It was a jam packed racing weekend, dear reader, and – after some fairly moderate fare for a couple of weeks, the quality floodgates opened with a torrent of high class prizes being chased by high class horses. There were at least three St Leger’s, and almost ten other Group races held across Europe, including THE Arc trial over at Longchamp.
Let’s rummage through the results and work out what’s what from a future punting perspective. Starting with ‘our’ St Leger, from Doncaster.
There was a hot favourite in Rewilding, and all form lines said he would win. He had the highest rating on whatever scale you cared to use (Racing Post Rating, Topspeed, official rating), he came into the race as a progressive beast, and he’d already dismissed half of the field in previous races this term, including when winning the most recognised trial race, the Great Voltigeur Stakes.
So his floppy sixth place, beaten almost seven lengths and never really traveling, was disappointing in the extreme. Looking at any of Rewilding’s four previous runs this season would lead to the certain conclusion that, once the dress rehearsals were complete and it was time for the big performance, the boy in blue suffered from a very expensive stage fright.
If we look at the Great Voltigeur, the horses that came out of that race – with the glaring exception of winner, Rewilding – ran in exactly the order and with beaten distances similar as well (Midas Touch extending his verdict over Joshua Tree by two lengths, and Ted Spread and Total Command well beaten off again).
Rewilding beat Midas Touch by four lengths at York, and a repeat would have seen a two length win here. He was never really traveling from his held up position, and just didn’t quicken like he can. It is entirely possible that the dead ground (firm underneath, soft on the top, blunts a horse’s speed) did for him and made this more of a slugger’s contest.
Actually, unless anything medical comes to light, I’d suggest that probably is what happened, as the others – particularly the winner – are known to lengthen (i.e. stay) rather than quicken (i.e. change gear). Further support for this notion is added by the knowledge that, barring the Derby where Rewilding staggered down the hill like a drunk at closing time, his only two defeats came on ground with soft in the title.
OK, he did win on heavy at Maisons-Lafitte, but that was a nothing race where his class saw him through. I would be most reluctant to write off Rewilding after this, and to underscore that I’ve had a small bet on him to win the Arc at 100 on Betfair, and another small bet at 80. Of course, he may not run in the race, but at those odds, I’m prepared to chuck seven quid at the wall and see if it sticks. [Note, there is a growing school of thought that suggests he needs a break between his races, and there are just 23 days until the Arc… so he well may not run!]
Let’s return to the winner and placed horses, because – having undertaken the autopsy on the favourite – our plaudits should be reserved for those that stepped up on the day.
The winner, Arctic Cosmos, wore blinkers and has a hurdling career sketched out for him…! But that should take nothing away from a dominant performance where, barring the flopping jolly (and perhaps the outclassed Dandino), all form lines appeared to be upheld.
The Cosmos was a horse I fancied, and had backed, after his fast-finishing third in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood. It was clear that the quicker pace and longer trip of the St Leger would suit him well. But I didn’t expect him to beat Rewilding, and all the money I won from the ante-post bet placed that day was lost on a bigger punt on Rewilding. At least I didn’t lose(!)
Anyone tempted to pile into Arctic Cosmos for the Champion Hurdle should be cautious. As you may have read in my Friday piece, dear old Moonax was the last St Leger winner to try that. He failed to win even a novice hurdle in three starts! I’m not saying that AC cannot win the Champion Hurdle, but I am saying you would need to see him show the same hunger for the hurdles that he does for the flat, not to mention extremely natural jumping ability, as any lack of fluency will not be counteracted by his flat speed.
But he was a ready winner this day. He was always in the first quintet of the field (indeed, the first three home all were), and tracked Midas Touch most of the way before pushing on in the straight. The time was blistering in relation to the other races on the card, giving further solidity to a level of form which already stood up (broadly) against the form book’s previous chapters.
Corsica, a known stayer having won the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy over 1m5f, galloped resolutely and admirably to the line, beaten just a nose out of second by triple silver medalist, Midas Touch. In being beaten by Rewilding, Cape Blanco and now Arctic Cosmos, Midas is shaping up as the ‘nearly’ horse of the year, and might just be the one for the Breeders Cup Turf, if indeed he takes his chance there.
Honourable mentions go to Snow Fairy, who traveled like an absolute dream before not quite getting there. She probably didn’t stay, but in my opinion this run confirmed her as a very good filly. Joshua Tree was next, and in front of Rewilding, and his pilot, ‘Frank’ Spencer never threatened to challenge. In fairness to Spencer, he may not have had the beast with which to do that on Saturday and I for one was expecting the Tree to run closer.
In the subsequent Park Stakes, a Group 2 over seven furlongs, I was devastated to note that Balthazaar’s Gift won at 16/1. I’d had to resume baby-sitting duties and missed the race. Having been following the horse all season, this is a kick in the fleshy’s for sure. Fair play to Clive Cox and his team for getting the tidy Group prize they and the Gift deserved.
Over in Ireland, the Curragh was staging their St Leger, sponsored by the Irish Field. It’s a slightly different gig across the water, with the race open to older horses as well as the Classic generation.
Jeremy Noseda’s Sans Frontieres was sent of favourite, and duly obliged from the smart mare, Profound Beauty. This was his third Group win on the bounce – though first in Group 1 company – and he impressed with the way he lengthened under a finely timed ride from Olivier Peslier.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that these two will re-oppose in Australia in the first week in November for the Melbourne Cup. The winner looks like he might stay further, and he can certainly run faster than he needed to here. (The time was nearly twelve seconds slower than standard!)
On the undercard, there was a fascinating battle between two of the most promising Irish juveniles of the season, Zoffany and Pathfork, in the National Stakes. The latter prevailed by a head from Casamento, with clear daylight back to Zoffany in third.
Pathfork has now won her three races, all over seven furlongs, and two in Group class, and it will be interesting to see if connections hold on to him or cash in their chips to a wealthy bidder. To my eye, he was getting to the end of his tether here, and only just held on from the staying on Casamento.
He would probably stay a mile on good ground, and it might be that the soft turf here wasn’t ideal for him. The runner up, Casamento, has a most robust pedigree and I’d be confident of him staying at least a mile and possibly the Derby distance. This was only his second start, and there was much to like about his considerable step up in class from a Tipperary maiden (to where, as we well know, it is a long way).
Trainer Mick Halford remarked that he’s “still a big baby”, implying there is plenty of growing and improvement to come. As Casamento is owned by Sheik Mohammed, it is possible that the first two here will be in the same Godolphin ownership next year.
The top class racing roadshow then sailed across the Channel for Sunday’s trials day at Longchamp, and another St Leger – the German version – in Dortmund.
Val Mondo was stepping up considerably on his previous level of form, having been thumped in the German Derby by Buzzword, and finished second to Brusco in a Listed contest last time out. That horse was sent off the 2/1 favourite here, but could only manage third.
This was a domestic affair, with no international raiders on show, and it will be interesting to see how the key protagonists fare on Arc day, and next season. German middle distance horses are to be taken seriously as they are bred solely for stamina.
Hopping back to France, Paris, and specifically Longchamp, and it was Arc day trial day there. In other words, there were prep races for the races held on Arc day. Make sense? Good.
Swiss Diva once again demonstrated her liking for the French racing when she sluiced in under Ioritz Mendizabal for an easy two length win. This was an impressive follow up to her previous two Deauville wins, and David Elsworth has a live one for the Prix de l’Abbaye on Arc day.
Next up of note was the Prix Vermeille, for fillies and mares, and run over a mile and a half. Midday lined up against Sariska again, with local hope Sarafina being sent off the 6/4 favourite.
Sariska again refused to race – the second time in a row – and her connections have sensibly decided to retire her. She was an excellent filly who won the Oaks last season, and it will be very interesting to see if she passes her ‘stroppy gene’ down to her offspring.
But this was all about the improving – and impressive – Midday under Tom Queally and for ‘Sir’ Henry Cecil. Midday quickened brilliantly again in what became a sprint to the line (as many French races are), and overcame fancied Frenchies, Plumania and ‘le jolly’ Sarafina to triumph.
That’s now a hat-trick of Group 1’s she’s reeled off, and surely the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf is a penalty kick… I’d wait for the day before piling in at even money though. (And, as I’m lucky enough to be heading to Churchill Downs, I can’t wait for the day!!) 😛
After the girls came the boys, and the Prix Niel.
The Prix Niel came next, a Group 2 over a mile and a half, and responsible for numerous Arc winners in recent seasons. In fact, Rail Link, Hurricane Run, Dalakhani and Sinndar all won this since 2000 before winning the Arc. So I was extremely hopeful of a good showing from my ante-post strong fancy, Bekhabad.
He was sent off joint favourite and wore down the other joint favourite, Planteur, in the shadow of the post. Given the slow early pace, they quickened ferociously to record a time just 0.3 seconds outside standard and, on his first run since July, my tickets are looking pretty good for the first Sunday in October.
As I’d said on this blog a few times…
September 6th: “Talking of which, Bekhabad is a certainty for the Arcâ€¦! ”
August 9th: “Bekhabad is now a standout bet for me in the Arc. The 7â€²s with Laddies and Stan James looks more than fair to me, and Iâ€™ve already had a nice poke before Harbingerâ€™s crocking.”
July 26th: “Harbinger is now a best priced 15/8 to win the Arc in October and, frankly, whoâ€™s going to beat him? The only horse that has a chance in my opinion is the Frenchie, Bekhabad, who is a serious racehorse.”
Of course, he’s won nothing yet, but you’d have to be happy about 10/1 for a horse who is a best priced 7/2 and is certain to be shorter on the day. And this, despite me being totally unable to spell the horse’s name… I’ve just realised the h and k should be the other way around: BeHKabad. Whatever!
Finally, and is if William Buick hadn’t had a good enough weekend what with winning the St Leger, he only went and snaffled the Group 2 Prix Foy aboard the hard to predict Duncan, for his gaffer, Johnny G. Well played, young man. (Top jockey by the way, and definitely one to have on your side).
I hope you caught some of the racing, and enjoyed it as much as I did.
p.s. which horse impressed you most over the weekend, and why? Leave a comment, and share an eye-catcher with us!