Sunday Supplement: Of Valid Champions, and Invalids

Ruler of the World a Derby contender

Ruler of the World: nice horse for next year

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Fortune may have smiled again on Richard Hughes in 2013 as he continues on his path to a second consecutive jockeys’ title – cemented on Saturday with emphatic success on Olympic Glory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Ascot’s Champions Day – but for two weighing room colleagues, the day could only have been one of great regret at the unfairness of it all.

Olympic Glory would have been the mount of Sheikh Joaan’s new retained jockey Frankie Dettori bar that fall at Nottingham a couple of weeks back, just as he would have been on Treve in the same colours in the Arc a fortnight earlier.

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As for Hayley Turner, the succession of injuries she has collected over the past year and a bit culminated in the latest when Seal of Approval came down late on at Doncaster, clipping heels as she was about to challenge eventual winner The Lark in the Park Hill Stakes.

Her dismay would have been severe watching George Baker step in on the James Fanshawe-trained filly to win the Fillies and Mares race, backed like all the other events on the card by Qipco, the Qatar Royal family who seem motivated to try to oust their Dubai-based counterparts the Maktoums at the top end of racing.

Seal of Approval had four lengths to spare; Olympic Glory almost as much. Dettori’s business manager Peter Burrell bumped into me at Ascot and said that Frankie’s injury on his ankle was very serious: “It’s always the easiest-looking falls – it wasn’t even in a race, just cantering down – that can do the most damage”.

Not only does he now have a big metal plate in his ankle, Frankie won’t be able even to fly for five months. He’ll be itching to get back on both his boss’s two champions – how he would have loved to cock a snook at former employer Sheikh Mohammed at Longchamp and Ascot – but it might be some way into next season before he does.

It was in many ways invalids’ and former invalids’ day at Ascot, with equine summer absentee Farhh bouncing back after a long layoff to win the Qipco Champion Stakes from French veteran Cirrus des Aigles and the 2013 Derby winner Ruler of the World while Fanshawe, who has had an almost Sir Henry Cecil-like return to the big time after steady decline in the previous decade, was hospitalised in the summer with a major operation.

The two biggest absentees of course were the late Sir Henry and the greatest example of his art, the now stud-based Frankel, whose joint impact was a major feature of the day. There was a Frankel exhibition at the track depicting many of his great moments, and due recognition of his handler’s skills and humility and modesty.

The big race, too, was in truth Frankel’s race, with the winner twice well beaten by him in previous seasons and Cirrus Des Aigles the length and a half runner up to him a year ago in the same race, Frankel’s swansong.

The close proximity of Ruler of the World in third, six lengths clear of the rest of a strong field, was relief for the supporters of 2013 Classic form. Coolmore might have had no winners on the day, but for the partners and Aidan O’Brien the trio that did run all performed excellently and will be eagerly anticipated when they come to the track next year. I thought Ruler of the World, inexperienced, suffering the worst trip and possibly on ground less than ideal, ran a blinder for a younger horse against his two well-seasoned opponents.

I also thought he would have beaten them granted an extra two furlongs, and he could easily be in the St Nicholas Abbey category as a big money-winner in the coming seasons. Kingsbarns, comfortably ahead of Ruler of the World in the Ballydoyle pecking order before suffering a spring setback, is well on the way to living up to his Racing Post Trophy triumph last year, after his third ahead of Dawn Approach in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, while Eye of the Storm was another to improve on previous form with his third to two older stayers in the two-mile race. The trio will be the foundation of what is sure to be a formidable team of older horses for Aidan in 2014.

I need to press on with other domestic matters, so just a paragraph to marvel at the four goals that were produced by Arsenal against Norwich. Team play, one precise header, a fine individual effort from, who else, Aaron Ramsey, then, to finish, another team spectacular. No wonder Alan Hansen, breaking off from a trademark homily, when asked if they can win the title, thought for a while and then pronounced: “No!”

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