Latest horseracing news from the UK

Hill can reach Gold Cup Summit for Twiston-Davies

All eyes will be on Cheltenham this weekend, and today’s piece focuses on Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup.

The Grade Three began life as the Mackeson Gold Cup and was first run in 1960. Starting as a two-mile chase, the trip was upped to 2m4f in the late 60s. Martin Pipe is the most successful trainer with eight victories, seven of those coming in a devastating spell from 1996 to 2005.

In recent years Jonjo O’Neill (3 wins), Nigel Twiston-Davies (2) and Paul Nicholls (2) have all enjoyed plenty of success in the race. Seven-year-olds have a terrific record of late, with six wins from the last 10. Indeed, the race tends to go to a progressive young chaser, often in their second season over the larger obstacles.

Despite the race often attracting a large field, upsets have proved rare. Only one of the last 10 winners could be described as unfancied, though in that period only one favourite has struck gold. As is often the case at the Home of Jump racing, previous track experience is a huge positive. Seven of the past 10 winners had previously won at Cheltenham. This racecourse is a unique test, and many horses fail the strenuous examination.

The favourite for Saturday’s renewal is top-weight Kylemore Lough, now trained by Harry Fry. Lumping just shy of 12 stone is often a reason to dismiss a horse in such handicaps, but last year’s winner carried 11-11, and four of the last 12 winners have coped with more than 11 stone on their back. This fella has enough Cheltenham experience, and appears to act on the track, though he’s finished fifth in his last two visits. He came close to winning the Caspian Caviar Chase last December (now 2lb lower), and a repeat of that performance would see him go extremely close. Can Fry get more out of him than Kerry Lee? I’m a fan, and I fancy he’ll run well.

The Alan Fleming-trained Tully East is next best in the betting. A second-season chaser, he won at the Cheltenham Festival in March, when ridden beautifully by Denis O’Regan. He travelled like a dream that day and appeared to win with something to spare. Nevertheless, he’s 10lb higher in the handicap, and though he has the right profile, he’ll find this race much tougher to win. He’s a player, though I worry about that handicap mark. Another concern is the poor record of Irish raiders.

Paul Nicholls has a couple of entrants, and both are prominent in the betting. Le Prezien has track winning form, though was runner-up on his last visit, when finding Foxtail Hill impossible to pass. The pair had a mighty tussle in October at two-miles, though the extra half-a-mile should prove no obstacle. The pair are handicapped to finish side by side again, and you’d fancy both will go close. They’re tough to separate.

Nicholls’ other hope is five-year-old Romain De Senam. He’s won his last two, but is up 6lbs and will find this tough. He was runner-up in the Fred Winter of 2016, and probably should have won that day. The track and trip look ideal, and Nicholls took this race in 2014 with Caid Du Berlais, also aged five. I can see him getting outpaced coming down the hill, but I fancy he’ll be finishing well. He has the right amount of experience, but I worry he’ll have too much to do turning for home.

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Ballyalton is an interesting contender. Back from injury, the Ian Williams-trained 10-year-old tuned up for this with a promising run over hurdles at Aintree. He won over course and distance at the Cheltenham Festival of 2016, and clearly enjoys his trips to Prestbury Park. He’s on a competitive mark, though his age is a negative based on the trends. Only three horses over nine have won the race.

The Pipe team have an outstanding record, though David has only managed the one success. Starchitect is two from seven over fences, and has a fair bit to find on Foxtail Hill, from their run at the course in April. Though talented, I don’t think this fella is quite good enough to win in this company.

One that is on a steep-upward curve is Jamie Snowdon’s Double Treasure. The six-year-old beat Two Taffs last time, though the runner-up was having his first outing of the campaign. He’s progressed dramatically over the Summer, but needs to find more if he is to be competitive here. Despite his four wins on the bounce, I fancy this could be a step too far.

There’s a couple I quite like at a price for the each-way punters out there. Theinval is trained by Nicky Henderson and was incredibly consistent during his first season over fences. He has some decent pieces of form to his name, especially the second-place finish to Cloudy Dream at Ayr in April. The sensational Fondmort won this race for Henderson in 2003, and this fella has a far better chance than his 25/1 odds suggest.

Another that interests me is the Twiston-Davies second string Splash Of Ginge. He rarely wins over fences, but his handicap mark has fell through the floor since the dizzy heights of 2015. He’s run well at Cheltenham in the past, and his last performance was encouraging. More rain would help, though I’m still tempted.

Greedy I know, but I’ll be backing three in the race. I fancy Nigel Twiston-Davies could have a day to remember, and I’ll be taking Foxtail Hill to win. He looks incredibly tough and is two from four in recent visits to the track. I’ll also have a little on Splash Of Ginge in the hope that the track and an eye-catching handicap mark spark a revival. Finally, I’ll be putting a couple of quid on Henderson’s seven-year-old Theinval. I’m convinced he’ll go close, though I do worry about his ability to cope with the famous hill.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Follow Phil – Despite Defi Defection

We return to the Home of Jump racing on Friday for Cheltenham’s three-day November Meeting.

Always thrilling and often informative, this tends to be a gathering where certain trainers perform consistently well. You’d expect powerhouses such as Nicholls and Henderson to rack-up the winners, but in recent times two handlers have outshone the rest.

Whilst Nicholls has had a none-too-shabby seven wins from the last four November meets, and Nicky Henderson has amassed six in that period, it’s David Pipe and Philip Hobbs that set the standard. Despite drawing a blank in 2015, Pipe has struck nine times, with Hobbs managing a dazzling dozen. The Master of Minehead had a sensational 2014 meeting, winning six races over the three days, including the Greatwood and the Triumph Hurdle Trial.

Hobbs has a terrific record in the prestigious Greatwood Hurdle, taking the Grade Three with several high-class sorts. In 2014 it was Garde La Victoire that upset Henderson’s well-fancied Vaniteux. In 2010 Menorah captured this, having won the Supreme Novices’ eight months earlier. In 2006 it was the wonderful Detroit City that romped to success. He’d won the Triumph Hurdle earlier in the year. However, arguably Hobbs’ greatest hurdler took the event in 2002. The relentless galloping grey, Rooster Booster, owned by Terry Warner, took this on-route to a Champion Hurdle victory in 2003.

Hobbs looked to have the horse with the perfect profile for this weekend’s renewal, in Defi Du Seuil. However, a change of heart means that the Triumph Hurdle winner will now head to Ascot, rather than take on The New One on Sunday.

Hobbs also has a strong record in the Triumph Hurdle Trial, which takes place on Saturday. He’s landed two of the last three, and was successful in last year’s race thanks to the aforementioned, Defi Du Seuil. The Minehead handler will be hoping for further success this weekend, as he’s set to saddle another Terry Warner-owned grey, Gumball. It’s looking a tasty renewal, with Henderson and Nicholls both represented. However, Hobbs’ fella has impressed in his two victories this term.

Other Hobbs contenders to look out for over the three days include Three Faces West in the BetVictor.com Handicap Chase. The talented staying chaser is back from injury, having looked mightily progressive when winning his last race at Newbury in December 2016. The team also have Crooks Peak in the concluding National Hunt Flat race. He was a convincing winner at Newton Abbot on debut. This is tougher, but he looks a decent sort.

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It’s been a slow start to this latest campaign for the Pipe team, but there are signs of an upturn in recent weeks, and the guys from Pond House will be hoping for another strong Cheltenham showing. Moon Racer was a high-profile winner at last year’s meeting, and in recent times Pipe has struck gold with Kings Palace, Dell’ Arca, The Liquidator and Red Sherlock.

Dell’ Arca has an entry in the opening chase on Friday, though he’s not jumped a fence since 2015. He’s looked good over hurdles in his last two starts, winning at Newbury just last week. He’s far more likely to stick to hurdles and run in the listed staying event on Saturday. He’s lumbered with top-weight, but remains on a competitive mark.

David’s father Martin remains the most successful trainer in the history of the BetVictor Gold Cup, and the stable have a realistic contender for Saturday’s renewal in Starchitect. A solid fifth place finish in the Brown Advisory at the Cheltenham Festival suggests this race will prove ideal. He’s on a fair mark and should go well.

Pipe has also taken over the training of Vanituex, after his move from Seven Barrows. He’s entered in the Shloer Chase and will face the likes of Fox Norton and Special Tiara. I’ve always been a fan of this fella, though he needs good ground if he’s to have any hope of being competitive.

Both the Hobbs and Pipe teams lack the depth of talent as they head into the Cheltenham weekend. Nevertheless, the pair have enjoyed plenty of success at this November Meeting in recent times, and I’d be surprised if they don’t land a few mighty blows once again.

Nicholls and Henderson Jump to it

Present Man defied testing conditions to land the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton on Saturday.

Paul Nicholls has an outstanding record in the race, and had three fancied contenders. He finished with the first and fourth home, though his young novice Mr Mix disappointed. Concerns had been raised over the winner’s ability to cope with soft ground, but any worries were dispelled as the seven-year-old ‘tanked’ along under talented conditional jockey Bryony Frost.

Prominent throughout, Frost sent the winner on from the fifth-last, with only the David Dennis-trained Final Nudge for company. The pair fought out the finish, with Present Man’s bold jumping key to his success. He battled on bravely to hold-off the runner-up by a rapidly diminishing head.

Her father Jimmy had won the race 21 years earlier, and it was clear to everyone that Bryony was thrilled to mirror Dad’s achievement. Speaking to ITV Racing immediately after the win, she said: “He jumped, he travelled. He answers every question. He was pulling my arms out all the way round.”

Nicholls was winning his eighth Badger Ales, and said of the winner: “I was worried about the ground, but I must say I've never seen him look better. I knew he'd go in the ground, but it was whether he stayed in the ground. He's a great example of Rome not being built in a day. He’s took three years to get where he is today. It was a peach of a ride and it's great for the owners.”

Mark Woodhouse owns the winner, and happens to sponsor the race. Clearly emotional, he said of the victory: “We were always in it to win it. It went a bit soft for him, and he’d have had a better chance on good ground. I haven’t got much voice left. I used it up during the home straight.”

The Grand National at Aintree has now been named as a likely target for the winner. The way he jumps a fence will certainly be an asset, though he still has to prove that he can see-out a marathon trip.

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The victory completed a valuable double on the card for trainer Paul Nicholls, having earlier seen his exciting young chaser Modus take the Rising Stars in dominant fashion. Just three arrived at the start, though the race looked competitive enough. Ridden confidently by Sam Twiston-Davies, the favourite took up the running two fences from home. He quickened impressively, hitting the line with nine lengths to spare. Bigger tests lie ahead, but this was a decent performance.

Just 24 hours later, Paul Nicholls’ nemesis, Nicky Henderson, unleashed his potential star staying chaser Might Bite. Last year’s RSA winner made his seasonal debut at Sandown, and romped to an impressive victory in the Future Stars Intermediate Chase. In all honesty, this was a race that he had to win convincingly. At times like a showjumper over the fences, he was virtually foot-perfect throughout. Urged to pull clear by Nico de Boinville, he comfortably put 10 lengths between himself and the field, before being eased approaching the line.

“Job done. I'm happy with that,” said the jockey, speaking to Racing UK after the win. “He was very fresh and well going down to the first. I felt I had to take it (the running) up when I did, just because he was enjoying himself so much. He'll come on bundles for that. The big fences played to his strengths. He's got so much scope for improvement that I think he'll be even better than he was last year.”

Nicky Henderson looked chuffed and relieved, saying: “It was straightforward. His jumping was great. He just needed a run and I think he was running a bit fresh. He settled well, and he jumped beautifully. Our objective is the King George and most agreed the sensible thing was to come here (rather than the Betfair Chase at Haydock). He won't run again until then and he'll be miles straighter than he was today. That's part one done.”

The champion trainer added: “Our job is now to get him there on Boxing Day quite a lot fitter than he was today. I wouldn't say a racecourse gallop would go amiss. We'll try and win the King George and then make a second-half-of-the-season plan.”

Winning the King George is a mile away from landing an intermediate chase at Sandown. But there’s no doubting Henderson’s chaser is talented. He’s fluid in movement and beautifully athletic over his fences. He also looks to have plenty of untapped potential, though how he copes when challenged for the lead remains an unknown. Kempton’s Christmas showpiece is stacking up to be an absolute cracker.

Cobden call-up on Cue Card

Cue Card, Coneygree and Our Duke hit the headlines at the weekend, for all the wrong reasons.

And yesterday it was dear old Cue Card that again made the news, as the Tizzard team decided a change of jockey is required in the hope of resurrecting the chaser’s winning ways. Having hit the deck twice in his last three starts, Paddy Brennan has been asked to step-aside, and it will be young Harry Cobden that takes the reins in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

The 19-year-old has impressed in his short time in the saddle, and has been riding regularly for both Paul Nicholls and Colin Tizzard. This is a huge opportunity for the young man, and he is clearly thrilled to be given the chance. Speaking yesterday he said: “I schooled him this morning and he felt A1. I'm very much looking forward to riding him. It is a great opportunity for a young jockey to pick up a ride like that and the target is the Betfair Chase. I ride out for Colin every Wednesday and I know all the horses well. I've not really got any commitments in Graded races, so it will be nice riding a horse like that as these opportunities don't come around too often.”

There’s no doubting it’s tough on Paddy Brennan. He’s had some fabulous times on Cue Card, most notably the thrilling King George success of 2015, when getting up in the final strides to defeat the wonderful Vautour. Brennan will still ride for the Tizzard’s, but this will still be a blow for the jock.

Colin Tizzard spoke of the decision yesterday afternoon: “I spoke to Paddy on Monday and said I thought the horse deserved to have a change of rider as he has fallen twice out of the last three times. He said it was fair enough. It's not a big issue changing jockey as we do it all the time, but it might be on Cue Card because of his profile. It is a different set of hands on board, so we will see what happens.”

The trainer added: “Harry might be available for two or three races, whereas a lot of the top jockeys are already on the best horses. I like the idea of having a younger man on him. I've known Harry all my life and he has got plenty of experience. He has ridden a lot of winners for us and he is a good young rider. I consulted Jean (Bishop, Cue Card's owner) about it and she is a very loyal person, but she thought the horse deserved a new rider. He (Cobden) will be scrutinised, no doubt, but getting on Cue Card when you are 19 years old, he should be chuffed.”

With Tizzard’s older statesman looking to land his fourth Betfair Chase at Haydock, the yard’s younger star was among 26 entries for the King George at Christmas. Thistlecrack won Kempton’s Christmas cracker last December, and is on course to attempt a repeat performance.

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Speaking on the Jockey Club's Love The Jumps podcast a week ago, the Dorset trainer said: “We had him in first week in August, we're now nearly in November and we're just starting to go a bit faster with him. He's got a month of fast work and he'll be ready to run. He'll have a hurdle before we go in the King George because we can't really go there first time up. I feel his legs once a week now and someone else feels them every other day and they seem absolutely fine.”

Earlier this week Tizzard confirmed that the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury would act as Thistlecrack’s King George warm-up run. He took the race in 2015, and it would leave a gap of almost four weeks before that huge event at Kempton.

Tizzard also spoke of last year’s Gold Cup third, Native River. The seven-year-old is set for a light campaign, with another crack at Cheltenham’s Gold Cup the prime objective. He’ll not be seen until the new year, with connections keen to have him spot-on for the big day.

Might Bite, Sizing John, Douvan and Djakadam were other eye-catching entries for what may well prove to be a stellar renewal of the King George. Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite looks likely to head to Sandown for his seasonal debut on Sunday. The three-mile 188Bet Future Stars Intermediate Chase appears the ideal starting point, giving the young chaser vital practice before taking on the ‘big guns’ over Christmas. The opportunity of having another run on a right-handed track would also have been on Henderson’s mind when choosing this as a pipe-opener.

Sizing John has the million-pound bonus on his agenda for this campaign. He’ll head for the Betfair Chase before a crack at the King George. The cheque will be handed over should he win both and then repeat his Gold Cup success at Cheltenham. Sounds easy enough.

The ROA – Racehorse Ownership guide and support

Racehorse ownership has become an inclusive opportunity for the masses, rather than an exclusive privilege of the elite.

Ownership can take numerous forms to suit varying bank-balances. Sole Ownership does what it says on the tin. A 100% share in a thoroughbred, racing in your colours, and providing prize money solely for you, sounds quite a thrill. Sole responsibility for the fees, numerous as they are, is maybe less of a thrill.

Companies can be registered as an owner, with the shareholders benefitting from any winnings. The company appoints an agent to act on its behalf (must speak to the boss). A Partnership is another ownership option. Two or more may wish to share the ownership, and decide on the percentage split, sharing the costs and any prize-money.

Syndicates have become increasingly popular, appealing to people with limited disposable income. A group are managed by a syndicator who registers as the owner. People pay a fee, often for a limited time period, to lease or own a share in a horse or horses. The fee covers outgoings and the member sits back waiting for the prize-money to flood in. This can be a very sociable way of owning a horse, with gatherings at the racecourse and mornings at the trainer’s stables.

A Racing Club is not dissimilar, with people paying a subscription to own part of a leg or a hoof. The fee covers outgoings and again the club member will be due a share of prize-money. As with the syndicate, this is a great opportunity for those with a smaller bank-balance to get involved in racehorse ownership. It’s a terrific way of meeting like-minded racing fans, whether at the racecourse or on the gallops.

Once your finances are in order, and you’ve signed on the dotted line, the Racehorse Owners Association are on hand with advice, support and numerous benefits, to make the racehorse ownership journey that much more comfortable.

The ROA has more than 8,000 members (yes sorry, there is a fee), who not only benefit hugely from being involved, but also back the ROA’s continual effort to make an owners’ experience the best it can possibly be.

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A group of racehorse owners established the organisation in 1945. Sir Harold Werneher of Market Harborough, Newmarket’s Cecil Boyd Rochford (step-father to Sir Henry Cecil), Henry Persse of Stockbridge, Sir Malcolm McAlpine, Chairman of the Engineering and Construction firm, James Rank of Godstone, York’s John Hetherton and Jack Olding of Hatfield, who’s company in London were the sole dealers of the Aston Martin in the 1930s, were the magnificent seven that got the ball rolling.

In the early years, the relatively small membership of around 700 lacked clout, and the ROA were pretty much ignored by the Jockey Club. The 1960s saw greater pressure exerted as the association sought better prize-money for its members. A fair amount of cooperation was reached with the Racecourse Association, including free parking for owners and improved luncheon facilities. They also set about collating information on prize-money against costs, applying pressure on the Levy Board to spread prize-money across fixtures rather than targeting just the prestigious events.

In the 1970s, greater marketing ensured a rapid rise in membership, passing 3,000 in 1976. More members equated to more power, and ongoing battles with both the Levy Board and the Jockey Club. The ROA produced a report in the mid-70s, showing that British racing was among the world leaders for betting turnover, yet gave so little back to the racing industry. This information was passed far and wide in the hope of sparking change.

In 1993 the British Horseracing Board was formed, and supported by the ROA sought to build a long-term financial plan for racing, in the interests of all involved. Pressure was applied to governments of the day for a greater return from the betting industry. Such battles are ongoing to this day.

In 2009 membership rose to 7,600, and as shareholders in the BHA, the association now play a more influential role in helping shape the industry. As numbers rose, so did the benefits acquired by those paying members. Owners receive third party insurance to cover against their horse causing injury or damage. There is free admission to over a thousand fixtures each year. The VAT on ownership can be reclaimed through an ROA sponsorship scheme. There is also a free subscription to the informative Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder magazine. Trainers’ Open Days along with ROA racecourse events are another perk, giving owners the opportunity of maximising their racing experience.

Though not essential, there’s no doubting that anyone taking the plunge into racehorse ownership, at whatever level of commitment, would gain considerably from membership of the ROA. Along with benefits, support and guidance, the association continue to push for a better deal for the owners they represent. Their website is a terrific source of information, and can be reached at www.roa.co.uk

Frustration Home and Away

It’s tough not to feel a little let down by the latest Breeders’ Cup.

Concerns over the tightness of the track prior to racing appeared justified, as luck played a far too significant role in the outcome of several races. A fast break from the stalls became crucial, especially for those drawn on the wide outside. The racing did prove dramatic, though hard-luck stories became the norm, with many high-profile thoroughbreds running no sort of race.

Gun Runner certainly did run his race. The Steve Asmusson-trained four-year-old led the Breeders’ Cup Classic from the off and stayed-on powerfully to beat a pair of Bob Baffert trained colts. Last year’s star Arrogate failed to spark, starting slowly and finishing a good half-dozen lengths adrift.

The Breeders’ Cup Turf went to Europe once again, though not to last year’s winner Highland Reel. O’Brien’s colt put in another solid performance in running a close third, though it was the Andre Fabre-trained Talismanic that ran-out an impressive winner. He got the better of Chad Brown’s Beach Patrol in an exciting three-way go for the line.

The Mile Turf went to American favourite World Approval. Few sob-stories here to be fair, as the favourite pulled away from the pack for a stylish success. Lancaster Bomber finished well for second, with Ribchester a little one-paced back in fifth.

There was more European success in the Filly & Mare Turf, with Godolphin’s Wuheida defeating O’Brien’s Rhododendron. The winner received a ‘Peach of a ride’ from William Buick, but the runner-up looked a little unfortunate. Pinned on the rail, Moore found a gap a little too late to catch the winner. Queen’s Trust was another who had a luckless passage. No room, no gaps, no chance. She flew home when Dettori finally found daylight, but the bird had long-since flown.

Frustration in America was mirrored in the UK and Ireland, with several high-profile jumpers fluffing their lines, and yet more concerns over the troubled Coneygree.

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The Charlie Hall clash at Wetherby between Cue Card and Coneygree failed to materialize. The low sun was blamed for the latter’s jumping error which caused his latest injury. Thankfully he looks likely to be back in action sooner rather than later, with Newbury in early December still a possibility.

“Obviously we were desperately disappointed because Nico said he felt unbelievable over the first two and then he thinks he was just simply distracted by the sun and just dived,” said trainer Sara Bradstock. “He's overreached at the next one because he's jumped too high. The reason it worried him was because he couldn't see the fence. He's such a good jumper. It's a slice into the bulb of his heel and before we have him jumping again, we will have to make sure it's not hurting him. That can take three or four days or, in the worse situation, three to four weeks.”

Cue Card came down five from home, with Paddy Brennan at the time saying the sun was also to blame. Thankfully rider and horse were fine, and the Betfair Chase at Haydock remains a possibility. Tizzard would not be drawn on targets when saying: “He fell again at a similar stage as where he did before. We've got to get our head round all that. There's no reasoning. We've looked at the race and he was going as easily as anything when he fell. He was perfectly well this morning and trotted out absolutely fine.”

The race eventually went to Bristol De Mai, who fought off stable companion Blaklion. It was a record fifth win in the race for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, and he was as bullish as ever when talking of future targets for the winner. Speaking to Racing UK he said: “It will be the Betfair Chase next for Bristol De Mai. He should get his soft ground and he likes it there although he has run some good races on good ground as well. I think he is a very serious contender for the Gold Cup. When he ran in it last year the ground was a bit quick for him and he didn’t run his best race. If he jumps like he did on Saturday he will be right there at the finish.”

Over in Ireland, Our Duke was strongly fancied to win the JNwine.com Chase, but Jess Harrington’s young chaser ran a stinker, trailing home last in a race won by Outlander. He did scope badly after the race, with the trainer saying: “Our Duke is sound, he scoped wrong. He has done it once before. They took some bloods from him [on Sunday morning] and we'll now put him on antibiotics. I just don't know and I'm scratching my head. He was gone after the first fence.”

It was only his fifth run over fences, and a brave decision from Harrington to take on such experienced campaigners at this point in his development. It was left to the Gigginstown pair of Outlander and Road To Respect to fight out the finish, with Gordon Elliott’s nine-year-old bouncing back to form for the win. The Lexus Chase at Christmas will be a target for both, and a chance for Our Duke to bounce back to form.

Stoute, O’Brien and Brown set for Breeders’ Turf Showdown

Aidan O’Brien has been the dominant force in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Team Ballydoyle have won the race six times, with four of those victories coming in the past half-dozen years. Highland Reel was successful 12 months ago and is back for another crack. Sir Michael Stoute’s Conduit was the last horse to win back-to-back Turf’s, and the Newmarket trainer saddles Highland Reel’s main challenger, the vastly improved four-year-old Ulysses.

The race may be billed as a face-off between O’Brien and Stoute, or indeed the joint-favourites Highland Reel and Ulysses. But interestingly, the most successful jockeys in the Turf’s history happen to be Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore, with four wins apiece. The Italian picked up the ride on Ulysses, ensuring the pair have their own head-to-head in a battle for supremacy.

The leading protagonists have met a couple of times already this summer. Highland Reel impressed when winning the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes on fast ground over 10 furlongs. Ulysses was no match for him that day, though ran a solid race to finish third. They met again at Ascot but were unable to land a blow on the mighty filly Enable. Of the pair, it was Ulysses this time that came off best finishing runner-up, with HR a good way back in fourth. That was at 12 furlongs, but crucially in more testing conditions.

Highland Reel is a different beast on fast ground, though he needs to have recovered fully from his exertions on Champions Day, when finding Cracksman untouchable in testing ground. That was just a couple of weeks back, and though O’Brien has said that Moore looked after the colt once the chance of victory had gone, that’s not how I saw it. Struggling in fifth a furlong out, the five-year-old was ridden right to the line, finishing a gallant third. Many believe that he’ll remain a fresh horse having missed a couple of months prior to Ascot. Nevertheless, that run could easily have left its mark.

Ulysses on the other hand, has had a month off since a terrific third-place finish in the Arc. The ground had gone against him at Chantilly, yet he again travelled powerfully throughout and was one of the last off the bridle.

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There’s little to choose between the pair, and I’m finding it difficult to favour one over the other.

Yet again Chad Brown has a leading contender for a Breeders’ Cup race, with Beach Patrol looking the best of the home team. A consistent performer, the four-year-old has finished in the first three in nine of his 11 turf starts. He was a mightily impressive winner of the Joe Hirsch Classic last time, a race that has gone to several Breeders’ Cup turf winners in the past. That looked a career best performance, and with track, trip and ground to suit, he looks a realistic shot at 8/1.

At the beginning of the year I was sure that Seventh Heaven would prove herself an outstanding middle-distance performer. Sadly, she’s spent most of the summer off the track, and has only recently returned to action, latterly finishing down the field in the Arc. She’ll have her ground this time, though the sharpness of Del Mar is not ideal. I’m not sure she’s quite ready for this, though Aidan says she’ll improve plenty for the Chantilly run.

Though favourites again have a poor record, with just one win from the last 10, this remains a race that usually goes to a fancied contender. It looks like the top three in the betting have it between them. I find myself leaning towards Ulysses for Sir Michael. The four-year-old appears to be at the peak of his powers, and can get the better of Beach Patrol and Highland Reel in a thriller. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Rhododendron looks Blooming Lovely in the Filly & Mare

The Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf has proved rewarding for the European raiders over the years.

Queen’s Trust was successful 12 months ago, joining Dank, Midday, Ouija Board twice, Islington and Banks Hill, as winners from this side of ‘The Pond’. Sir Michael Stoute has won two of the last four and has three victories in total. He stands alongside Chad Brown as the most successful trainer in the race.

It’s something of a surprise that with the talent at his disposal Aidan O’Brien is yet to add his name to the roll of honour. Misty For Me came close in 2011, when having stumbled out the gate she spent much of the race in last place. L’Ancresse almost caused a 50/1 upset for the team in 2003 when getting to within a neck of Islington.

Saturday’s renewal sees last year’s top three lock horns once again. Sir Michael Stoute knows that the fast ground will be ideal for his returning heroine. Unfortunately for Queen’s Trust, the 1m1f trip, a furlong less than last year, on a trappy track like Del Mar, will certainly not. She needed every yard of last year’s mile and a quarter to get her nose ahead of Lady Eli, and it will take another Dettori masterclass to have the filly handy enough to successfully strike. She’ll be flying late-on, though maybe just too late.

Lady Eli is favourite to go one better this time. The track, trip and ground are all expected to suit this classy five-year-old, though it’s worth noting that favourites have a poor record in the race, with just a pair of wins from the last 10. She arrives off the back of a solid campaign, though rarely dazzles. She’s undoubtedly tough, and with everything seemingly in her favour, will take some beating.

In a year when little has gone wrong for Aidan O’Brien, he appears to have a major chance of finally landing the Filly & Mare, with the talented Rhododendron. She arrives relatively fresh having spent a part of the summer on the ‘easy list’. Her latest victory at Chantilly shows that she is back to something near her best, and with further improvement likely she should mount a huge challenge. She defeated her classy stablemate Hydrangea in France, on ground that would have been plenty soft enough. She was unlucky when runner-up in the Guineas back in May. And then ran into Enable when looking a non-stayer in the Oaks.

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Wuheida goes for Charlie Appleby, and the Godolphin filly is sure to find the trip and conditions to her liking. She was only just behind Rhododendron in France and prior to that ran a cracker in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. Appleby appears confident of a huge run, adding cheekpieces in the hope of extracting further improvement. She should go close, though I fancy she’ll just come-up short.

The ground will certainly suit the Roger Varian-trained Nezwaah, though I’m far from certain as to whether she has the class to win here. She was devastating in the Pretty Polly earlier in the season, though faces far tougher opposition this time. It wouldn’t surprise me if she put in a bold display.

Along with the favourite, Chad Brown has another interesting pair that look capable of springing a surprise at decent odds. Dacita and Grand Jete have been performing consistently well on the American circuit throughout the summer, though it’s the latter that I fancy could go close. Owned by Juddmonte and beautifully bred, Grand Jete was very unlucky not to win the Grade One Beverly D Stakes when trapped on the rail. She’s a powerful traveller and as a four-year-old may well have further improvement to come. With luck in running I think she’ll go close.

I’m taking on the favourite, and am hoping that Aidan O’Brien’s sensational season continues with a victory in this for Rhododendron. She’s a class act and looks sure to go close. Chad Brown has a great record in the race, though it’s his unfancied Grand Jete that I’ll be having a few quid on at 20s to run into a place. Best of luck to those having a punt. It looks a terrific renewal.

Breeders’ Cup – The Players

Just when you thought we’d done with the Flat and could now focus on the Jumps, along comes the Breeders’ Cup from Del Mar in California.

America’s two-day end of season jamboree has again attracted a wealth of talent from Europe, with Aidan O’Brien sending a battalion across the Atlantic in search of further Grade One success.

Our own Matt Bisogno (The Boss) set off in his private jet earlier in the week, and is no doubt working tirelessly from a sunbed on the Corona Del Mar Beach. It’s a meeting that Matt loves and Geegeez covers extensively.

For today’s piece I’ve decided to highlight the major players, both human and equine, in the hope of unearthing potential winners. It’s a tough gig, as we know very little about the American horses, and experience tells us that despite such a sizeable European raiding party, it will be the home team that remain dominant.

One of the most successful trainer’s in Breeders’ Cup history, is Californian handler Bob Baffert. He landed a pair at last year’s meet, including the outstanding Arrogate in the showpiece Breeders’ Cup Classic. That made it three on the trot in the Classic, and he has three leading contenders for Saturday’s renewal. Arrogate returns in hope of defending his crown, but Baffert also saddles the vastly improved Collected and the outstanding three-year-old West Coast.

Baffert said of the younger challenger: “He’s a horse that’s on the improve, he likes a mile-and-a-quarter, he deserves a shot. We know how tough these three-year-olds can be this time of the year.” The trainer’s trio of Classic winners were all aged three.

Baffert also has a tremendous record in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (dirt). With five victories over the years, he has another returning champ in Drefong. The four-year-old colt is a short-priced favourite to repeat the success of 12 months ago. He’s unbeaten in completed starts and will be ably assisted by the most successful jockey in Breeders’ Cup history, Mike Smith.

Smith landed a hat-trick at last year’s meeting, equalling his best haul from the 2013 event. He’s a jockey that is always in demand, and the horses he rides need a closer inspection from prospective punters. One that looks to have a great chance is Unique Bella in the Filly & Mare Sprint. This enormous three-year-old is by leading American stallion Tapit, out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, and is unbeaten this term. She truly is a huge beast and clearly immensely talented. The track may be a slight concern, though when she gets rolling she’s a sight to behold.

Aidan O’Brien lies third in the table of all-time most successful Breeders’ Cup trainers. He’s certainly not travelling light this year and will be hopeful of adding to his tally of 11 winners. He could get off to a great start with the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday. Happily and September are a talented duo, with the former a winner of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly last time. Personally, I fancy the latter to run a huge race on ground that she will love. I also believe that her physique (diminutive) will be better suited to the tight turns of the Del Mar track.

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Rhododendron must have a great chance of landing the Filly & Mare Turf for Team Ballydoyle. Her victory at Chantilly last time, shows that she is back to something near her best, and this 1m1f trip ought to be ideal. It looks a cracking renewal with Chad Brown’s Lady Eli a serious challenger.

Roly Poly is one of the unsung heroes of the squad and looks sure to run well in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Whilst Highland Reel aims to win back-to-back Turf’s with Ulysses and stablemate Seventh Heaven amongst the main rivals.

The aforementioned Chad Brown tends to get his fair share of winners. Just the one last year, followed on from a pair in 2015 and a treble in 2014. Lady Eli was chinned on the line in last year’s Filly & Mare, but has a furlong less to travel this time round. He also has Dacita and Grand Jete in the race, with both having claims at decent prices. I favour the latter, who is beautifully bred, and should be suited by both track and trip.

He also has a leading contender in the Juvenile Fillies Turf in Rushing Fall. Unbeaten in two starts, she was impressive last time at Keeneland, though will need to improve again if she is to defeat the Ballydoyle duo.
Wes Ward is well known to UK racefans, and though not prolific at the Breeders’ Cup, he does have the outstanding sprinter Lady Aurelia, entered in the Turf Sprint. The five-furlong trip around Del Mar should prove ideal and she’ll take some beating.

He also has interesting contenders in the Fillies Juvenile Turf and the Juvenile Turf. The filly is Ultima D, who at 25/1 is a relatively unconsidered challenger. Yet this daughter of Scat Daddy improved for a step-up in trip last time and has the speed to make her presence felt on this ‘trappy’ track. He saddles Hemp Hemp Hurray in the Juvenile Turf, a race he won in 2014 with Hootenanny. This fella also has plenty of speed and looks capable of out-running his odds of 20/1. Four European horses stand at the head of the betting, though I’d be keen to take them on.

Finally, a mention for World Approval who appears to be one of the home team’s ‘certainty’ of the gathering. He’s favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and was impressive last time when thumping Lancaster Bomber in the Woodbine Mile Stakes. Ribchester and Roly Poly should give him more to think about, though both have had hectic campaigns. Suedois could be interesting having won his last two starts at the trip. The ex-sprinter has the gears to trouble these, with O’Meara and Tudhope loving these foreign jaunts.

It’s sure to be a cracking spectacle at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable Flat racing season. Let’s hope that the European contingent land a few telling blows. And let’s all hope that Matt has a wonderful time on his ‘working vacation’ in California. Yeah, enjoy yourself Boss!

Record Breaking O’Brien is a Donny Dazzler

Doncaster played host to history in the making, as Aidan O’Brien broke Bobby Frankel’s record when landing the 26th Group One of the season in the Racing Post Trophy.

Saxon Warrior proved a worthy favourite when bravely fending off what had looked a race winning surge from the John Gosden-trained Roaring Lion. Ryan Moore had hit the front at the two-furlong mark, but looked set for the runner-up spot as Oisin Murphy swept past. As Gosden’s talented youngster wandered off a true line, it was Moore who galvanised his mount for a renewed effort, and as the line approached Saxon Warrior responded tenaciously.

O'Brien said of the winner: “He travelled very strong and Ryan gave him a brilliant ride. When John's horse went by him you thought he was beaten, but he found plenty and we're delighted. Ryan said he'd have no problem being a Guineas horse, so we could start off in that and go on, but there's plenty of stamina in his pedigree. I think he'll be comfortable at anything from a mile to a mile and a half. He's a very special horse, we think. He's done everything we've asked of him and he's only been a baby.”

Moore was also impressed, saying: “He's a beautiful horse and he gave me so much confidence the whole race. It wasn't going right, but he's very good and that's the difference - they're beautiful horses that are beautifully prepared. When the other horse came, I hadn't asked my lad a question.”

Saxon Warrior’s performance was understandably overshadowed by the history making trainer. O’Brien was modest as ever, though clearly thrilled with the achievement, when saying: “It's incredible. I'm so delighted for everyone, I'm thrilled. You just don't expect it, all you can do is your best. I feel so proud for everyone. It's a privilege to be working with such special people. We're in a very lucky position and we're a small link in a big chain.

“It is so hard to win Group Ones that I never expect it. We've just got a great team, that's at the heart of it. The lads (Coolmore trio of John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor) do a great job breeding and buying the horses and it is our job not to damage them. It's been a funny year really. A lot of horses have progressed and progressed. There were so many horses like that, it was unusual. A lot of very well-bred horses just got better and better.”

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The record had stood since 2003, and the master of Ballydoyle had come close on numerous occasions. But after a quick-fire opening to the 2017 campaign, O’Brien managed to maintain the momentum throughout, thanks to a stunning array of thoroughbred talent.

Churchill got the show on the road back in May when landing the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Just a day later it was the turn of Winter to prove herself the outstanding three-year-old filly at a mile, as she romped to victory in the 1000 Guineas. The pair went on to repeat the feat in Ireland at the end of May, ensuring that the race to 26 was well and truly on.

His Classic generation proved exceptional, especially the fillies. Along with the outstanding Winter, Roly Poly weighed in with vital Group One victories. And then came a late rattle from another dazzling duo in Rhododendron and Hydrangea.

But it is the dominance of the Juvenile division that truly sets O’Brien and the Ballydoyle Boys apart. In Clemmie and Happily they have a pair of Group One fillies with the potential to reign supreme at three. And then there’s the young colt’s U S Navy Flag and of course Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy winner Saxon Warrior.

Both past and present have been wonderfully glorious for all connected to the ‘Ballydoyle Bandwagon’. And with history now made, the future looks set to be just as triumphant.

O’Brien’s Doncaster Date with Destiny

Could Saturday prove to be Aidan O’Brien’s ‘date with destiny’ as he saddles four in a bid to capture the Racing Post Trophy and finally break Bobby Frankel’s record?

Currently standing on 25 top-level winners for the season, the Ballydoyle master is set to launch a powerful assault in search of the magic 26. With three victories from the past eight renewals, this is a race that O’Brien often targets with his elite juveniles. Camelot won in 2011, and in Saxon Warrior and The Pentagon he has a pair that currently head the market for next year’s Epsom Derby.

Favourite for tomorrow’s renewal is Saxon Warrior. He’s unbeaten in two starts, having landed a maiden at the Curragh, and then capturing the Group Two Beresford Stakes at Naas. That last victory came on soft ground, though he’s by Deep Impact and should appreciate a sounder surface. He’s a powerful looking youngster, with the size and scope to progress nicely in time. This race often goes to lightly raced juveniles, with favourites having an impressive recent record of seven wins from the last 10. Ryan Moore takes the ride.

The Pentagon appears to be the stable’s number two, though Seamie Heffernan makes a habit of winning on the supposed second-string. Off the track since July, his bare form is possibly a little shy of what is required to win this. He beat the Jim Bolger trained Theobald last time, and that colt has since been thrashed on two occasions. Moore clearly thinks Saxon Warrior is the better of the pair, and he may be right.

The markets suggest that Jim Bolger’s Verbal Dexterity is the main danger to Team Ballydoyle. His impressive victory in the Group One National Stakes last time looks to be the strongest piece of form. That success came on heavy ground, and there’s a danger that he was somewhat flattered by the inability of others to cope with conditions. His pedigree lacks the ‘wow factor’, and if the rain stays away I fancy he’ll be outgunned by one or more of O’Brien’s colts.

John Gosden has had another sensational campaign, and his Royal Lodge winner, Roaring Lion, looks a leading contender. He got the better of Aidan O’Brien’s Nelson on that occasion, despite finding Newmarket’s undulations a little unsettling. He’s a beautiful looking son of American stallion Kitten’s Joy, and though this is certainly his toughest assignment, he looks capable of a huge performance.

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Aidan’s Seahenge is another Group Two winner, having captured the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in September. He came up a little short in Group One company when third to another Ballydoyle colt, U S Navy Flag, in the Dewhurst a few weeks back. He’s certainly not without a chance, though it would be a surprise if he were the best of the Ballydoyle boys.

Jockey Andrea Atzeni is going for an incredible five Racing Post Trophy victories on the trot. He gets the leg-up on Martyn Meade’s Chilean. The youngster was an impressive winner of a listed event at Haydock last time. That came in testing conditions, and the form took something of a knock when the runner-up flopped at Pontefract earlier this week. Nevertheless, he has an exciting pedigree, being by Iffraaj out of a Duke Of Marmalade mare. The stallion’s standing was well advertised by Ribchester and Nathra in last week’s QEII. A drop of rain wouldn’t do his chances any harm, and at 14s he could be the each-way play.

Godolphin have supplemented Loxley, though the Charlie Appleby trained colt has only had one run in public. This gorgeous looking son of New Approach got going late, when dead-heating with a fair yardstick at Goodwood. He looked green that day, and though this race has favoured unexposed types, he’ll need to be far more streetwise to win. Nonetheless, that debut was full of promise, and connections clearly think plenty of him.

I fancy the ‘main man’ will get his record-breaking victory. Opposing O’Brien in juvenile Group One’s is a futile exercise. Saxon Warrior is beautifully bred and has the right kind of profile. I’m pretty sure that Roaring Lion will run a huge race, but at 14/1 I’ll take Chilean to hit the frame for each-way punters.

Up and at ’em – Irish Jumpers catch the eye

As National Hunt fans make their first pilgrimage to Cheltenham on Friday, we can be sure that the Jumps season is now well underway.

Sceau Royal, Yanworth, Finian’s Oscar and The New One have already opened their accounts and got our pulses racing. Tizzard, Henderson and Nicholls will be taking the wraps off their stable stars in the coming weeks, as Wetherby, Aintree, Haydock and Newbury all play host to exciting and prestigious meets.

But it’s to Ireland we will go for today’s piece, focusing on several eye-catchers that have already shown ‘star quality’ at this early stage of the campaign.

Petit Mouchoir is hardly a selection from leftfield, indeed he’s already favourite for the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham next March. Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me not to mention his stunning debut over fences at Punchestown last week. This fella was high-class over hurdles, finishing third in the Champion Hurdle and rated in the low 160s. His transition to the larger obstacles was seamless. Slick and virtually foot-perfect throughout, he was never asked a question by Davy Russell as he pulled effortlessly clear of a talented and ‘match-fit’ Brelade, to win by seven-lengths. He has a high cruising speed and makes a lovely shape over his fences. I thought he looked a potential star.

Another Gigginstown inmate who looks sure to have a productive winter is Road To Respect. Trained by Noel Meade, this six-year-old continues on a steep upward curve, and won the Irish Daily Star Chase at Punchestown last week, despite jumping out to his left throughout. Stepping up in trip for the 3m1f contest, he defeated plenty of useful staying chasers including Sub Lieutenant and Minella Rocco. He finished the race powerfully and as a relative youngster, should have a fair amount of improvement to come. It’s always tough to judge just how ‘tuned-up’ these stayers are for their seasonal bow, but nevertheless, this was an impressive performance, and he’s sure to prove more effective going left-handed.

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Death Duty is yet another exciting Gigginstown six-year-old, and has already landed a couple of novice chase events despite us only being in October. He had a terrific campaign over hurdles, though ultimately came up just shy of the best. However, he always looked likely to improve when sent chasing and that appears the case. I felt his debut at Tipperary was a scrappy affair, and he looked awkward at several obstacles. However, his second effort at Punchestown was much better, as he tanked along jumping impeccably throughout. That win came at 2m2f, which appears a little short, though he’s a free going sort who loves to get on with things. Two and a half miles may be as far as he needs at this point of his career.

Connections also look to have a very exciting young hurdler in the undefeated five-year-old Samcro. He’s one of the latter crop of youngsters from the National Hunt Stallion Germany (died 2013, also responsible for Faugheen), out of a Saddler’s Hall mare. Yet another trained by Gordon Elliott, he’s a powerful traveller and a beautiful mover. He’s very much in the mould of Faugheen and could prove to be top class. He won his hurdles debut with the minimum of fuss, tanking along throughout, before cruising clear to win by 15 lengths. He looks a beast.

Another youngster that made an eye-catching debut over hurdles was the juvenile Espoir D’Allen. By Voix Du Nord (yet another cracking NH Stallion no longer with us), he’s owned by JP McManus and trained by Gavin Cromwell. The same connections have had a great time with Jer’s Girl, and this ex-French inmate looks another useful recruit. A little untidy at times over his obstacles, he remained full of running through the line and looks to have a bright future. JP McManus farms high-class hurdlers, so this fella needs to be watched.

Finally, a mention for Gordon Elliott’s talented young filly Fayonagh, who tragically lost her life on the gallops yesterday. The Champion Bumper winner had won five of her six career starts, including a pair at Grade One level. Just a couple of weeks back she won her hurdling debut and all looked set for a thrilling campaign. Elliott and his team will be gutted.

Churchill Classic bid and Marsha doubt as Breeders ‘ Cup Pre-Entries Announced

Pre-entries for the 34th Breeders’ Cup were announced today. The two-day event, to be staged for the first time in Del Mar, north of San Diego, has attracted a record 36 European entries. The previous best was 30 in 2009, when Europe came away with six winners, also a record haul.

Predictably, Aidan O’Brien plans to send the largest party, his team of 14 headed by Churchill. The dual Guineas winner will most likely line up in the Classic, though he also has a second preference in the Mile. He’s joined on the plane by fellow Group 1 scorers Happily, U S Navy Flag, Rhododendron, Roly Poly, Seventh Heaven and Highland Reel.

Discussing his hopes, O’Brien said, “They’re all in good form. There’s a big chance Churchill will go for the Classic. Like Giant’s Causeway [O’Brien’s unlucky Classic second], he’s a miler you hope will get ten furlongs. He’s a big powerful colt so I’m hopeful he’ll act on the dirt. He’s certainly made like a dirt horse”.

British trainers Sir Mark Prescott and George Scott are also represented among the pre-entries with Marsha and James Garfield respectively.

Prescott was pessimistic about his Group 1-winning filly handling the tight inner turf track in the Turf Sprint, saying, “We took her to Chelmsford this morning, and she went OK, but wasn’t that tight around the turn. She’s improved since she won around the likes of Catterick and, now she’s got faster, I’m not sure she’ll go around the turn”.

Marsha has not raced around a bend since beaten at Dundalk in October 2015.

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Scott was more optimistic about his charge in the Juvenile Turf, relating, “James [Garfield] should handle fast ground. He was quite workmanlike at home but did a bit of work before the Mill Reef that marked him out as a smart horse. Although his best form is at six furlongs, Frankie Dettori [who rides] tells me you need a six furlong horse to win the mile race”.

Hugo Palmer was excited about the likelihood of Home Of The Brave getting a run in the Mile. First reserve but with a number above him expressing the Mile as their second preference, the Godolphin colt will be unlucky not to make the cut. He wasn't really comfortable on the downhill track in the Turf Sprint at Santa Anita last year, and his trainer was quick to point out the form boost Suedois gave his runner.

"He shipped well last year so we've no worries on that score, and I'm excited about how much weight he still has on. He's really held his condition this season".

The pre-entries are determined by senior international handicappers from the longlist of provisional entries. The final declaration stage, and post position draw, will take place next Monday in Del Mar.

Racing Post Trophy – Greedy Atzeni Aims for Five In A Row

In recent years, the easiest way of landing the Group One Racing Post Trophy is to book Andrea Atzeni to ride.

He’s been aboard the last four winners, each time riding for a different trainer. Kingston Hill proved classiest of the quartet, finishing second in the Epsom Derby, before winning the St Leger back at Doncaster. He also ran a cracker that year to finish fourth in the Arc at Longchamp.

The Racing Post Trophy usually goes to a juvenile that is likely to get a fair bit further at three, often becoming prominent in the betting for the Epsom Derby. The final Group One of the British Flat racing season has gone to several outstanding types since its inception in 1961.

Sir Henry Cecil is the most successful trainer in the prestigious event’s relatively short history. Reference Point was his standout winner when romping to a five-length success in the race then known as the William Hill Futurity, back in 1986. He opened his account at three with victory in the Dante Stakes, before the bold front-runner powered his way to success in the Derby at Epsom. He went on to take the King George, the Great Voltigeur and then the St Leger back at Doncaster. He disappointed in his final career start in the Arc, but was found to be lame after the race.

Aidan O’Brien has had plenty of success and will be throwing everything at Saturday’s renewal with the Bobby Frankel record in his sights. In 2001, the outstanding High Chaparral landed the Racing Post Trophy on his third career start. Considered to be Ballydoyle’s second-string, he beat the more fancied stablemate Castle Gandolfo by less than a length.

Having taken a pair of trials at the start of his three-year-old campaign he headed to Epsom as second-favourite to stable companion Hawk Wing. The pair had the race to themselves, and once again it was High Chaparral that got the better of a more fancied member of the team. He followed Epsom with victory in the Irish Derby, then after a long absence managed a creditable third in the Arc. He ended his three-year-old season with a stunning success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He was to return to America at four, and in one of the most thrilling finishes in Breeders’ Cup history, dead-heated with Johar in the ‘Turf’ with Falbrav a head back in third.

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Motivator for Michael Bell and Authorized for Peter Chapple-Hyam both took the Racing Post Trophy as juveniles before returning at three to win the Dante on the way to Epsom glory in the Derby.

The last horse to tread a similar path was another Ballydoyle inmate, the wonderfully talented Camelot. An impressive winner of the Racing Post at Doncaster in 2011, he was made a short-priced favourite for the following year’s Derby. However, Aidan O’Brien announced that he would first target the Guineas at Newmarket.

He duly arrived at Newmarket as favourite for the 2000 Guineas, and in a thrilling finish defeated French Fifteen by a neck. An odds-on favourite to take the Derby, the result was never in doubt, as he stormed clear to land Epsom’s showpiece by five lengths. It was a devastating performance from a wonderful colt. After victory in the Irish Derby, Camelot was given a break and prepared for an attempt at the Triple-Crown. An odds-on favourite for the St Leger, the race failed to go as planned. Trapped on the rail, he gave valuable lengths to Godolphin’s Encke and was unable to peg back the winner.

As mentioned earlier in the piece, Atzeni has won the last four renewals of Racing Post Trophy, though only Kingston Hill truly made a mark as a three-year-old. The jockey will look for his fifth straight win on Saturday when partnering the Martyn Meade trained Chilean. It’s sure to prove a high-class renewal, with Ballydoyle likely to send a small battalion in search of the record breaking Group One success. The winner will likely be installed as favourite for the following year’s Derby and hope to emulate illustrious winners of past Racing Post Trophy’s.

Cracksman Shines Brightest on a Grey Day

It was a case of ‘like father like son’, as Cracksman provided the show-stopping performance of Champions Day 2017, to capture the Champion Stakes.

So often during his illustrious career we witnessed Frankel powering clear of the opposition, winning his races by a country-mile. And so, what a thrill to see Cracksman mimic his ‘old man’ at Ascot yesterday. It wasn’t always that way for Gosden’s talented colt, but this late season version has packed on the power and is able to maintain a relentless gallop despite testing conditions.

The question is whether he possesses the gears to be as effective on a sounder surface, but there’s no doubting that he is a machine in the mud.

Frankie Dettori had him tucked in behind the leaders in the early stages yesterday, but on turning for home the jockey struck-out for glory. Cracksman immediately put lengths between himself and the field, and with stamina aplenty powered clear in devastating fashion. He hit the line a yawning seven lengths clear of Poet’s Word, with Highland Reel third.

“He’s improved through the year and grown up a lot,” said a thrilled John Gosden. “If he was a middleweight earlier in the season, he is a light heavyweight now. He's really progressed and to do this against older horses, he's a fast-improving horse.”

Dettori was completing a stunning Champions Day double, and said of Cracksman: “I’m thrilled for everyone. It’s Frankel’s first Group One [in Europe], my first Champion Stakes, a lot of firsts and a great performance. The Champion Stakes is a colossal race, my father came close, I came close a couple of times, it’s been bugging me a long time to put it to bed with a great performance.”

He went on: “I didn’t expect Persuasive to win, I didn’t sleep very well because of Cracksman, I really felt the horse was in tip-top shape. When the rain came I was delighted because I knew it would make it a test of stamina, the headwind helped because it makes it even harder to get to the end, it stacked up towards my side, but the horse still had to deliver, and he did. I’m made up.”

When asked of next season’s selection dilemma, Dettori added: “To have Enable and Cracksman in the same year, well done John Gosden, he’s a genius. We’ll tackle the bridge next year. It’s Cracksman’s day today, let him have the glory!”

It proved to be a sensational day for Gosden and Dettori. They caused something of an upset earlier in the day, when Persuasive swooped late to take the QEII. Ribchester had looked the likely winner at the two-furlong pole, when moving stylishly to the front. But he began to flounder in the testing ground and approaching the furlong mark Dettori launched an attack aboard the grey filly. She handled conditions better than the rest for a huge victory, with Ribchester and Churchill chasing her home.

Thrilled, though clearly surprised to have won, Dettori said: “To be honest, looking at the line-up I thought God, she'll have to run well as there were Group One winners all over the place. But the key thing was that she had got the ground.”

Gosden said of the winning filly: “He (Frankie) was saving and saving, trying to keep her together. He went for a run on the inside and got blocked, so had to take her back and swing out. She'd have been an unlucky loser. When she got out she flew down the middle of the track.”

Richard Fahey, trainer of runner-up Ribchester, cursed the ground for the defeat: “It's deja vu, the ground has beaten him again. He's a horse that's won on soft ground, but he's such a good moving horse. William (Buick) felt he came there to win and win well and he just gets blunted in the dead ground. He just doesn't put it to bed and the winner coped with the conditions better. That's twice he's been beaten in desperate conditions.”

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A successful Champions Day is the icing on the cake for Gosden, having had a glorious 2017 campaign. The firepower at his disposal can only be surpassed by one other trainer. And many Flat racing fans had arrived at Ascot in the hope of seeing Aidan O’Brien break Bobby Frankel’s Group One winning tally. Team Ballydoyle have yet again set the standard for others to follow, and though Caravaggio and Churchill came mighty close, it was another outstanding filly that gave them the Group One success they so desperately sought.

Hydrangea, like Cracksman, is another talented racehorse from a Pivotal mare, and as such had no problem coping with the testing ground. The issue was whether she would see-out the trip, having never previously attempted the mile and a half. When French filly Bateel loomed large at the furlong pole, Hydrangea’s stamina was put to the test, and she responded admirably to Ryan Moore’s urgings. Pulling out plenty for pressure, she battled on bravely to win by two-lengths.

On drawing level with the record, O'Brien said: “It's incredible for everyone, they all put in so much hard work, day in day out. We're a small link in a big chain and I'm delighted for everyone, it's a magic, special day. She's by Galileo and they will not stop, their will to win is incredible. She pulled out more and it was Ryan's idea to run her as he thought there was a chance she'd get the trip. We weren't sure, but she did.”

Moore echoed the thoughts of his trainer, when saying: “What Aidan O'Brien has done this year is remarkable and it is a massive team effort. Everyone who looks after these horses, they put in so much time. The filly has been on the go all year and has got better and better. I thought she had a good chance. I'm delighted for Aidan.”

O’Brien also landed the opener, when Order Of St George produced a battling performance to take the Long Distance Cup. He needed every yard of the straight to get his nose ahead of Jess Harrington’s Torcedor. John Gosden’s well-fancied three-year-old Stradivarius, produced another performance full of promise in finishing strongly to take third. He remains a young horse with a huge future.

Harry Angel’s Ascot hoodoo continued when he made it 0-4 at the track in the Champions Sprint Stakes. He’d travelled wonderfully well through the race, but possibly struck for home a little early at the two-pole. The writing was on the wall as he entered the final furlong, with Tasleet attacking to his right and Librisa Breeze to his left. As Harry crumbled it was Dean Ivory’s grey Librisa, that found plenty for pressure, pulling a length clear of Tasleet at the post. Caravaggio got going too late, but managed to pip Harry A for third.

Winning jockey Robert Winston told ITV Racing: “It means a hell of a lot. My career was finished, only for this horse, and that's being honest. I was packing up last year, I gave my notice to Dean, but this horse and Mr Bloom have kept me going. Dean is a great man to ride for, he has great staff and brilliant owners, including Mr Bloom.” Of the winner, Winston added: “He'd get a mile-plus, but has so much natural speed and is so genuine. I know I have been criticised a couple of times this year when he should have won, but that's the way you have to ride him.”

For Ivory, a winner on Champions Day was clearly a huge thrill: “I could not believe it. The ground and everything went right for us. He has been off a long time, seven weeks, and he has been so unlucky this year. We have got the luck when it mattered. That was the hardest field in the last 10 years and to come out and do it like that, I'm thrilled. He is a horse that has never had a clean run. This year is his year and I've seen him grow into a proper horse. Robert Winston believes in the horse as much as we do.”

The final race of the day went to yet another grey, when Lord Glitters came with a thrilling late rattle to nab Europe’s most valuable handicap, the Balmoral. Stuck out the back with nowhere to go, Daniel Tudhope switched the David O’Meara trained four-year-old to the wide outside with just a furlong remaining. In the clear, he thundered home, hitting the line a neck ahead of yet another Gosden runner, Gm Hopkins.

It was a suitably thrilling finale to an exhilarating Champions Day.

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