The prize money may not be there, but thanks to sensible planning by the major European authorities, since racing resumed, the races and the horses assuredly have been, writes Tony Stafford. Over the past weekend, Enable and Magical put in typically dominating performances at the top level.
These two mares, respectively the greatest and arguably the nearest to her in terms of achievement and durability, each took home yet another Group 1 prize, brushing aside the opposition. Small fields do not normally excite the senses but in each case the clock told the tale. Enable in outclassing the 2019 Irish Derby winner Sovereign to gain her third King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, won in six seconds faster time than the ten-runner handicap later in the day. On Sunday, Magical’s time was three seconds faster than a hotly-contested premier handicap as she collected the Tattersalls Gold Cup in a canter, making all the running.
Enable now has 14 wins from 17 starts with eleven (count them!) Group 1’s to her credit at the age of six. Since over-turning the odds-on Rhododendron by five lengths in the Investec Oaks three years ago, only two horses have beaten her, Waldgeist in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and the brilliant Ghaiyyath when she made her seasonal debut in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown three weeks ago. Only once in the intervening period has she started at odds-against, 5-4 when winning her first King George as a three-year-old.
The John Gosden-trained daughter of Nathaniel missed much of the 2018 season, returning to take advantage of a once-only descent into Group 3 company for the September Stakes on the all-weather at Kempton. Enable also benefited from an 8lb pull that day from the penalised Crystal Ocean, easily beating Sir Michael Stoute’s horse, who was to get within a neck of her on normal Group 1 conditions, receiving only the 3lb sex allowance, in last year’s King George.
Now all that remains is a fourth attempt at the Arc. It was a surprise when she was caught late on last October by Waldgeist, but the French-trained son of Galileo had been close behind the first two in the King George a couple of months earlier, so it didn’t need too much of a form adjustment. Emotionally, though, it was a shock of seismic proportions, but rightly it did nothing to change either the public or professional acclaim in which Enable is held.
Magical, meanwhile, has raced more often than Enable, and as the very shrewd Jane Mangan asserted on Racing TV yesterday, she would have been a world champion if Enable hadn’t been around. Magical was only fifth in Waldgeist’s Arc, confirming as if it were necessary, that a mile and a half sometimes stretches her. Ten furlongs, as again she showed yesterday, is her optimum and the domestic Group 1 races in Ireland are more plentiful at that distance.
Yesterday’s Curragh opposition had no answer from the moment Wayne Lordan launched her into the lead and it was left to Derby hero Emmet McNamara to come through for second on Sir Dragonet. The beaten 2019 Derby favourite hasn’t won since his easy Chester Vase victory the month before Epsom, but he ran on nicely to suggest more good races will be within his grasp.
That was also the message sent out at Ascot by Sovereign, who stuck to the task when Enable surged past, while the more-fancied Japan, the only other runner, toiled home well behind for Ryan Moore.
Five times Enable and Magical have met, and each time Enable has beaten her year-younger rival. Their first confrontation was in the 2018 Arc when Magical was only tenth, but she surpassed that with a battling three-quarter length second to the champion in the Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares race at Churchill Downs the following month.
That margin was replicated in last year’s Coral-Eclipse but stretched to almost three lengths in the Juddmonte at York before the second attempt at an Arc. After yesterday’s success, Aidan O’Brien said that next month’s Juddmonte is a possible target for Magical, with the Irish Champion as an option if he decides to give her a break over the summer.
I have been very excited by both Sovereign’s runs this year. Absent for 363 days since his spread-eagling 33-1 win in last year’s Irish Derby, he was an eye-opening third to the very talented Twilight Payment over 1m6f at The Curragh, atypically dropped right out at the back of the field and staying on stylishly into third under minimal encouragement from Seamie Heffernan.
On Saturday he reverted to a mile and a half and front-running tactics. Before the race I preferred his chance of bustling up Enable to that of Japan, for all that the latter colt hadn’t been beaten too far when third in the Coral-Eclipse. Sovereign looks a tough performer ready to step up, possibly over further but he’s quick enough to stay at Saturday’s distance too.
That stamina option has already been chosen for this year’s Irish Derby winner Santiago, who was the 2-1 favourite for the Classic but now steps up to two miles to challenge the reigning champion stayer, Stradivarius, as John Gosden aims Enable’s fellow six-year-old at a fourth successive win in the Goodwood Cup.
Intriguingly, Stradivarius made his first successful foray into Group company when winning the Queen’s Vase over a mile and three-quarters on his previous start to Goodwood. Gosden has plotted his course wisely since, in 2018 and 2019 collecting £1 million bonuses for owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen for the selected four-timer of Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup and Lonsdale Stakes, a promotion by Weatherbys Hamilton that understandably has been discontinued.
Stradivarius has not been unbeatable in that time, falling victim to three O’Brien-trained stayers in Capri (2017 St Leger), and Order Of St George and Kew Gardens in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in 2017 and last year. His latest defeat was his third to Ghaiyyath and Anthony Van Dyck in the re-sited Coronation Cup at Newmarket, a fine effort over that inadequate trip. The race set him up nicely for his ten-length demolition of Nayef Road at Royal Ascot as he completed a Gold Cup hat-trick last month, possibly his best-ever performance.
Now, though, Stradivarius faces another O’Brien challenge and on 2lb worse terms than he was able to meet Big Orange and the rest three years ago. I have always understood that over time Admiral Rous’s weight-for-age scale was being inexorably altered and modified in favour of the older horses, partly to encourage owners to keep their good horses in training in their maturity, but also because it has long seemed so one-sided in favour of the Classic generation.
Yet here we have the sole three-year-old getting 15lb and on the way he finished at Ascot in the Queen’s Vase, you’d have to conclude he must be a major threat tomorrow. Certainly it was a great performance to drop back a quarter-mile to win the Irish Derby, and in relation to that race, I can’t wait to see runner-up Tiger Moth in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood on Thursday. His price of 5-1 would look very tempting if he shows up.
We’re getting brilliant entertainment as racing post Covid-19 gradually opens up. I haven’t tried to get either a press or owner’s pass to go anywhere yet, nor will I go to Goodwood on the first “public” day on Saturday, there being at least 5,000 people more deserving of a ticket than me. But there has been so much to enjoy from the sofa and, like the Sky Sports Racing team, I especially enjoyed the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes 1-3 yesterday at Ascot of David Loughnane with Santosha and Caroline Dale.
He trains in Shropshire at Helshaw Grange which was once the base for Richard Kent who is now a few miles away at Mickley Stud. For a short time I had a share with Richard in the stallion Contract Law. I would imagine that from being a stud farm to turning it into a training centre with capacity for 60 horses has meant quite a transformation. Loughnane is clearly a young trainer going places.