A year ago Moonlight Cloud nearly shocked the racing world. Closing with her patented late rush, the little bay mare came up a head short to the wonder mare Black Caviar in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. It was the closest the Australian champion came to defeat in 25 starts.
In early October on racing’s grandest stage in France, Moonlight Cloud showcased her dazzling speed to land the Qatar Prix de la Foret at Longchamp Racecourse outside Paris.
Owned and bred by George Strawbridge Jr., a resident of Cochranville, Pa., the 4-5 favorite Moonlight Cloud unleashed an astounding burst of speed swooping from last to first in scintillating style to capture the seven furlong race by three lengths. The British-bred mare won in 1:14.08 for 1,400 meters and took her overall record to 12 wins, including six Group-1 races, and two seconds from 19 career starts. She has career earnings of nearly $2.2 million.
Moonlight Cloud is trained by Frenchman Freddie Head and was ridden by Thierry Jarnet, already the winner of the legendary Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with Treve earlier in the card.
"She just has an extraordinary ability to accelerate, an extra gear that none of her rivals have," Jarnet said.
Moonlight Cloud—by Invincible Spirit out of Ventura, by Spectrum-- was given a patient ride by Jarnet placing the five-year old mare at the back of the field before going for home inside the final three furlongs to win comfortably.
What race fans at Longchamp saw was far from the norm. It was extraordinary.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘turn of foot’ when describing a horse’s explosive kick down the stretch and wondered what exactly it meant, take look at the video of the Prix de la Foret. Moonlight Cloud appeared hopelessly beaten, running dead last with a quarter mile to go to the winning post. Then all of a sudden jockey Jarnet pressed the “easy button” and she whooshed past her ten overmatched rivals. Her acceleration was truly jaw-dropping as she easily caught and overtook the front-running Gordon Lord Byron.
Even trainer Head thought Jarnet had left too much to be done.
“I thought Thierry had left her a long way back and Gordon Lord Byron had taken an easy lead, I wondered if we would catch him but when the speed comes, she can really quicken,” Head acknowledged.”It is a real pleasure to train a horse like this."
Moonlight Cloud won for the fourth time in as many starts this season. After making a successful return to action in a Group-3 in early July, she twice lit up Deauville Racecourse in August when she broke the track record in the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs and then triumphed in the Prix Jacques le Marois over a mile on successive Sundays. With her two victories Moonlight Cloud joined Goldikova (Head-trained) and Miesque (Head-ridden) among the legends of Deauville.
“It is extraordinary for any horse to break two course records in a week,” Head marveled. “She is one of the greats. She is only small, but she has a massive heart, and she ranks alongside my other two champions.”
Moonlight Cloud has been tagged the “Queen of Europe,” and is considered one of the best-ever race mare sprinters. With the victory Moonlight Cloud qualified (“Win and You’re In”) for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2.
Still, Head and Strawbridge are not keen about running at Santa Anita despite the fact that Strawbridge has raced three Breeders’ Cup winners-- Informed Decision, Forever Together, and Tikkanen—and has been a major supporter of American racing’s championship day with a dozen or so starters over the years.
Moonlight Cloud’s only truly disappointing run last season was in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, never unleashing that turn of foot. She finished eighth. A trip to Hong Kong, however, looks increasingly likely.
"She ran badly at the Breeders' Cup last year, it is two turns,” explained the Chantilly-based Head. “It is one turn in Hong Kong, which is better for her."
Whether her likely outing (one-mile race) in Hong Kong’s International Meeting will be her final competitive start remains unclear, with Head not ruling out the chances of her staying in training as a six-year-old in 2014.
“Thierry said she never had a hard race so maybe she would be as good at six as she is at five,” Head said. “She still seems fresh and well, so we will see. Nothing is decided yet."