Ever since Ascot’s Champions Day in late-October (20th this year) became an integral part of Britain’s autumn racing schedule, the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch meetings at Newmarket have had to be moved forward by a week from their traditional place in the calendar, writes Tony Stafford. Meanwhile, some of the major juvenile events have consequently been shuffled with particularly the Royal Lodge and Fillies’ Mile, moving from Ascot to HQ.
Early in its lifetime, the going for Champions Day was prone to be bottomless, leading to many professionals lobbying for its transfer to earlier in the year. Such voices have been less evident more recently with the apparent change in climate; and 2018, with its near- summer-long drought conditions, should provide at least acceptable going.
One fixture which remains firmly in its time-honoured place is France’s Arc de Triomphe weekend, with the big race resolutely fixed to the first Sunday in October. Enable remains the hot favourite to follow up after last year’s comfortable success at odds-on. Her comeback run in the September Stakes at Kempton last month when she made short work of Crystal Ocean makes her an obvious choice to complete the double.
Her trainer, John Gosden, has been having a stellar season and, with £5.875million in domestic prize money, he is almost £1million ahead of Aidan O’Brien, with Sir Michael Stoute third on a ‘mere’ £4.1million. O’Brien and Stoute will almost certainly provide opposition to Enable on Sunday when O’Brien has the last two St Leger winners, Capri and Kew Gardens, as well as this term’s Oaks winner Forever Together in his possible team.
Forever Together, whose last run was when caught close home by Sea Of Class in the Irish Oaks in late July, would need to be supplemented, as would her Curragh conqueror who went on to collect the Yorkshire Oaks for the William Haggas stable. Sea Of Class is a well-supported second favourite and will almost certainly take her chance. Crystal Ocean, who will meet Enable on 5lb better terms this time should he be supplemented, could wait for Ascot.
Andre Fabre has the solid Waldgeist, easy winner of his trial a fortnight ago, as his main contender. Waldgeist is owned by his breeders, Gestut Ammerland, in partnership with Newsells Park Stud. With the latter being the home base of Nathaniel, sire of Enable, Sunday’s race will carry the full attention of the Hertfordshire farm.
The previous afternoon, fillies take centre spot at Newmarket where the Sun Chariot Stakes will probably bring together Laurens and Clemmie. Laurens’ victory on Ireland’s Champions Weekend continued her excellent season, with only a non-staying sixth behind Sea Of Class in the Yorkshire Oaks and second spot in the 1,000 Guineas interrupting four Group 1 wins for the Karl Burke stable.
Laurens was possibly a little fortunate in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown last time as when challenged by Alpha Centauri inside the last furlong, the hot favourite seemed to falter, post-race inspection revealing a career-ending injury.
Chasing home the principals, Clemmie put up easily her best performance since the Cheveley Park Stakes a year ago, when staying on for a closing third, ahead of better-fancied stable-companions Magical and Happily, and she may well get nearer to Laurens on Saturday.
A couple of months ago, some were writing off the Ballydoyle stable, but numerically the winners have been flowing, particularly in Ireland. A quick-fire Newmarket hat-trick on Saturday in the three juvenile Group races that started Cambridgeshire day, following Just Wonderful’s electric victory in the previous day’s Rockfel Stakes, shows normal service to have been fully restored.
Ryan Moore, in the saddle for Just Wonderful, then set off for yet another US away day on Mendelssohn. He was no doubt a little frustrated to miss the Newmarket treble as Mendelssohn could finish only third to the 46-1 shot Discreet Lover in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, his Breeders’ Cup Classic prep.
Donnacha O’Brien, already assured of his first Irish championship, stepped in for Mohawk (Royal Lodge), Fairyland (Cheveley Park) and odds-on Ten Sovereigns in the Middle Park. The last-named, by first-season sire No Nay Never, himself a son of ill-fated Scat Daddy, did well to hold off Jash, but it seems the Commonwealth Cup rather than the 2,000 Guineas may be his major initial target for next year.
When O’Brien is in full stride, usually sons and daughters of Galileo are heavily involved and Mohawk fulfils that requirement. Moore was back for yesterday’s Naas fixture, transferred from The Curragh which is in the final phase of its redevelopment in preparation for next season.
Just as Donnacha had collected a three-timer the previous afternoon, Ryan emulated him on the newcomer Magna Grecia in the opening maiden, followed by Group 3 winners Hermosa and Cypress Creek. The jockey looked sure to make it four, but his partner Mount Everest was caught close home by Japan in the Beresford Stakes.
Both principals are by Galileo as are Hermosa and Cypress Creek. Rarely can a race have been dominated to the extent that Aidan has farmed the Beresford. Since his initial victory in 1996 with Johan Cruyff, O’Brien has won the Group 2 race 18 times. Of five years when he failed to win, it took colts of the calibre of Azamour and Sea the Stars to interrupt the sequence.
With the future in mind, it could well be that another Galileo appearing for the first time over the weekend might be even more interesting. The stable had three runners in the opening seven furlong fillies’ maiden at Dundalk. Credenza, the 7-4 favourite finished third and Happen (8-1, unplaced), leaving newcomer Frosty, a 9-1 chance, to step up and win. She was always travelling well and won comfortably under Seamie Heffernan.
Frosty, a full-sister to the multiple Group 1 winner Winter, has the Fillies’ Mile entry at Newmarket on Friday week and it will be intriguing if she turns up against more experienced rivals.
John Gosden, who had an easy success in Saturday’s Cambridgeshire with Wissahickon, will probably reserve Cracksman for Ascot’s big day rather than send him to support Enable next Sunday. Even with his apparently secure big lead over O’Brien, he knows that with more than £4 million in prizes on offer on that day alone, the trainers’ title is one race that may be far from over.