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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.

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.

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.

Can Dynamic Duo carry O’Brien to Ascot Glory?

I may have been a little hasty in saying that it’s a matter of time before Aidan O’Brien matches Bobby Frankel’s Group One winners record.

Champions Day at Ascot would surely prove the ideal scene for such an achievement. But a closer look at the meeting, his options, and more interestingly his record at the event, shows that the Ballydoyle master still has plenty of work to do.

With four Group One’s up for grabs, you’d expect O’Brien to seize his share, especially the way the horses are running at present. Yet Fame And Glory, Minding and Excelebration are the only Ballydoyle winners at the meeting since its inception at Ascot in 2011, with the latter duo both taking the Group One QEII.

Indeed, recent history suggests that the one-mile showpiece will be O’Brien’s best chance of Group One glory. With three victories in the past 10 renewals, he may decide to drop Churchill back in trip in the hope that the dual-Guineas winner can regain the winning thread. He’s lost his last three, including two at a mile-and-a-quarter. The three-year-old is entered in the Champion Stakes, though that appears the tougher assignment, with Cracksman, Barney Roy and Ulysses all set to take their chance. The mile race is no spot-kick, with Ribchester in opposition, but it does look winnable.

There’s also optimism over the chances of Caravaggio, currently second-favourite for the Champions Sprint, a race O’Brien hasn’t won since 1998 (then the Diadem Stakes). He has a rather formidable opponent to overcome in the Clive Cox trained Harry Angel. He has of course defeated Godolphin’s speedster once before at Ascot, when getting up late to take the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting in June. However, since that success his form has tailed off somewhat, whilst Harry has become a sprinting sensation. There is a glimmer of hope, with HA currently nought from three at the track.

Hydrangea looks likely to be O’Brien’s only representative in the Fillies and Mares, with both Rhododendron and Seventh Heaven waiting for the Breeders’ Cup. It will be her first attempt at a mile-and-a-half, and she’s far from certain to see out the trip. She looked a non-stayer in the Nassau at 10 furlongs, though came close to landing the Prix de l’Opera over the same distance at Chantilly. Her best performance came at a mile when winning the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. She’s no mug, but this looks a tough challenge.

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Should Churchill revert to the mile, Ballydoyle’s hopes in the Champion Stakes will rest with Highland Reel and Cliffs Of Moher. The former would have a decent shout if the ground remained decent. The faster the better for HR, and it’s worth remembering that he won the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over course and distance back in June, beating Ulysses in the process. He’s a player if the rain stays away.

Cliffs Of Moher is much harder to fancy. Twice hammered by Ulysses over the summer, he was then well beaten in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. He was a place ahead of Cracksman at Epsom, but has failed to improve, whilst Gosden’s colt looks hugely progressive. This is another race to have eluded O’Brien over the years.

It was a surprise to many when the name of Winter was missing from the Champions Day declarations. Failing to spark at home since her Arc run, her omission is a blow, and had she been entered in either the QEII or the Champions Stakes she would undoubtedly have been well-fancied.

Despite such a successful summer, and the wealth of talent at his disposal, O’Brien now appears dependant on a pair of colts that were the leading lights as juveniles a year ago. Plenty of water has passed under plenty of bridges, but if O’Brien is to surpass Bobby Frankel’s world record this weekend, he is likely to need Caravaggio and Churchill to return to their brilliant best.

Irish Flat Season 2017: Winners and Losers

Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup are to come but the domestic turf season in Ireland is effectively over with only five meetings left. so now is a good time to take stock before we go full bore into national hunt mode. 2017 will go down as a good year with Enable, Aidan O’Brien’s drive for 25 and Keane versus Smullen among the memorable stories, though we probably could have done without rain spoiling play on many of the major race days. Rather than grade the trainers again this year I’ve decided to go with a winners and losers approach, a change being as good as a rest and all that.

 

Winner: Aidan O’Brien

Breaking Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group 1 winners in a season has been coming for a while with O’Brien but there was the suspicion that it would take a perfect storm of circumstances to finally get over the line. In reality, that unique set of conditions didn’t unfold as the trainer had plenty go wrong this season; his best horse from 2016 (Minding) had to retire early on, his dual Guineas winner Churchill failed to build on early successes while the pick of his juvenile colts (Gustav Klimt) never got to compete at the top level.

Yet it is almost inevitable that O’Brien will break the record anyway and even in an age of Group 1 inflation it rates a sizeable achievement. The trainer himself is apparently nonplussed by the whole situation and has always struck me as having a keen sense of living in the present; he always seems to think one of his current crop is his best ever! But racing is a sport with an especially rich history attached and it is worth celebrating.

As a side-note, one also has to admire his appreciation for each and every one of his big winners and it seems the feeling of winning has not gotten old for him despite its frequency. Perhaps that simply comes with the territory of dealing with horses and the manifold disappointments they provide but I would certainly have his attitude over the stony-faced ‘celebrations’ of Jim Gavin after Dublin’s All-Ireland win.

 

Loser: Dermot Weld

With 40 winners at the time of writing, Weld is in line for his lowest total since at least 1988 and probably before that; 1988 is as far back as the Racing Post database for season totals goes back. Not only is it his worst tally in nearly 30 years but it is significantly below his next lowest tally of 61 winners in 2004. Zhukova’s win in the Man o’ War at Belmont back in May will likely rate the high-point but even that was a lacklustre affair as she beat a motley crew of four opponents in a race that was run early due to a thunderstorm.

Galway was clearly disappointing with just two winners for the yard though a pair of successes over Irish Champions Weekend for Eziyra and Shamreen were warmly received. To be fair to the trainer, he flagged things up from an early stage, stating that his string were suffering with a virus back in May and indeed his number of runners has been well down on previous years. Pat Smullen was an obvious victim of the down campaign but it is to his credit that he has still managed to make the jockeys’ championship such a tight race given the relative lack of firepower from a yard that is typically his strongest supporter.

 

Winner: Johnny Murtagh

Murtagh will likely finish 2017 with fewer winners than in 2016 but overall he’s been a much improved trainer in recent seasons after a rocky start to his new career; none of this comes as the greatest surprise given the resilience he has shown in both personal and professional spheres throughout his life. What is most impressive about his operation is that there is a plan in place and for him it is all about the two-year-olds; far too many trainers seem to approach the campaign piecemeal with no sense of overall objectives.

But in 2017 Murtagh has sought to exploit an opening in the programme book and the trainer had every right to recently tweet out that his 57% winner to runner ratio with juveniles paces the field in 2017, ahead of Aidan O’Brien on 48% and Ger Lyons on 45% with the next best on 33%. I’ve been critical of Murtagh’s placing of horses here in the past but his methods with juveniles this season are beyond reproach; he managed to win Plus Ten races (races where there is an extra £10,000 to winner along with the usual prizemoney) with all eight of his juvenile winners with three – Golden Spell, Guessthebill and Too Familiar – winning two such races. None of his two-year-olds are stars, far from it in fact, but to basically double their prizemoney on 11 separate occasions is exemplary race planning.

 

Loser: David Wachman

David Wachman might well be enjoying life to the full now and good luck to him if so but the racing professional in him may regret the timing of his decision to retire at the end of 2016. The likes of Rain Goddess and White Satin Dancer were good prospects for this season but the campaign would likely have been all about Winter, already a four-time Group 1 winner for Aidan O’Brien with the potential of more to come this Saturday.

Some might argue that her success is simply a by-product of her move to Ballydoyle but while O’Brien is clearly the superior trainer of the two, that is to do Wachman down a little as he showed he could skilfully manage a similar type when he had Legatissimo in her classic season of 2014. It is also likely that he would have had some of the excellent juvenile fillies that currently reside in Ballydoyle under his care and it is hardly a ridiculous suggestion that Clemmie may have been one of those given he trained both her dam Meow and sister Curlylocks before the brother Churchill ever came along.

 

Winner: Brendan Duke

Despite making no meaningful impact on the trainers’ championship, Duke will go down as one of the stars of 2017 for his campaigning of Warm The Voice... and I mean his media campaign as much as anything! The horse has been a good juvenile, winning three times including a premier nursery at Listowel and getting black-type when third in the Beresford, but the real story has been Duke’s interviews both in print and on TV.

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His raw enthusiasm for horses and the sport have engaged many and his openness is a lesson to other trainers. There’s a wonderful sense of humour in there too and a sharp knack for the one-liners from comparing Warm To Voice to an ice-cream (‘he loves himself so much he’d lick himself’) to commenting on the difficult choice Kevin Manning would face at Newmarket next May when he had to pick between Duke’s stable star and Verbal Dexterity.

 

Loser: Camelot

One of the most overrated horses of this century, Camelot seems likely to prove little better as a sire with the his best progeny topping out at a Racing Post Rating of just 100 and a single Listed race being the most high-profile success to date. It is early days for a horse that stayed 14 furlongs as a three-year-old and perhaps his stock will do better in time but it does seem significant that Aidan O’Brien has yet to train a winner sired by his one-time star.

His three Irish winners have instead been trained by Patrick Prendergast, Jessica Harrington and Gavin Cromwell with the pick of his Ballydoyle-based runners thus far being the limited Lucius Tiberius; after I backed said horse recently, a fellow punter remarked that he could not be any good with a name like that! Camelot has however sired winners in Russia and Italy and that might be where he finishes up for all the brilliant naming possibilities offered by Arthurian legend.

 

Winner: Galway

It rained plenty in Galway during race week with racing taking place on varying degrees of soft across the seven days but that did little to quell enthusiasm for all that crowd numbers and bookmaker turnover were slightly down. The big players may have won the Plate and Hurdle with Willie Mullins also taking home the top trainer prize but a greatly reduced Weld factor led to a number of winners on the flat from unexpected sources, most of which came with their own stories.

Among them were Bubbly Bellini hitting another marker on the way to 20 career wins, Cascavelle providing Robbie McNamara with a first Galway winner, Remarkable Lady winning for Team Rogers and Browne on Hurdle Day, Perfect Soldier bringing the house down for Michael O’Callaghan and his Racing Club and of course Warm The Voice and Brendan Duke. The Fahey brothers too had an excellent week and it is winners like this that breathe life into the grassroots of the sport and encourage potential owners to get involved.

 

Loser: The Curragh

The decision to race on at the Curragh amidst building works was a debacle from the outset and became all the more unsatisfactory as we had to listen to mealy-mouthed justifications about maintaining the integrity of the racing programme. Leopardstown was the obvious alternative and arguments about the proximity of 12-furlong start to a bend and lack of a straight sprint course rang hollow when we consider some of the compromises that have been made elsewhere. A decision to hold the Curragh’s programme at another track would have created a welcome novelty factor akin to Royal Ascot at York in 2005 but instead we got a lot of bad will towards the course.

By the end of the season it was difficult to find anyone outside of the decision-makers who were in support of the Curragh continuing to race. The weather certainly didn’t help with feature days like the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and second day of Irish Champions Weekend blighted by rain but the fact that the track failed to reach capacity for the last two meetings said plenty. In any case, the Curragh’s susceptibility to bad weather was hardly news to anyone who regularly attends the track and we have to endure more of the same in 2018. A bad situation, made all the worst by the unnecessary nature of it all.

 

Winner: Colin Keane

Regardless of the outcome of the jockeys’ championship, Colin Keane has been a big winner in 2017, rising from champion apprentice just three seasons ago to be one of the biggest players in the weigh-room at just 23. His record in the saddle has been one of continual progression, his winner totals rising from 1 in 2010, to 9, 12, 42, 66, 75 and 90 in the succeeding seasons with 90 his current total. 2017 may have been a down year for the Weld/Smullen connection but that shouldn’t take away from Keane’s achievement and top-level sport is all about grasping opportunity when it presents itself.

Central to that achievement is that he is competing without the support of either Ballydoyle or Rosewell and is bidding to become the first champion jockey since Declan McDonogh in 2005 to reach the top when based with a stable other than the big two. It points not only to Keane’s ambition but also to Ger Lyons, who has to be commended for taking on a prospective champion so early and putting him in a position of responsibility.

- Tony Keenan

 

O’Brien Four-midable in Dewhurst Romp

Aidan O’Brien landed the Dewhurst at Newmarket on Saturday, as he closes in on Bobby Frankel’s world record Group One haul.

Just one more top-level success is required for O’Brien to reach 25 in a season, and match Frankel’s amazing achievement. After an unsuccessful trip to Canada last night, Team Ballydoyle will now head to Ascot for Champions Day next Saturday in search of the history making victories.

U S Navy Flag proved a stunning winner of the Dewhurst, which saw O’Brien colts filling the first four places. You need to bring your ‘A’ game to stand any chance of wrestling Group Ones from the clutches of Aidan and the boys. Sadly for favourite backers, Expert Eye was some way short and ultimately hugely disappointing. Sweating profusely, then restless in the stalls, Sir Michael Stoute’s exciting prospect did himself no favours by running with the choke out. He was one of the first beat before being eased down in the latter stages.

The winner could not have been more impressive. Drawn wide, Ryan Moore switched to the rail and controlled the race from start to finish. He kicked clear just inside the two-pole, comfortably holding off a battalion of stablemates. The outsider of O’Brien’s quintet, Mendelssohn, finished a surprise runner-up, followed by Seahenge, with Threeandfourpence completing the Ballydoyle Blitz.

Moore appeared impressed with the much-improved U S Navy Flag, when saying: “He’s got better through the year. He’s a very honest horse who keeps finding a bit more each time he comes to the track. It’s a credit to Aidan to do what he’s done today, the first four home, and they’re all nice horses that should be better next year.”

O’Brien was, as ever, humble in victory, saying: “It’s a big team effort all the way along, from the people that are involved very early with those horses as foals, and before they are even born, all the way to the people directly involved today. It’s great satisfaction for everybody, a massive team effort with lots of cogs in the wheel.”

When asked about Bobby Frankel’s record, the trainer added: “It would be massive for everyone but we don't think about it really. We take one race at a time but it would obviously be a massive achievement for our team. We would be very honoured, but we will take one day at a time.”

That magic 25 could have been landed at Newmarket, had September had a clearer path in the Fillies’ Mile. When a gap finally appeared inside the final furlong, Seamie Heffernan was unable to make up the ground on Karl Burke’s gutsy filly Laurens. An ever-diminishing nose was all that separated the pair at the line, much to the delight of winning jockey PJ McDonald.

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It was a first Group One success for the talented jock, and he was clearly thrilled when speaking to ITV after the win: “It’s absolutely amazing, all those years, I’m 35-years-of-age now, and all that hard work. The relief when that number got called out, it’s amazing. I was praying I had it, but I hadn’t got a clue.”

PJ then praised the handler, who was moved to tears: “All credit goes to Lucy, she rides this filly every day, and has done since she came in. You know, it’s a massive team effort and everybody has played their part.” When asked by Rishi Persad for a quick word on what the success meant, the tearful handler said: “Just everything, I can’t even speak.”

There’s little doubt that the winner is both talented and tough. She also has the physical scope for further improvement, and the pedigree to stay further as a three-year-old.

The runner-up is a much smaller filly and improved considerably for the return to a sounder surface. She’s also bred to get further, being by Japanese Stallion Deep Impact out of the Irish Oaks winner Peeping Fawn. It’s an exciting pedigree, though connections will be hoping for a growth spurt or two over the winter.

Aidan O’Brien’s Magical had been sent-off favourite, but ran a little flat in finishing fourth. This race may have come a little soon after her exertions in Chantilly, when filling the same spot in the Prix Marcel Boussac.
Magic Lily ran a cracker in third on only her second career start. She’s another with the physique to progress as a three-year-old, giving Godolphin hope of breaking the Ballydoyle stranglehold on the one-mile filly division.

For now, it’s onwards and upwards for O’Brien and his team. Attention turns to Ascot and a re-writing of those record books.

Stoute has an Expert Eye on the Dewhurst

The Future Champions Festival begins tomorrow at Newmarket and promises to be a thriller.

Aidan O’Brien is just two shy of the world record Group/Grade One winners for a calendar year, set by American trainer Bobby Frankel in 2003. With fancied runners in the Fillies Mile on Friday and the Dewhurst on Saturday, there’s a chance the master of Ballydoyle could draw level on 25 winners.

For that to come to fruition, he would have to defeat one of the summer’s most exciting juveniles, and current favourite for the 2018 Guineas, Expert Eye. Sir Michael Stoute’s youngster put in a devastating display last time at Goodwood in winning the Group Two Vintage Stakes. With just a couple of runs under his belt, he’ll be up against more experienced two-year-olds, including O’Brien’s Group One Middle Park winner, U S Navy Flag.

Stoute sounded confident in the ability of his youngster, when saying: “He seems in good shape. I contemplated going to the Curragh but he had a bit of an issue when we scoped him. That knocked that out of the way so we trained him for the Dewhurst. We've had precocious two-year-olds, but we don't seem to get them nowadays. This fellow just came along and was naturally precocious. You would have to say that he’s the best two-year-old that I have had for quite a while. He’s been pretty natural from the beginning.”

The trainer added: “Before we ran him we knew that he was pretty smart as he has always shown speed and been very athletic. And then, when we were preparing him for Goodwood, we began to realise just how good he was. The form has worked out but this is quite a while later. We have had plenty of time to prepare him for this so there will be no excuses.

“The Dewhurst looks a tough race. In the past we never had to go up against a battalion like Aidan’s, it’s quite incredible really. Let’s just see what happens on Saturday. Andrea Atzeni will again be riding him, but I would be surprised if he gets beyond a mile as a three-year-old. I am having a resurgence. I am very happy with the way that the summer has gone and my whole team has done a great job.”

John Gosden is another trainer having a season to remember, and he has a leading contender in the Hamdan Al Maktoum owned Emaraaty. He’s a well-fancied third-favourite for the race, despite this being a completely different proposition from the race he won at Newbury.

The owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold, said: “I watched Emaraaty work on the Limekilns on Saturday morning and he is in fine physical shape. Jim Crowley rode him and was very pleased with him. It is a big step up from a maiden to a Group One and I would be stupid to assure you that he was going to beat horses like Expert Eye on Saturday. But he’s a very quick colt with great potential and we are very hopeful that he will be a Group One horse at some point in his career.”

A day prior to the Dewhurst, it’s the fillies that take centre-stage. Following her success at Longchamp, Aidan O’Brien’s Happily looks a worthy favourite for the Group One Fillies’ Mile. Doing her best work at the end of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, the final climb to the finish on the Rowley Mile should prove ideal.

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September is also set to take her place for Team Ballydoyle, and should be better suited by conditions having got a little ‘stuck in the mud’ on her previous two starts. She was mightily impressive on quick ground at Royal Ascot, when comfortably accounting for a classy pair in Nyaleti and Masar.

If O’Brien is to be beaten, then Godolphin’s Magic Lilly may be the one. It’s a tough ask for one with so little experience (one career outing), but her performance on debut at Newmarket was eye-catching. She’s exceptionally bred, being by Derby winner New Approach, out of the Oaks winning mare Dancing Rain.

“Magic Lily is a filly we were confident would run a nice race on her first start, but she ended up winning very impressively and seeing out the one-mile trip really well,” said trainer Charlie Appleby.

“She did a nice piece of work on Saturday and that made our minds up to supplement her. She has worked together with my recent Prix Marcel Boussac winner, Wild Illusion, and worked well. The Dubai Future Champions Festival is an important festival for the whole Godolphin team. I’ve been lucky to have winners there in the past and it’s good to have a few live contenders, including Magic Lily, this year.”

Though the highlight of the two days is undoubtedly the juvenile events, we also get the opportunity to see one of the most talented sprinters back on the track. It’s proved a frustrating campaign for five-year-old Limato, but his trainer Henry Candy will be hopeful of a change in fortunes tomorrow.

With drier conditions at HQ, he looks to run his stable star in the Group Two Challenge Stakes at seven-furlongs. “It has been infuriating to have a horse of his calibre and not be able to do anything with him," Candy said. “I am very happy with his condition at the moment and looking forward to running him on Friday. His defeat in the Lennox Stakes was 80 per cent down to the ground, which was riding soft. We talked ourselves into running him that day when we shouldn’t have.”

The trainer added: “At least it’s been no problem keeping a lid on him at home without a race, as he is a very free worker and keeps himself pretty fit. This seven-furlong trip should be fine. I think he is capable of winning Group races at anything between six furlongs and a mile, and I don’t see any problem with him handling the Rowley Mile as he is very light on his feet. This is likely to be his final start of the season and, although we are toying with the idea of trying him over a mile again next year, we will go wherever the ground is right.”

Monday Musings: The Record is On!

So the record is on, so much so that Paddy Power has paid out already, writes Tony Stafford. I’m not sure how many people got involved in betting that Aidan O’Brien would exceed the 25 Group or Grade 1 wins in a calendar year set by the late Bobby Frankel in 2003, but we’re all mighty interested, now it looks like happening.

In 2008 Aidan got to 23 and despite a large contingent (eight) at that Breeders’ Cup and a trio in the Melbourne Cup, he could not quite make the mark. The Ballydoyle stable will be aiming to complete the task in Europe, never mind what could be achieved at Del Mar next month.

The remarkable Roly Poly overcame (with help from a gently-rebuked, two day-banned, Ryan Moore) a difficult draw to make most and collect her third Group 1 with a battling performance in Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes. The same doggedness which enabled her to follow Winter home in the Coronation Stakes after seeing off the French 1,000 Guineas winner halfway round at Royal Ascot was fully employed once more.

It is that innate toughness and propensity to improve that characterises the O’Brien team. There are four Group 1 winning three-year-old mile fillies, with Winter supreme having won both English and Irish 1,000 Guineas along with the Coronation. Rhododendron and Hydrangea also collected at that level in the autumn and it is possible to rank all three superior to Saturday’s winner on some performances.

There is a similar story among the two-year-old fillies. Clemmie (Cheveley Park), Happily (Grand Criterium Jean Luc Lagardere, against the colts), Magical (Moyglare) and September are all highly-ranked and deservedly so.

On a lower level – but given time, who knows? Like Winter, Rhododendron and Hydrangea, Bye Bye Baby is a daughter of Galileo. Her dam, Remember When, by Danehill Dancer, was second in the Oaks but never won. She is, though, closely related to Group winners Wedding Vow and Beacon Rock.

Bye Bye Baby did not make the track until August 16 when she finished a modest sixth of ten in a fillies’ race on The Curragh. She returned there ten days later for a Group 3 and finished fourth. Two weeks on, she was caught late after making most in an 18-runner maiden at Leopardstown. Ryan Moore, who rode her there, had the mount again when she made her fourth appearance within six weeks in a maiden on the Cheveley Park/Middle Park/Cambridgeshire undercard and made all.

After that race, Moore was suggesting she could easily cope with a raise in class and yesterday at Navan, she was one of a trio of Aidan O’Brien fillies in a Listed race, and made all to win comfortably. At the present rate of progress she could be in the top division in her stable next year when the Classics come round.

The advantage Bobby Frankel and anyone in the US had and has over anyone in Europe is that the big stables can have different divisions permanently based on either side of the country. So while nominally in California, a trainer could and often does have an assistant located in New York, Florida or the Mid-West, with a large team of horses to cover the race programmes and the multiple Grade 1 races on offer in the various regions.

For a stable based in Ireland, there are only 12 domestic Group 1 races, compared with 36 in Great Britain and 27 in France, so he has to travel. Germany with seven and Italy with one make up the grand total of 83 across Europe. At this point there are 11 more Group 1 races still to be run in Europe, seven in the UK, three in France and one in Germany. Ireland’s stock has been used up.

O’Brien has his eyes on the first of them, Friday’s Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket, where his quintet includes the top trio Happily, Magical and September, the last of whom it would seem may have freshness on her side. The potential squad also includes lesser winners Ballet Shoes and Sizzling, respectively third and fourth behind Bye Bye Baby yesterday.

Then comes Saturday’s Dewhurst, also at Newmarket. While such as Middle Park winner and second US Navy Flag and Fleet Review, sons of War Front, and Champagne winner Seahenge (Scat Daddy) could be contenders, Moore fears that a fit-again Expert Eye might give the edge to Sir Michael Stoute’s stable. Then again, maybe the top Coolmore fillies, among them Clemmie, could be waiting in the wings.

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Most of the remaining opportunities come on the following Saturday on Champions Day at Ascot. In value order the Champion Stakes (£737,000 to the winner), QE II (£623,000), Champion Sprint and Champion Filly and Mare (both £340,000) are the Group 1 races, although O’Brien will be happy enough to collect the Group 2 Long Distance Cup and its £255,000 first prize with Order of St George after his excellent Arc fourth.

The money will also be on O’Brien’s mind. Last year he set astonishingly high marks when more than doubling his previous best earnings figures. From £3.56million from 16 wins in 79 races in 2015, he advanced to £8.13 million from 28 wins in 133 runs in Britain last year.

This time he stands only one winner shy (27) from three more runners, but can be perceived to be “lagging” a little on £6,586,278. The percentages are remarkably consistent, 20 in 2015, 21 last year and 20 again now. His best ever percentage-wise was way back in 1999 when his 11 winners came from 44 runs and realised £713,000!

What is equally surprising is that in each of the last three seasons, O’Brien runners have returned significant level-stakes profits, possibly reflecting that when he sends out multiple runners, almost all are there with a chance of victory. His profit this year is 18 points from 136 runs; last year it was 22 from 133 and in 2015, a massive 47 points profit from only 79 runs. That makes a combined 88 points from 348 runners, a yield of more than 25% on level stakes.

With John Gosden way back on £4.28 million (although Enable earned the team £2.44 million when winning the Arc) O’Brien would only need a couple of the major prizes and a sprinkling of the generous places available to meet last year’s demanding standards. Expect a mass attack on the Champion Stakes, QE II and the Fillies and Mares, although there will need to be an element of Breeders’ Cup consideration.

The last UK Group 1 is the Racing Post Trophy and there is usually a strong Ballydoyle representation in that. One disappointment about the Racing Post Trophy is that the minimum standard prizemoney for a European Group 1 race is a total of £200,000 and the race is worth precisely that with £113,400 going to the winner.

This might seem slightly embarrassing given that at Velifiendi racecourse in Istanbul, Turkey, last month five international races were staged over the two-day weekend and three of them, all designated local Group races were worth £98,000 to the winner and £170,000 in all, while the top two races on the Sunday carried total prizes of £385,000 and £260,000.

Either side of the Racing Post, France’s last three Group 1 races, all at Saint-Cloud, are the Royal-Oak on Oct 22, and the two Criteriums, the one-mile Criterium International and Criterium de Saint-Cloud (10 furlongs), both on the following Sunday. Germany ends Europe’s Group 1 calendar on November 1st with the Grosser Preis von Bayern in Munich.

On a different note, there was little slowing down in prices for bloodstock as evidenced by last week’s Tattersalls Book 1 at Newmarket, where a top price of four million guineas (£4.2 million) was paid by John Gosden on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin for a superb Galileo filly. As one member of Coolmore’s for-once foiled team remarked, “We’ve still got a few of them at home”. This week, starting today, Book 2 will let some of the merely seriously rich owners join in.

- Tony Stafford

Roly Digs Deep for Group One Glory

Roly Poly displayed guts along with a fair splash of class to take the Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.

Despite a hectic campaign, Aidan O’Brien’s filly showed no sign of fatigue, as she fought off the challenge of race favourite Persuasive, to land her third Group One. Ryan Moore took her to the front from the off, setting a sensible pace. Headed by Dawn Of Hope at the two-furlong pole, Moore refused to panic, instead gathering his mount for a renewed effort as they met the rising ground. Persuasive threatened to land a blow, but Roly Poly found plenty for pressure, hitting the line more than a length ahead.

This was O'Brien’s 23rd Group One victory in yet another glorious campaign. He said of the win: “Ryan gave her a class ride. She's a great filly, with a great heart. She's tactical and tough, amazing really. She's a great pedigree, out of a very good Galileo mare and by War Front, and the lads do a great job with her at home.” When asked if a trip to America was on the cards, he added: “I think so, the lads will decide what they want to do, but herself and Rhododendron could be trained for the Breeders’ Cup fillies race.”

John Gosden trained the second and third home in the Sun Chariot, and said of Persuasive and Nathra: “They both ran superbly well. The winner on this ground was too good for us. With a bit more juice in the ground, both of our fillies would have troubled the winner. They have run true and honest right to the end of the season. I think that will probably be it for both of them and the breeding sheds beckon.”

Chris Richardson, the managing director of Persuasive's owners, Cheveley Park Stud, hinted that one last hurrah remained a possibility, saying: “She ran a blinder, she just needs a bit of juice in the ground. We are just going to keep the door open for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. If it came up soft and she was still in good form, it could be an option and we might just give her one more whirl.”

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The strong French challenge failed to materialize, with Usherette proving best of the raiding party, staying on late for a fourth place finish. Likewise, Qemah was also doing her best work in the latter stages, though could only finish sixth.

O’Brien is now within touching distance of Bob Frankel’s single-season Grade One world record, and said of the challenge: “It would be incredible for everybody, but the horse always comes first. That's the important thing. After every race, the lads sit down and have a chat and see what race they want to pick. They have a big discussion with the people around them, make a target and we go with that. It's race to race, but the horse always comes first and we're doing our best in every race, it's all we can do.”

The trainer will now focus on the Future Champions Festival at Newmarket on Friday and Saturday, as he searches for further Group One glory. A year ago, Team Ballydoyle took both juvenile features, with Rhododendron winning the Fillies’ Mile and Churchill landing the Dewhurst. The stable have been responsible for the last three winners of the fillies’ race, and have Happily entered on Friday. O’Brien has also won three of the last four Dewhurst’s, though Sir Michael Stoute’s Expert Eye is a short-priced favourite for Saturday’s renewal.

Hard as Rock Roly can land a Ballydoyle Blitz

Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes is the feature race at Newmarket.

First run in 1966, it was originally open to three-year-old fillies and run over 10 furlongs. Older fillies and mares were invited in 1974, and the race was cut to its current distance of a mile in 2000. The race achieved Group 1 status in 2004.

The race regularly attracts the best milers from the UK, Ireland and France. The French have taken five of the last 10 renewals, thanks in the main to a stunning run of success from Sahpresa, who racked up a treble from 2009 to 2011.

Three-year-olds have a decent record, having won five of the last dozen, though only two of the last eight. Alice Springs took last year’s race, making it two from the last nine for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Roly Poly is possibly only third or fourth best of the Classic generation milers at Ballydoyle, but with others having run at the Arc meeting, she is his main contender for this. She has improved throughout the summer, chasing home the dual-Guineas heroine, Winter, on a couple of occasions, then landing the Falmouth and the Rothschild in July. She was below par in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, when probably asked to do a little too much up front. Ryan Moore will be back onboard tomorrow, and she looks sure to go close.

The French challenge is a powerful one, with a trio of fillies representing arguably the best three trainers in the country. Jean-Claude Rouget’s Qemah is without doubt a high-class miler. Twice a Group One winner, she was fourth to Roly Poly in the Rothschild, though incurred traffic problems and got going far too late. Slightly disappointing at Leopardstown last time, when keen early and again doing her best work too late, she does needs things to fall just right if she is to land a blow. Nevertheless, she has the talent and the gears to go close.

Andre Fabre took the race with Esoterique in 2015 and has a leading contender in the Godolphin owned Usherette. She’s proved slightly disappointing this term, if a little unfortunate when third to Qemah in the Duke Of Cambridge at Ascot. Ridden from the front in the Rothschild, the change of tactics failed to spark improvement as she faded to sixth late-on. She did win a listed event last time, but will need to step forward again if she is to win this. Rain would probably help her cause, though I fancy she’ll find a few in better form on the day.

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The final French challenger is trained by Freddy Head. Siyoushake was fourth in last year’s race and has run consistently well this season without success. A close third to Roly Poly in the Rothschild (without looking likely to win), she then finished runner-up in a Group One over 10 furlongs. She’s a solid performer at this level, and is likely to be doing her best work late on.

Her trainer spoke earlier in the week: “Siyoushake is still in great condition and I have been very happy with her work. We tried her over a mile and a quarter last time but I think that a mile is her best trip. I think that she has improved since her fourth in this race last year. It’s been a very good season for her and she’s been placed in a couple of Group 1s.”

Persuasive leads the UK challenge, and Gosden’s filly currently heads the market. She was runner-up in last year’s Matron Stakes, and though only third this time round, possibly ran slightly better, when finishing with a real rattle in just failing to catch Ballydoyle’s Hydrangea and Winter. Her belated return to action this summer came in the Rothschild, when a strong finishing fifth behind Roly Poly, and there’s every chance she’ll be able to reverse that form. Favourites have a good recent record, and I fancy she’ll be flying at the finish.

Aljazzi is the other significant UK contender and trained locally by Marco Botti. Runner-up to Qemah in the Duke Of Cambridge at Royal Ascot when a 40/1 shot, she was very impressive last time when winning a Group Three at Sandown. Like Persuasive, she arrives here a relatively fresh filly and looks to be improving at a fair old rate. This is a hugely competitive renewal, but several of the leading players appear exposed, and the race may be open to an improving sort.

This is a tough race to call, and though I’m not convinced Roly Poly is as good as last year’s winner Alice Springs, she arrives here off the back of a very similar looking campaign. O’Brien clearly believes that she is hardy enough to take this on her eighth start of the season (identical number as Alice in 2016) and who am I to argue.

As O’Brien hunts down Bobby Frankel’s Group One winning record, I’ll take Roly Poly to land the Sun Chariot. Persuasive looks sure to go close, but still needs to prove she can win a Group One. She lacks gears for me, and though I see her finishing strongly she may find herself with a little too much ground to make up. Best of luck to those having a punt.