race on dirt. She did not surface in China again, though, for 13 months, after which she was sent in early 2015 for new worlds to conquer in North America. Powell picks up the story from there.

“I met the China Horse Club’s racing manager, bloodstock agent Michael Wallace, who is from New Zealand,” Powell said. “They also have a couple of horses with Christophe Clement. It was a long journey for her to get here – she had to come to California by way of quarantine in Chicago – but she settled in well.”

Beat of The Drum should not be intimidated by the 1 3/8 miles of the Red Carpet. Her sire, Duke of Marmalade, was a European champion who won a thriller of a King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 2008. She has had five races now for Powell since June, including a well-rated allowance win on the Santa Anita grass in October that marked a first for a horse who registered in mainland China.

Beat of The Drum ran third most recently Nov. 7 in the Kathryn Crosby Stakes on the Del Mar grass, which gave Powell encouragement to try graded company.

“She was caught a bit flatfooted that day when passed, then she was coming back on,” Powell said. “Two weeks is a concern, but I don’t think that race was too taxing on her. She looks like the lone speed in the race, and she does like to be on the front end.”

Fingers crossed, but any ongoing success generated by Beat of The Drum could inspire the China Horse Club to play more on American soil.

“It’s very hard to quantify the quality of the racing in China, which is one of the reasons they sent her here, to compare their level of horses to ours,” Powell said. “The fact that she’s doing well is a big boost for them.”