Another sizzling month of sport has commenced, dear reader, and the initial racing showpiece - the Coral Eclipse - was run last Saturday at a sun-drenched Sandown Park.
In a month which features the finals from Wimbledon, the Tour de France, the World Cup Final, and Glorious Goodwood (as well as Newmarket's July meeting this week), horse racing has a lot to compete with for the attentions of the all-round sports fan.
And this is one of flat racing's frailties when it comes to the perennial 'let's revamp racing' discussions, because there is actually very little that can be done about this particular impediment. (For my views on the others, click here!)
But what a horribly disappointing turn out on the equine front for one of the great races of the Flat season, the Coral Eclipse. This is traditionally the first time that the Classic generation of three year olds draw battle lines with their elders, and they do it over the intermediate distance of ten furlongs, or a mile and a quarter if you prefer.
Six runners were to face the starter, but the recalcitrance of Mawatheeq reduced this to five. Five runners for a Group 1 worth just about half a million in prize money. Sheesh! With prize money down to fifth place, and Zacinto - who occupied that position - virtually pulling up, Always De One could have bagged Â£13,450...
I just wonder which races the owners of Group 1 nags are saving themselves for when a race like this transpires with barely enough horses to qualify as an each-way betting contest. True, there is competition in the racing calendar for the entries. But not this weekend. There's nothing else of note for three year olds and up beyond a mile (though there was a key mile contest yesterday, more below).
Sandown must be hugely disappointed with the turnout, as must the sponsors, Coral. Trainers like John Gosden bemoan the end of racing (see this post), and they have some credence to their concern despite the melodramatic wrapper within which they express them. But they simply do not help themselves by failing to support the biggest events in the calendar.
To Johnny G's credit, his Dar Re Mi - one of the top older females - was present and finished fourth, only the third time she's been out of the first three in seventeen starts. She needs further these days, but connections will be happy enough with the Â£26,850 they snaffled for beating a pulled up horse...!
The winner, Twice Over, is not a horse that I rate as truly top class, although he is a decent enough stick. He won the softest Group 1 in the racing calendar, the Champion Stakes at Newmarket in October (all the best horses swerve this for either the Arc meeting in Longchamp or the Breeders Cup stateside, or both!).
But fair play to him. He's putting together a decent CV, and looks to be improving with age and racing. He did actually travel to California after winning at Newmarket and finished a gallant third behind the remarkable record-breaking racemare, Zenyatta (17 starts, 17 wins, 15 in Grade 1 or 2 company, prize money of four million quid!!). But that was a pretty poor championship event too, barring the winner.
He was also silver medalist behind the improving Byword, who looks to have a shot in the Breeders Cup Classic later in the year, as his trainer believes he will not stay a mile and a half.
And he could do no more than win here. The runner-up, Sri Putra, was 33/1 on Saturday and did well to grab second. Third was O'Brien's Viscount Nelson, a horse who hasn't won for seven starts, and never in higher than Listed class. And the other two, Dar Re Mi and Zacinto, clearly didn't run their races.
Although the 2008 renewal was below par, this must be a contender for worst Eclipse ever, and Sandown have a serious job on their hands to reignite the passion and prestige that this race once had. It is probably fair to say that the Brigadier Gerard Stakes, a Group 3 over the same course and distance, has become a more competitive and high quality affair in recent years (with the obvious and notable exception of last season's Eclipse, where Sea The Stars beat Rip van Winkle, Conduit and Cima de Triomphe, with Twice Over a well stuffed seventh).
Enough with the Eclipse bashing. Suffice it to say, I hope they find the answer to the problem, as it is a race that deserves to draw the pick of the Classic and older generations in hoof to hoof combat.
Over at Chantilly yesterday, Dick Turpin finally got the win he deserves this season, when prevailing by a fat four lengths in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat. Although confined to the three year olds, this surely was the race that Sandown wanted, with our gallant highwayman seeing off Siyouni, Xtension and Hearts Of Fire, with French Guineas/Derby hero, Lope de Vega running no race down the field. The German Guineas winner, Frozen Power, was also present but could only finish fifth.
The result of this race seems to confirm that Canford Cliffs is the best three year old miler in Europe, and stablemate Dick Turpin is the second best. (He'd finished runner up three times in Group 1's this season before getting his schnozz in front yesterday).
Again, Aidan O'Brien entries were notable only by their absence and, despite a 1-2-3 in the Irish Derby, I maintain his Classic set are below average this year.
This week's main meeting is the Newmarket July meeting, from Wednesday until Friday, featuring the July Cup, a Group 1 sprint, amongst its many jewels.
I'll be back with a few thoughts on that as the week progresses.
Finally today, I'm delighted to report that we are now 76% full for the Geegeez Racing Club syndicate. That means there are just twelve 2% shares remaining.
If you've been toying with getting involved in what must be the best value syndicate in the country (every single penny goes on buying the horse, training the horse, entering the horse, and racing the horse - except for the few pennies per share that go towards paying for four days out for syndicate members), then it's 'make up your mind' time.
If you've not seen the video about what you'll get when you join, and what you need to do to be involved, you can watch that here.
To recap, you get:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Twelve months membership and 2% ownership of the horse
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Nothing else to pay if you pay in full now, or pay by 4 x Â£175 quarterly installments
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Two stable days, and two further race days (one in the north and one in the southwest)
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Ownerâ€™s badge each time the horse runs
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Regular updates on the horse from the yard, plus occasional news on other horses in the yard
You can get your share below, by clicking the relevant link:
Option 1 - One off payment for full twelve months, with nothing more to pay.
Option 3 - To pay by bank transfer to our Weatherby's Racing Account, click here. This will open an email for you to send me requesting this method. Alternatively, email me for full details at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Julia Feilden, our trainer, is off to Newmarket sales on Wednesday and Thursday to secure our new inmate, and I'll have more news in a few days.
I'm dreaming of the Winners' Enclosure, and landing a nice touch along the way. Obviously, I can't promise either of those things, but I can promise at least the prospect of both... Don't miss out if you're tempted! 🙂
I hope to welcome you aboard later today.