Getting up early is more of a bind in these dark winter mornings but there was a point to it yesterday with the multi-million-pound offerings on Hong Kong’s day of the year, writes Tony Stafford. The Vase (mile and a half) and the Cup (ten furlongs) were, as usual, the highlights and, while Magical couldn’t quite get there in the Cup – instead finishing a close and as ever valiant – third, Ryan Moore and Mogul did the business for Aidan O’Brien and Coolmore when turning the Vase into a rout.
The son of Galileo (who else) and the equally-sought-after broodmare Shastaye had three lengths to spare over smart local and odds-on shot, Exultant, a 13-time winner, 11 since leaving Ireland’s shores as a Mick Halford-trained three-year-old.
It is almost uncanny how much Mogul’s career is echoing that of his stable predecessor Highland Reel and there can be little doubt that health and fitness permitting, the former will be the most obvious successor to the latter’s role as a world-wide Group 1-collecting money-machine.
Highland Reel stayed in training for four seasons, winning twice at two and three times at three, culminating in, guess what, a nice win from the previous year’s Andre Fabre-trained winner Flintshire in the 2015 Hong Kong Vase. Two years later he won it again, with a close second in the intervening season. Four campaigns brought him seven wins and easily the highest-ever earnings for a son of Galileo, more than £7.5 million.
Mogul, like Highland Reel, won twice at two, but whereas Highland Reel had already tucked away his three runs – a second and two wins: a maiden and then the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood by the end of July – Mogul didn’t start his career until mid-August; but the pattern was similar. He was second on debut, won a maiden, and then third time out was odds-on and a fluent winner of a Group 2 on the Irish Champion Stakes undercard.
The one divergence from the matching juvenile programmes was that Mogul was lined up for one extra race, the Group 1 Vertem Futurity at Doncaster. In all likelihood that race’s postponement for almost a week because Doncaster had become waterlogged was not in Mogul’s favour. It was switched to the all-weather Tapeta track at Newcastle and Mogul, ridden by Donnacha O’Brien with Moore engaged at the Breeders’ Cup, finished fourth to Kameko. He had been as close as disputing second coming home but got the worst of a three-horse Coolmore photo for that place, behind Innisfree and Year Of The Tiger, two clearly inferior animals.
Neither horse managed to win a Classic. Highland Reel had three goes - a close sixth in the French 2,000 Guineas, second to New Bay in the Prix Du Jockey Club, and fifth to Jack Hobbs in the Irish Derby. So it was a full year without a win when he made his second trip to Glorious Goodwood and collected the Gordon Stakes, another Group 2 en route to a more exhausting test of his temperament for long-haul travelling when landing the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes on the turf at Arlington Park, Chicago. Two more non-wins followed before that first Hong Kong Vase at the end of the year.
Mogul’s Classic aspirations were also just as frustrating. O’Brien admitted not having him anywhere near ready after an early training setback and amidst all the Covid-19 upheavals, when he turned up at Royal Ascot for the King Edward VII Stakes which preceded the delayed-until-July Derby rather than the usual way around. He still seemed a little under-cooked when, as Ryan Moore’s ride at Epsom, he was one of the fast finishers that failed to get anywhere near stablemate Serpentine and the other always-prominent outsiders in that mystifying Classic. After that, in precisely the same way as Highland Reel, much better was to follow.
Mogul, too, went to Goodwood and won a very strong Gordon Stakes and then, after finishing third in the Great Voltigeur at York, as at Ascot behind Pyledriver, he also went overseas (but not as far as Highland Reel) to pick up his first Group 1 in the Grand Prix de Paris. That day he impressively overturned Derby form with Serpentine.
Then followed a modest fifth, three places and two lengths behind Magical when very fast ground and the tight Keeneland track were not ideal, especially after a slow start, in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Yesterday’s exhilarating performance though means he’s probably a few pounds higher in class terms than Highland Reel was at the same stage.
As a full-brother to Japan it was never a shock that Mogul should cost a fortune as a yearling, although 3.4million guineas might have been rather more than the boys expected to pay. When the pair’s full-sister showed up at this year’s Tattersall’s October Book 1 sale, again there would be few possible buyers. Once again M V Magnier put in the closing bid for Coolmore and amazingly for a filly, it matched the price of her illustrious older brother.
As I said at the top, Mogul, with five wins, is a good way along the road to becoming a latter-day clone of Highland Reel, but probably with pretensions to being higher-class. That said, Highland Reel won a Coronation Cup, a King George and a Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, three races of the highest international prestige, along with those overseas victories, so he won’t be easily out-performed. I get the feeling, though, that Mogul is that little bit classier and possibly a more obvious higher-end stallion prospect for the future, so whether he’ll be allowed to go on racing for quite as long might be another question.
It was interesting to hear that Aidan O’Brien would be delighted if the amazing Magical was to be kept in training for yet another year in 2021. She may never have beaten Enable in their multiple tilts on the track over the past three years but she did get a verdict over the 2020 Horse of the Year Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes back in September, the only horse to beat the Charlie Appleby star in the calendar year. She is still poised close to £5m in earnings, needing another £125,000 to reach that mark after 12 wins (six at Group 1) and ten second or third places in a 28-race career.
There was some high-grade jumping at Cheltenham over the two previous days but it was a source of great irritation that Saturday’s big race, the Unibet International Hurdle, was reduced by three hurdles to only five. This Grade 2 event was widely seen as the first real test of Goshen’s chance of wresting the Champion Hurdle from the mare Epatante since his unfortunate last-flight fall with the Triumph Hurdle at his mercy back in March.
It’s not a secret that in mid-December as if by a fluke the sun happens to make an appearance, that it will be low in the sky by 3 p.m., the time of this race. Bizarrely, there was one more hurdle race run after the Unibet and with the sun by now setting, this had a full complement of hurdles.
In the big race though they had to plot a serpentine route through and between the hurdles and fences, twice down and then twice up a hill. Last time round, a group of nine without only Goshen, who was never travelling or jumping, set off with only a few lengths between them. By now Jamie Moore had already eased off Goshen allowing him to coast past the post.
The winner was yet another for Tom Symonds. The Hereford-based handler’s ex-French gelding Song For Someone maintained his progress to win for the sixth time in 12 starts, with another five placed efforts to boot. There will be worse-value 20-1 shots, his price in Champion Hurdle ante-post lists, than this Flat-bred five-year-old son of Medicean.
Symonds had gone through a lean spell after an initial bright start to his training career. He had 22 winners in the third of his ten seasons, but had got nowhere near that number in the following six campaigns, having previously been joint assistant trainer – with Ben Pauling – to Nicky Henderson.
They were in those roles at the time of the Punjabi/ Binocular rivalry within Seven Barrows: when the two lined up in the 2009 Champion, Tom was on the Punjabi side in opposition to Ben and Corky Brown, the revered head lad, both of whom favoured Binocular. Both sides were to enjoy their Champion Hurdle winner and, overall, even Punjabi’s biggest fans (like who?) will have to admit that Binocular probably shaded it. It’s great that, with 20 wins already and a renaissance since former trainer David Dennis moved across to join forces (and provide additional equine ammunition) with Tom at the start of the season, he’s definitely going places.
There was a feasible explanation after the race for Goshen’s disappointing effort as he was found to have finished with an irregular heartbeat. He won’t be the first horse – Sprinter Sacre for example – to have that medical issue to overcome. While that great chaser was to rise again pretty much back to his absolute best, Gary Moore and Goshen’s owners will always have the thought that any physical weakness in a horse is an extra worry especially with championship races in mind.