Miss Temple City tackles Ascot, again

- -

At first, Graham Motion joked about running 4-year-old filly Miss Temple City in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland in April. The idea, he thought, was to avoid champion Tepin in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley even if running in the Maker’s 46 meant facing males.

Tepin, a winner of four in a row including the Breeders’ Cup Mile against males last fall? Or take on colts and geldings? The races were a day apart – April 15 and 16 – so the scheduling worked. The rest would be up to Miss Temple City, who races for a partnership of Sagamore Farm, Allen Rosenblum and The Club.

“That was actually kind of a last-minute decision,” Motion said. “We hadn’t discussed that until I got looking at those races. Obviously, I thought she was doing very well and I was thinking ‘Do I really want to run against this filly? Or do I want to roll the dice, get the weight and take on the boys at a mile?’ “

Motion rolled, and Miss Temple City rocked – taking the Maker’s over eight male rivals. Tepin did the same in the Wiley, winning by 5 lengths as the heavy favorite.

And now they’re both in England, prepping for starts at Royal Ascot this week – Miss Temple City in the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes Wednesday and Tepin in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes (against males) Tuesday.

The English invasion is a return appearance for Miss Temple City, who finished fourth in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at 50-1 last year after winning the Hilltop Stakes on Preakness Weekend at Pimlico.

Another Ascot trip was discussed early.

“Everybody after last year was very keen to come back,” said Motion. “I think we all felt if we had another chance we would love to do it again. But I wanted to be pragmatic about it. I didn’t want to be twisting everybody’s arm to do it. I wanted everyone to be involved, and the filly had to prove that she belonged. She did more than I could have expected.”

The 4-year-old daughter of Temple City is 8-1 in early odds among a field of 16 headed by Godolphin-owned favorite Usherette. The race goes at 3:40 p.m. English time, 10:40 a.m. eastern. The race is on Ascot’s straight mile course, a new challenge to American runners. Last year, Miss Temple City was strong and in the clear early and flattened out a bit in the final stages. 

The course layout – there are no mile straightaway races in the U.S. – still worries the trainer, but he engaged leading European jockey Ryan Moore to help the cause.

“That’s not a knock on one of our guys, but the fact that he’s navigated it a lot and done very well is important,” said Motion. “Having done it a couple times now (with Miss Temple City last year and Animal Kingdom in 2013), it must help a little bit to have a guy who is really familiar with it. We made the decision we wanted a European rider and to be able to get possibly the best, we were very fortunate.”

Motion got lucky that Moore’s regular partner, Coolmore, does not have a runner in the race. Moore won a record nine races at the Royal Ascot meeting last year.

After the Keeneland win, Miss Temple City returned to Motion’s base at Fair Hill Training Center and was pointed at Ascot. She worked on the facility’s Tapeta track (twice at 6 furlongs and once at 7) and then put in two half-mile breezes on the turf race course across the street May 27 and June 4. The turf course is not a straight mile, but it does climb steadily uphill and she covered the distance in a shade more than 49 seconds both times.

“She handled that very well,” Motion said. “I think it’s important to do that because most of that is uphill and I think that’s good for her.”

Miss Temple City handled the details of England last year, and is on a similar schedule with final preparations at trainer David Lanigan’s yard in Lambourn.

Bred by Bob Feld Bloodstock, Miss Temple City won her first two starts at 2 in 2014 – a Laurel Park maiden and a Gulfstream Park allowance – and has run in nothing but stakes since. The Kentucky-bred, out of the Artax mare Glittering Tax, returned from a six-month layoff in the Maker’s 46 and – already routinely described as a tank – looks more robust and imposing than ever.

“You never know if they’re going to get better, but she seems to have improved,” Motion said. “I really feel like she’s a better filly this year. I don’t know why that is. Why do some improve and some go the other way? She’s grown mentally and physically. You like to think that’s because of the way you’ve trained them, the way you’ve treated them. The owners are so patient and gave her the winter off. You like to think things like that have helped her.”

Miss Temple City’s connections skipped more lucrative opportunities in the United States (chiefly Belmont Park’s $700,000 Just A Game run Saturday) in favor of Ascot.

“I like the challenge of going over there and trying to win,” said Motion. “It’s not going to be easy. I’m glad we are able to go into a race where I feel like we’ve got a strong chance. We don’t have to run against the colts. We don’t have to run against Tepin.”

And there’s no sense doing that until you have to.

Hey, Graham Motion, what would a win at Royal Ascot mean?
“It’s kind of on my bucket list. I’ve been fortunate enough to win the Kentucky Derby, I’ve won the Dubai World Cup, which are races you do not expect to win when you get in this game. I’ve won Breeders’ Cups. These are the races you get up every day to win. To be able to go home (he was born in England) and win a race of significance would be a big deal.”

For more on Miss Temple City, see 2015 article.