As we have seen, the first half of the season was dominated by the adolescent development of Frankel. But let us also remember that such is the ‘narrative’ of the flat season – for the Classic generation at least – that in those first nine weeks of the flat turf year, we also bear witness to 80% of the Classics!
Thoughts on this vary between those who consider it wholly unsatisfactory that so many horses are still reaching full (or even near full) maturity, and those who are glad to see the ‘insular‘ three year old brigade run their races, so that they can then get on with the real business of taking on their elders and, generally, betters.
In fact, seen in this context, I’m personally much happier with the front-loading of the Classics. Because, from the start of July, weight concessions in situ, the young’uns and the old’uns cross swords for the rest of the term. Starting with…
July 2nd, Sandown
The Coral Eclipse Stakes is the traditional first meeting of the generations. Alas, this term none of the young upstarts showed up, leaving a clash between So You Think and 2010 Derby / Arc hero, Workforce as the meat of the action.
I was there to see the two in the paddock beforehand, and they both looked imposing sorts indeed. With an unfit Snow Fairy the only conceivable danger according to the betting at least, this became a match heading into the straight.
So You Think proved he was the better horse over ten furlongs with the official verdict at the line being half a length. Despite my constant crabbing of the merit of the horse, there’s no argument that he’s consistent and super-tough. In winning three Group 1’s he also has a touch of class, as well as being well placed in generally very short Group 1 company (with the exception of his one fit and classy rival in the Eclipse).
July 23rd, Ascot
The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes hosted one of my favourite races of all time, in 1997, when Swain got up to beat Pilsudski, Helissio, Singspiel, Shantou and the rest. A look at their respective stallion careers tells you much of the calibre of that group.
Alas, this year, whilst the race was no less dramatic, it was largely for the wrong reasons. Rewilding was second choice to follow up his Royal Ascot win, and faced some strong foes in Nathaniel – himself a progressive Royal Ascot winner receiving hefty weight concession from his elders – and Workforce and St Nicholas Abbey.
But a quarter of a mile from the end, Rewilding, under a hand ride at that time, broke his leg and had to be put down. The record books show that Nathaniel produced a good front-running performance to see off a wavering Workforce, who veered diagonally at a cost of considerably more distance than the 2 3/4 lengths he was beaten at the line.
St Nick was third, but this was about the late Rewilding, and celebrations – such as they were – were muted in the extreme.
Incidentally, Nathaniel, who was breaking his Group 1 duck, was having his sixth race since a debut maiden second against another maiden debutant that day… Frankel!
July 27th, Goodwood
The end of July is always glorious. At least, that is, if you’re on the Sussex Downs taking in Glorious Goodwood, surely the best flat meeting in the year from a fun – if not necessarily a punting – perspective.
Wednesday’s feature, the Sussex Stakes, was billed as ‘The Duel on the Downs’, despite there being four runners. Odd.
As it turned out, it was yet another one horse race as Frankel, in receipt of eight pounds he didn’t need from Canford Cliffs, bullied his older rival from gate to line and won as he pleased.
This was a much more mature effort from the formerly surly, stroppy young lad, and his relaxed demeanour in the early part of the race meant there was plenty of juice off the bridle to accentuate his superiority over an ailing rival and his flailing pilot.
Again, the punctuation in the 2011 flat season narrative – as it is perennially in the Winter equivalent – was provided by the retirement of formerly top class horses. On this occasion, it was Canford Cliffs who was found to be unsound post-race, and will not see a course again.
He will however live to fight and, erm, flex his muscle another day (or ninety). Good luck in the breeding sheds, old boy. What price a Goldikova-Canford Cliffs foal?! But I get ahead of myself…
August 17th, York
A cracking afternoon of sport, highlighting all that is dandy in horse racing, took place on the Knavesmire this Wednesday. Sea Moon stamped himself as a real St Leger prospect with a facile and unequivocal verdict in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, the pre-eminent trial for the final Classic.
As an hors d’oeuvre for the Juddmonte International Stakes, that was most satisfactory. Juddmonte of course is the business name that Prince Khalid Abdullah, one of British and indeed global flat racing’s primary supporters, gave to his breeding operation. And his long-standing sponsorship of this race – since 1989 – had yet to preside over a single victorious alumnus in his own green, white and pink silks.
Until this day.
Indeed, like (extremely expensive and very high class) buses, you wait 22 years and then a 1-2 comes along at once. Await The Dawn, from the Ballydoyle battalion, was favoured; and odds on, to boot.
But he was frankly disappointing, as first Midday, that flag-bearing mare of the Abdullah/Cecil/Queally axis, made her move only to be run down late by her stablemate, Twice Over, himself a grand servant to connections.
It was Ian Mongan’s first Group 1 win, and whilst it might be his last, he was thoroughly deserving of the prize. It was of course also the Prince’s first International pot, and it would take an extremely uncharitable type to have begrudged him that, after all he’s done for us (including that bullet, Frankel).
3rd September, Haydock
So far, the end of term report has focused predominantly on middle distance types. Allow me to put that right here. The Betfred (formerly known as the Haydock) Sprint Cup had been accused of losing some of its lustre in recent seasons, with numerous hardened veterans plundering the valuable prize.
Well, not this time. Along came a trio of extremely sprightly beasts armed with enough metaphorical Brasso to return a blinding sheen to the trophy and to this late season Group 1 prize’s status as a champion’s sprint race.
The finish was one of noses and heads, as such contests should be, and it was fought out between market protagonists Dream Ahead, Bated Breath and Hoof It, in that order: quite probably the best three sprinters in Europe right now. (Obviously, if Frankel were to race over six furlongs, that might change. But such a debate is as academic as it is dismissive of those who have enthralled and thrilled over the shorter trip this term).
Dream Ahead, a most brilliant sprinter, was capturing his fourth six furlong Group 1 award in just his eighth race, a remarkable feat, and he is clear top sprinter of the year for me. Bated Breath and Hoof It should at least take consolation in the knowledge that their vanquisher this year will be ‘bunking up’ young ladies next semester, leaving the pair of them to fight over the top gongs… until the next wave of sprinting three year olds emerge, at least.
September 10th, Doncaster
The St Leger. Ah, the St Leger. Everybody’s favourite race. Ahem. It’s a great pity that such a traditionally prestigious affair has been virtually pensioned off these days. It does, however, still have merit both in its own right, and as a nursery for aspirant Cup horses for subsequent seasons.
This year, that swaggering Sea Moon of Great Voltigeur note, was expected to repel all raiders and give Sir Michael Stoute only his second career Leger.
But that wasn’t to pass, and it was Johnny G (Mr Gosden, natch) who bagged back-to-back St Leger’s, as his Masked Marvel stood and delivered to provide his trainer with a fourth win in the race, and a third in just five years (the other being provided back in 1996 by the aforementioned Shantou).
And that’s it for part two. I’ll return tomorrow with the third and final part, featuring ‘Mr Whippy’, some end of term accolades, and – naturally enough – a reprisal of the late season big race action from Ascot, Longchamp and Kentucky, amongst others.
Don’t miss it! 😉