Flat Season End of Term Report – Part Three (final)

Dream Ahead - my second best horse of the year

Dream Ahead - my second best horse of the year

And so to part three, the final instalment of my end of term flat season report. In this post, I’ll look at the big late season race meetings, the big late season racing debate, and I might even award a notional gong or three.

So, where were we? Ah yes, seeing out a surprisingly sizzling September, and ushering in the fin de saison events here, and across the big and small watery divides, beginning with…

October 2nd, 2011

Arc day down Paris way, and after the France Galop beaks decided to move all non-Group 1 races to the Saturday, flat racing purists were treated to a veritable gourmet gorge-fest, with fully seven top grade contests. And I was lucky enough to be among them for the whole weekend jamboree.

Space constraints dictate that I can’t mention all of those G1 winners, but special mentions are fitting for some…

…such as old boy, Kasbah Bliss, who defied me and cheered the vast army of rosbifs who backed the only horse in the race they’d heard of and were rewarded for their ignorance (harsh? moi?) as the venerable veteran quickened past even slower beasts, in the manner that a shop mobility vehicle passes a pedestrian with a zimmer frame. [Apologies to the mobility impaired]

…and Tangerine Trees, who showed what a punters pal he’s been, when winning the Abbaye at odds of around 20/1 on the pari-mutuel. This chap has been constantly underrated by the market, which is fantastic for connections who will have collected at odds of 33/1, 9/1, 18/1 and 10/1 in the thirteen months prior to the Abbaye win. Lucky beggars!

…then there was Elusive Kate, who gave Johnny G fans much to cheer as she was able to traverse the entire width of the Longchamp home straight from right to left and still fend off the pick of the French and Irish two year old fillies.

…and what about that man Frankie Dettori’s ultra-fortuitous ride aboard the hitherto unbeaten cold, Dabirsim? How the equine seas parted for his seemingly doomed tardy rally up the far rail, to present the cheeky, whip-happy Italian with his 500th Group race success. Think I’m being harsh? Check this extremely amateur video compilation out – Frankie’s fortune is at the 2:12 mark.

…not forgetting of course, Dream Ahead being the second of my ‘can’t possibly win’ horses to spit in my eye on the day, finishing well to earn a first win of any description beyond six furlongs. It just happened to be against Goldikova in a Group 1!

…before Nahrain completed a memorable day for the Brits as she extended her unbeaten career streak to four with a first Group 1 victory.

But naturally enough, the main event was the 2011 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe itself, and a strong field of sixteen had assembled, led by the likes of Sarafina, So You Think, last year’s winner Workforce, St Nicholas Abbey and the rest.

In the end, it was a hugely progressive and previously underrated German filly, Danedream, who caused a mild upset when skipping away in the manner of a very fine sort to win by five lengths in a new course record. It’s impossible to crab that sort of a performance, and honourable mentions go to So You Think and Snow Fairy for getting close to being second at least, from car park draws.

Danedream is likely to have one more run, probably in the Japan Cup, prior to heading off for some ‘cheeky cheeky’ in the barns.

Incidentally, although I’m not an expert on such things, I’m reliably informed that Herr Starke may have been using his whip against sensitive parts of Danedream’s body – the equivalent of her armpit, in fact – which has to be considered pretty distasteful a) in the context of a facile victory anyway, and b) in the wider context of the whip debate in which British racing has drowned itself. But then you can buy cheval in the supermarket meat counters over in Paris…

10th October, High Holborn

Two weeks on from the vast display of equine ‘bling’ at Longchamp, and the British Horseracing Authority decide that we Brits should take still more of a lead in the field of horse welfare, by repealing our already ‘best of breed’ whip rules.

Amidst much media hype, and celebrity jockey sound bites, the revised ‘count the number, and don’t miscount or you’ll be taking time off’ rules came into play.

Let’s be absolutely crystal clear about something here: these rules were introduced in a fumbling attempt to address a non-existent problem, that of the perception of non-racegoers to the sport of horse racing. If not, why the big media parade? Why get Question of Sport’s own Frankie Dettori, and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, AP McCoy, to endorse?

As shooting oneself in the foot goes, this has been more a case of stepping on a landmine by the BHA. [With apologies to amputees for the crude analogy]

Four days of wailing and of gnashing of teeth passed before…

15th October, Ascot

Yes, just five days after the edict was introduced, Ascot heralded the inaugural Champions Day at its new home. And, blow me, if it wasn’t an absolute bobby dazzler. The weather was glorious, and the races enjoyed both quality and quantity (with the exception of the closing apprentice handicap that had exponentially more quantity than quality – and yet Tom Segal of Pricewise fame still nailed the winner. Chapeau!)

Again, I was fortunate enough to have my face pressed against the window of a London-Berkshire rattler for ninety minutes en route to the action. No matter, for it was well worth it.

The opener saw a welcome return to form from Ascot Gold Cup winner, Fame And Glory, under an inspired ride from Jamie Spencer (for once, we’ll let him off the usual ‘Frank’ nickname). Sensing the soft fractions and knowing both that they were the most likely cause of his undoing the last twice, and that a stronger pace would suit his hoss, Spencer kicked on, surged clear and held on from the rallying Opinion Poll and Colour Vision.

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Then my nap of the day, the fast improving Deacon Blues, laughed at his opposition in the sprint race before Dancing Rain reprised her mid-season Oaks win with another canny front-running ride from ‘Group 1 Johnny’ Murtagh.

Next up, though not the best race of the day, was the best horse of the day. Of the season indeed. And, Sea The Stars notwithstanding, many people’s idea of the best horse of the 21st century.

Yes, it was our old mate Frankel’s turn to strut his stuff. One mile and seven rivals were between him and a ninth straight win. As it turned out, the bullet settled beautifully, and quickened takingly off a slow enough pace, to win by the same four lengths from the same opponent – Excelebration – that he had done on his first start of the season in the Greenham.

This was more a lap of honour than a race, and the adoring crowds lapped it up. Matt Chapman, always enthusiastic and good value, was on this occasion in a state of acute hysteria as he welcomed Sir Henry, Mr Q(ueally), and the bullet into the winner’s enclosure. Calm down, Chappers, you’ll give yourself a coronary!

And then came that race. Yes, the one that showed the whip revisions to be somewhere between ill-advised and utterly careless on the preposterosity continuum.

As Cirrus Des Aigles gamely saw off the challenges of both So You Think and Snow Fairy inside the last furlong, his pilot, Christophe Soumillon, used his whip with excessive frequency, according to the rules. In point of fact, he struck his mount once too often inside the final eighth: that once being about five yards inside.

For this gross negligence – ahem – a punishment to fit the crime. Take a five day holiday (despite being in a battle for the French jockeys’ championship) and concede the £52,000 segment of the prize fund due to the winning rider.

No wonder the most famous Belgian since Hercule Poirot was aggrieved. Soumillon ranted disarmingly languidly about the lunacy of the situation, before Paul Roy, the buffoonerous beak atop the BHA perch, offered defence of the lemons in his squad that decided on these arbitrary rules and their absolute implementation.

Mr Roy, with the greatest of respect, it is clearly and unequivocally time for you to stand down. If you insist on carrying the can – itself a noble enough act – then you must do so with the conditions applied to such accountability. I actually feel very strongly that British racing has now made itself a subject of global lampoonery and that it cannot regain its credibility with Roy steering the pleasure cruiser (not quite a ship, eh chaps?)

Post script: in the days that followed this PR disaster, the rules were revised marginally, and those found in contravention of the initial revisions were reinstated and refunded. An all too brief and limited concession, alas, as the debate rumbles on with a Racing Post poll showing that 75% of punters are now betting less as a consequence of the new rules. I am in the majority there. Good for racing? Come on!

Enough – back to the sport.

November 4th, Louisville

Ah, the Bluegrass state in November. Cold and wet, sloppy main track, and a sub-standard looking raiding party from Europe for the Breeders Cup 2011. For only the second time in a decade I was not in attendance at the big US racing regatta, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I wished I was.

Punting from home was a different discipline and afforded more opportunity to pick winners. As a consequence – which may or may not be related – I did manage to pick more winners. Alas for me, my staking strategy was woeful and for the most part I wasn’t compensated for my calculations.

The exception was the Ladies’ Classic, formerly known as the Distaff, where my exacta-trifecta-superfecta brilliance (well, every dog has his day) saw me catch about two thousand dollars and swerve the attentions of the IRS (US inland revenue) man, who is omnipresent for decent-sized ticket cashers at the track itself.

November 5th, Doncaster and Louisville

More good winners on the Saturday, both at home and away. Well, I say ‘winners’. At Donny, while I was attempting to play football (still grinding these forty-year-old bones!), Classic Vintage – himself nearly as old as me at seven – stayed on well for fifth place. Ah, how I love a bookie who pays five places in the big handicaps.

Ah, how I love bet365. I’m sure they’ll shut me down soon enough!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or Churchill Downs to be precise, it was time for the remaining NINE Breeders Cup races.

The Marathon is fast becoming unwinnable for Euro horses, and we were well off the pace here despite having Group runners lining up against moderate plodding handicappers.

Afleet Again followed the previous night’s Perfect Shirl as an impossible longshot to win, and they’d be joined by the second most impossible longshot in Breeders Cup history later in the evening.

Despite those setbacks, other races were much kinder to me (and readers of the free tipsheet I offered up), as first Aidan O’Brien’s Wrote bagged the Juvenile Turf, then Amazombie cashed in a big ticket for me in the Sprint.

Regally Ready was an obvious favourite, and a very good winner, of the Turf Sprint, a race which often confuddles. Not this time. But then I missed Caleb’s Posse in the Dirt Mile and that was an expensive mistake as my Pick3’s and Pick4’s – which amounted to a LOT of dollars – went west.

Worse was to follow as I failed to back St Nicholas Abbey, preferring Await The Dawn, the same stable’s other runner. St Nick gave the O’Brien team a double on the night and a family love in as son Joseph gave the horse formerly known as Pegasus a tremendous ride to gun down his rivals in the lane.

It all seemed a world away from watching St Nick labour to a well beaten third in the geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes at the Curragh back in April, but he’s pretty bloody good this one, on his day.

Then double disaster in the closing two races.

First, the most ridiculous result in Breeders Cup history. Yes, Arcangues was a longer shot when winning the Breeders Cup Classic at 134/1 back in 1993. But that was because they disregarded European form. Arcangues had won a strong Group 1 in France just three starts previously, and offered enormous value in the context of that race.

But Court Vision in the Mile? No. Never. Not in a million years. 64/1 was not even remotely generous. Goldikova barged her way illegally to third and the spineless Churchill stewards didn’t take her down. She should have been disqualified and placed last and, on any other day, she would have. I love Goldi, but the rules is the rules. If you backed Gio Ponti each way, you can consider yourself extremely hard done to.

And with that freak result, my wagering night was over. Or very nearly.

The final nails in my coffin were to be hammered home in the Classic. Whereas there’s no way I could have made a case for Court Vision, I knew the Classic would set up for Drosselmeyer. Basically, this race is a bit like the Derby. There are a lot of non-stayers in the field and a lot of early paced types who just fade and die.

The line up here – Uncle Mo and Game On Dude amongst others – meant it had to shape up as a speed duel up front. When this happens, especially when there are doubtful stayers in the field, there’s generally only one outcome. The plodders prevail.

Witness Zenyatta in 2009, and almost again in 2010. While the speed horses run as fast as they can for as long as they can, and then try to ‘hang tough’, Zenyatta lollops out of the gate and continues lolloping until they all come back to her. All except Blame that is, who was on his very last leg.

This time, it was Game On Dude under Chantal Sutherland, who was just vanquished. It was a game – and excellent – effort from both horse and jockey, but the Dross (appropriate name for a very poor renewal) was just too strong at the finish.

No use to me, even though I could and should have backed the horse. Bollocks, as they say, down my way.

And that, dear friends, was that. The 2011 turf flat season, with a bit of filth and bondage thrown in. Well, dirt racing and whip debate anyway. We’re not that sort of a website! 😉

Finally, if I may, a few prizes…

Jockey of the Year

Runner Up is Paul Hanagan who showed real hunger to retain the title. He rode our own Khajaaly a couple of weeks ago at Wolverhampton and, although he didn’t win nor even have a winner to that point that night, he was most instructive afterwards, taking time to suggest a couple of things to try with our boy in future. Well done, sir.

But the winner is Silvestre de Sousa – this time last year, you’d have been forgiven for asking, ‘Who?!’ But the silver medallist in this year’s jockey’s championship gets the golden gong here for making a phenomenal scrap of it, and being the ultimate gent in defeat. The Brazilian is a man to follow – excellent judge of pace too, which is rare in this country.

Trainer of the Year

In third place, Sir Henry Cecil has had an excellent year, obviously embellished by the exploits of that bullet, Frankel. But the way he has managed the horse, from feisty testosterone-fuelled teenager to charming young man, and the way he’s comported himself in that typical Sir Henry ‘dandy fop’ manner has been a joy for sentimental types such as me.

And the fact that he was finally knighted this year meant that I was able to drop the ‘Sir’ nickname he’s always had on geegeez and replace it with just ‘plain old’ Sir. Not before time!

Runner up, in his first season as a trainer, is Roger Varian. Recording a level stakes profit of £67.54 on the grass this year, and striking at 21% means Roger is a pal to punters. He’s clearly learnt well from his former guv’nor, Michael Jarvis, and he will be a chap to keep very much on the right side next term.

But the winner has to be Godolphin’s ‘second team’ trainer (haha), Mahmood al Zarooni. This chap, about whom I know nothing, is just brilliant. This was his second season training, and he’s achieved a 21% strike rate as well, but a profit for us backers of over a hundred and fifty quid for every pound we’ve put down. He won over a million pounds more in prize money than his counterpart, Saeed bin Suroor, and the writing is surely on the wall there.

Whether he’ll be as profitable to follow next season is another question, as the cat is well and truly out of the bag. But… don’t be betting against it!

Horse of the Year

A bit pointless this one perhaps, but it does afford recognition to one beast underneath, and further embroider the reputation of an already very well decorated quadruped.

Runner up then is the speed machine, Dream Ahead. Late on the scene this year, he was spanked – or maybe Franked – by Frankel in the St James’ Palace in June. Over a shorter trip in July, he waltzed away with the July Cup. In three further runs this term, he managed to notch a further Group 1 double and those three Group 1’s – all hard fought and against top drawer opposition – give him the silver prize here. He’s off to do naughty things to unsuspecting young ladies now. Lucky boy.

The winner, of course, is So You Think… only joking! It’s Frankel. There’s not much I can add to what I’ve already said in this three part series and throughout the year in various blog posts. The horse is a machine and if he settles, he might yet be able to get ten furlongs. That ushers forth the mouth-watering prospect of a Santa Anita Breeders Cup Classic tilt. Sweet dreams indeed!

Five runs, the last four in Group 1 company, and five wins. An aggregate winning margin this year of 19 3/4 lengths, and healthy kickings dished out to all and sundry. If that doesn’t give us something to look forward to next term, nothing will. Roll on 2012!

So, what was your performance of the flat year? Best jock? Best horse other than Frankel? Trainer of note? Leave a comment and give us one (or two or three) to follow.


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