06/29/2014 1:11PM

Thistle Bird, Spiritjim notch wins in Group 1 tries


A pair of older horses, Spiritjim in France and Thistle Bird in Ireland, notched Group 1 victories for the first time Sunday.

Four-year-old Spiritjim won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud by a head over Noble Mission. Noble Mission, Juddmonte Farms’ brother to superstar Frankel, made the pace under jockey James Doyle and appeared to be on his way to victory a furlong from the finish, but Noble Mission seriously shortened stride in the final 100 yards and was tagged on the wire by Spiritjim, with rallying Siljan’s Saga close behind in third.

Spiritjim, a Pascal Bary-trained Galileo colt ridden to victory by Christophe Lemaire, didn’t start at age 2 and has improved from his 3-year-old season to this year. He won his fifth straight race and is 4 for 4 in 2014 after making a successful Group 1 debut. Bary said Spiritjim would make one start in September and, if all went well, go for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Five-year-old Noble Mission was working on a three-race win streak of his own, the last in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, and the horse had benefited from a change to front-running tactics. That plan nearly worked again Sunday, but Noble Mission, Doyle said, simply failed to stay the race’s 1 1/2-mile trip, and Noble Mission seems more likely to stick to 10-furlong races this summer and fall than continue to try his luck at 12.

Flintshire, another Juddmonte runner and the race favorite, never got untracked and finished fifth.

At The Curragh in Ireland, the 6-year-old Thistle Bird pounced on the leaders with about a furlong to run in the Pretty Polly Stakes and went on to a 2 3/4-length victory over Venus di Milo. George Baker rode the winner for trainer Roger Charlton, as Just the Judge closed mildly for third, while the race’s favorite and 2013 winner, Ambivalent, set the pace but could not quicken with the top finishers and checked in fourth.

Thistle Bird, a daughter of Selkirk, had finished second and third in Group 1 tries before breaking through Sunday with her eighth career victory.

Aidan O’Brien trains runner-up Venus de Milo, who loomed a winner a quarter-mile out before being passed by Thistle Bird. O’Brien had sent out winners in the first four races on The Curragh card Sunday.