By Tony Stafford
At this stage of the 2014 season, we’d had the Arc and all the major domestic two-year-old action including the Dewhurst, won by Belardo – whatever happened to him? Golden Horn, the best of the three-year-olds hadn’t even been sighted at that stage apart from on the gallops, his Nottingham debut win coming this week a year ago.
Gleneagles, harshly demoted from the Lagardere, has done nothing wrong since, winning a 2,000 Guineas that might have translated into even more than the Irish 2,000 and St James’s Palace. He, though, has been as unlucky with the ground conditions for his later possible objectives as Golden Horn has been favoured with the elements and by the Leopardstown stewards.
That said, Golden Horn’s catalogue of wins and John Gosden’s handling of them makes impressive reading – enough to deserve Horse of the Year status. If Gleneagles wins on Saturday at Ascot then maybe the perceived margin between the pair might be narrowed for purposes of historic record.
As you all know, I like a lengthy preamble, and often it disguises the actual tenor of what I’m saying. I’m just glad I waited till Monday for the Arc stuff, as events over the past two days at Newmarket, and before that three days of Book 1 of the Tattersall’s October yearling sales, have been a reaffirmation of the established order.
On Friday Minding (by Galileo), who previously beat Ballydoyle and Alice Springs, both also by the king of sires, in the Moyglare (Group 1) at the Curragh, romped away with the Fillies’ Mile prompting Ryan Moore, not only to smile, but afford Lydia Hislop a walking post-race interview which gave away his excitement of what he’d just experienced.
Whisper it, but it seems Ryan thinks Minding the best filly he’d ever ridden. Twenty-four hours later, watching from Chepstow where Cousin Khee’s troublesome feet spoiled the day, Ryan was again to the fore, this time on Air Force Blue. Later, trainer Aidan O’Brien suggested the War Front colt was the best two-year-old they’d ever had after this Dewhurst explosion.
Meanwhile Emotionless, trying to track the winner from the back half of the select field, trailed home last. Two cantering lower-grade wins did not really match up to Air Force Blue’s dual Group 1 credentials, and while one horse sprinted through the final furlong, the other tamely ebbed away.
It’s often best to allow horses a single defeat, but this looked almost capitulation, and it’s difficult to see how he can come back, especially with the high expectations held before the race. The obvious conclusion is that it will be hard to stop another Guineas double for Ireland next spring, and while David Wachman and Legatissimo were needed to step up to secure the 1,000 in Michael Tabor’s colours this time round, Aiden looks to have his name back on the trophies again.
It’s more than 40 years now since the youthful John Magnier accompanied his father-in-law, the late great Vincent O’Brien and the Ballydoyle stable’s biggest owner Robert Sangster as they tried to corner the market in prime examples of the wonderful, but albeit unfashionably small – 15.2hh - Northern Dancer from the Keeneland sales in Kentucky.
Among those that ended up in Europe were Lyphard, who raced for the Head family, and Nureyev, for Greek ship owner Stavros Niarchos, both in France, and the Ballydoyle trio Nijinsky, Storm Bird and Sadler’s Wells.
Of the quintet, Nijinsky, the last Triple Crown winner before Golden Horn this year, was the best and possibly in terms of racecourse ability, Sadler’s Wells the least talented, but as the sire who won a record 14 British sire championships, he has had the most influence on the breed as father above all of Galileo among many others.
Galileo in turn produced Teofilo, New Approach and Frankel and as usual dominated events at Park Paddocks during the week, although the unbeaten Frankel’s first crop took plenty of attention. The up and down nature of the prices paid for his sons and daughters indicated less than 100 per cent approval from the always-vigilant insiders.
Danzig, another son of Northern Dancer, is right up there as a top-class producer of stallions. His son Danehill started out with the expectation of being a potential provider of sprinter/milers, but the inspired buying into him by Coolmore during the 1990’s took him into the elite Derby-winning sire club when mated with smart stamina-laden Coolmore mares.
Recently-deceased Green Desert is another towering example of Danzig sires influencing the breed with such as Oasis Dream. But it was from what I believe was Danzig’s final crop that the horse who will possibly become best of all his many sons at stud was born.
Step up War Front. Like his sire soundness problems limited his achievements, although he did win four times in a 12-race career including at Grade 2. Danzig won all three of his races for Henryk de Kwiatkowski without running outside allowance company before knee problems ended his track career.
It was in the November before his first crop took to the track that I uttered the fateful words “I don’t have one”. This reply was to the suggestion by Henryk, who was at Keeneland buying mares to mate with his Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo, a flop as a stallion: “I have another stallion, Danzig. If you have a mare, you can send her to him for free!” It was probably the silliest answer I’ve ever provided in a long life of might-have-beens.
As with Danehill, John Magnier and presumably his ever more influential son MV – no naming accident there – identified War Front’s potential and got in just about on the ground floor. Already twice sire of a Dewhurst winner – War Command preceded Air Force Blue two years ago - he now has two sons on the Coolmore roster, War Command and Declaration of War. They help provide an extra element in that farm’s “all-kinds-of-stallion-for-all-kinds-of-people” policy, even if they haven’t quite expressed it that way in their promotional literature.
Until Air Force Blue, the sons of War Front had been characterised as needing fast ground, but both at The Curragh when he collected the National Stakes, possibly to Aidan’s slight surprise, and at Newmarket, he has consigned the going issue to history, albeit with the expectation of better to come on fast ground.
Now we have to consider where the potential threats will come next spring. Godolphin are the perennial adversaries, and their aggressive buying last week shows they are still fighting valiantly to stem the Ballydoyle hordes. But John Ferguson will have been shocked when Coolmore stepped in to pinch from under their noses the daughter of their prime stallion Dubawi out of the unraced Sadler’s Wells mare Loveisallyouneed for 2.1 million guineas.
No Dubawi produce was listed in the 2015 Horses in Training schedule of Aiden O’Brien horses and it’s possible he’s never handled one. But he certainly trained Loveisallyouneed’s sisters Yesterday and Quarter Moon, the latter mother of Diamonsandrubies among many in the wonderful extended family. Who’s to say she won’t be rubbing the noses of some of the girls in blue and their management team come the 2017 Classics?