Well, what a season that was. From the Greenham in mid-April to the November Handicap and Breeders Cup in early November, this flat season has been one of the best I can remember. Below are some of my seasonal highlights.
16th April, Newbury
The Greenham Stakes was the first port of call for an unbeaten 2yo embarking on his Classic season with the highest of hopes. That horse was named after the late Bobby Frankel, a very good US trainer, and is of course called Frankel.
The Greenham has been won by some smart milers (Paco Boy and Dick Turpin in recent times) but not recently by a subsequent 2000 Guineas winner. But all that was to change as Frankel, at this stage a surly, stroppy pubescent equine, pulled and tugged and forced his way to a four length win.
The second horse that day was Excelebration, who would himself go on to win the German 2000 Guineas, the Prix du Moulin in France, and the Hungerford Stakes back over this course and distance. He was also behind Frankel – in second and third – on their two other meetings, beaten pretty much the same distance, and making him easily the second best three year old miler in my opinion. Tough luck to bump into the monster.
The following two races on that card were won by a jockey and a trainer about whom we’d hear a good bit more as the year wore on. Light From Mars bagged the handicap under a fine ride from a young rider called Mickael Barzalona, before Sir Henry Cecil got a daily double up when World Domination bagged the maiden.
It was indeed to be at least British domination for Frankel as he would end the season unbeaten in nine starts. As for Barzalona, well his moment in the sun was just a few weeks away.
30th April, Newmarket
Two weeks later, and it was time to put Frankel to the test. Would he use too much of that teenage energy up before the race for him to win? Was he really a legitimate 1-2 favourite?
Well, sometimes odds on shots look extremely generous (especially after a race), and this was not just one of those times. It was the archetypal instance. Frankel destroyed the opposition in a manner that older, smarter and better travelled observers than I have rarely seen in all their days.
Here is that destruction, which is as easy on the eye – no, as absurd – now as it was then. Just preposterous!
[When you watch, look at the way the other horses are strung out behind!]
The official margin that day was six lengths, and there were 17 1/2 lengths plus back to the fourth horse and the remainder. This was as staggering a classic performance as I’ve ever seen.
Truly Frankel was the ‘real deal’. But would he get a mile and a half in the Derby? We wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.
The following day, a Godolphin filly called Blue Bunting demonstrated her own potential with a withering late run to snatch the 1000 Guineas under an inspired/butchering* (*delete as applicable) Frankie Dettori. Dettori struck his filly fourteen times according to my count, and that was not to be the last time that he would fall foul of the old whip rules, let alone the new ones.
Incidentally, let’s be clear. Under the rules at the end of the season, this would be the first of a number of horses who would not be in the history books as Classic winners.
Second that day was the ultimate bridesmaid, Together, who after being jilted multiple times (2nd in three Group 1’s) finally got her pretty little nose in front in the QE II Challenge Cup Stakes, a US Grade 1, in mid-October.
The winner, Blue Bunting, was trained by a chap called Mahmood al Zarooni, Godolphin’s second UK trainer, and something of a punters’ pal this term.
4th June, Epsom
Derby Day and no sign of the bullet, Frankel. It was decided that he’d not settle sufficiently to have a chance of staying the extra trip and I’m pretty sure all were in accord with me when I’d opined in the immediate aftermath:
But what of Frankel, and specifically his Derby chance? Well, my view â€“ for what itâ€™s worth â€“ is this:
Any horse that spews forth from the gates with the equivalent ebullience of a champagne cork being unleashed from its bottle and, like Forrest Gump, just keeps on running until heâ€™s all used up, will NEVER get twelve furlongs. Itâ€™s like asking Usain Bolt to sprint 800 metres: there might be a point at around the 550m mark where you think, â€˜blimey, this might just happenâ€™, but thereâ€™s no possible way the muscles can avoid massive lactation at that altitude.
In fact, Frankel looks versatile insomuch as he stays a mile but with that â€˜Lochsongâ€™ burst from the gate heâ€™d probably be hard to catch over six furlongs and, with his penchant for Newmarket established, he might be more likely to win the July Cup than the Derbyâ€¦
Instead of the bullet, all the talk at Epsom was of ‘hats off’ and Her Majesty. Yes, HRH had the jolly old favourite in the Blue Riband, the Epsom Derby. What a day for strawberries and cream this would be…
…or for pains aux raisins as it turned out. For it was not the Queen who was celebrating, but rather a young Gallic ‘clown’ prince and a wily old fox. Yes, the aforementioned Mickael Barzalona produced an unlikely winner for his guv’nor Andre Fabre (known as ‘the Silver Fox’), as the field stopped in front of him allowing him the luxury of waving his stick at the crowd and standing up in the irons whilst passing the post, a full whisker ahead of Coolmore’s Treasure Beach (himself to become an Irish Derby winner in due course), with the Queen’s gallant Carlton House back in third.
For those who are (trying to) keep(ing) score, I counted thirteen cracks on Pour Moi’s rump from the exuberant Barzalona. Another one stood down…Â Alas, Pour Moi would not race again due to injury.
One day before, Blue Bunting failed in her bid to double her Classic score, when only fourth in the Oaks. She should of course have been third, but for that man Dettori dropping his hands, the naughty boy, and costing hundreds of placepot punters a chance to go down in one of the later legs…
Dancing Rain prevailed that day, for me and hundreds of geegeez readers, as ‘Group One’ Johnny led them a merry dance from the outset at a juicy 20/1. It wasn’t the last time he and she’d win from the front, and do me and hundreds of geegeez readers a favour in the process.
[Fourteen taps was Mr Murtagh’s whip score in prevailing here].
14th June, Ascot
Just a week and a half later, and it was time for top hat and tails for day one of Royal Ascot. I was lucky enough to be there on a beautiful day, though no topper was required for me and Mrs Matt, as we enjoyed the spectacles and the spectacular.
The opening Queen Anne Stakes saw a clash between Canford Cliffs and Goldikova, which was to be the beginning of the end for both of these ‘best of generation’ older milers. Canford Cliffs won the day, but he wouldn’t win again, and the five time Group 1 winner has now been retired to stud and will stand with the Coolmore battalion.
Then, in the St James Palace Stakes, the unthinkable nearly happened. With shared culpability between the ‘fizzy’ Frankel and the equally effervescent Tom Queally, Frankel was very nearly beaten. Very nearly, but not quite.
So who was this wonder horse impostor? Why, none other than, erm, Zoffany?! Yes, the same Zoffany who has failed to win in six starts this term… In fairness, he’s an above average stick and has added some other decent placed efforts to this silver medal and a Group 1 gong at two.
But this was about a horse who was hard to control and a jockey who couldn’t quite manage to control him. Our friend Excelebration saved the ‘each way bet of the season’ by nabbing third place at 10/1. How those generous bookie types love paying out on bets like that! 😉
15th June, Ascot
It was a dramatic fortnight in early June, and adding to that glorious theatre was a fantastic horse race but one that the anti-whip club can use as ‘Exhibit A’.
The Prince of Wales’s Stakes over a mile and a quarter was billed as being all about that other ‘wonder horse’ of the year, So You Think. At least, that’s what the Aussies told us…
The trouble is, they don’t do middle distance or staying horses ‘down under’. Witness the Euro domination in the Melbourne Cup. They’re pretty good with sprinters though, as Black Caviar (as well as a fair few Royal Ascot sprint winners) has shown.
So You Think might have murdered middle distance stakes in Oz, and some short fields (both in quality and quantity) in Ireland. But when push has come to shove against the very top drawer, he’s almost always failed to cut it, and is slightly over-rated to my eye.
This day, he was sent off the 4/11 favourite (get stuck in lads!), and was repelled only by a Machiavellian ride by Dettori aboard Rewilding, trained from that man, al Zarooni. Machiavellian, you say? Yes, a very naughty ride indeed and one which not even a pro-cushion whip advocate such as myself would dream of countenancing.
18 slaps I counted in the home straight, and there may have been more before they turned in. Not a particular tasteful effort from a sporting perspective. And I reserve the right to employ such understatement.
Alas, Rewilding made the ultimate sacrifice on his next start. Only a seasoned clutcher of straws would relate that horrific incident to his previous race, though there will always be someone – generally with a loud hailer, or something of sorts – who is prepared to make that derivation of five from two plus two.
And so, deliberately, I leave you at the half way point of the 2011 flat season reprisal, with whip (ab)use aforethought, for as we all know, it would not be the last time we’d be discussing such matters this term.
I’ll be back tomorrow for part two of the Flat Season End of Term Report, and then later in the week with my hopes and dreams (or at least some horses I’ll be following) for this jumps season.
In the meantime, who was your horse/trainer/jockey of the first part of the season? And do you like the new site layout? Leave a comment and let us all know.