Masar by far the Derby Equine Star

Like father like son. Bred for Epsom glory, it was Godolphin’s Masar that mastered both track and trip to land this year’s Derby.

Having finished third to Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas, it’s somewhat surprising that this son of 2008 Derby winner New Approach, had been cast aside by many punters as a ‘no-hoper’. Ballydoyle’s Guineas hero was all the rage in the markets and was sent off the odds-on favourite for Saturday’s showpiece. Part of an O’Brien battalion, his Newmarket success had been billed as a stepping stone to a tilt at the Triple Crown (Guineas, Derby and St Leger). But it was Charlie Appleby’s charge that coped best with Epsom’s unique examination.

Knight To Behold had set the early fractions, with Ballydoyle’s Kew Gardens for company. Hazapour travelled as well as any turning for home and struck the front approaching the two-furlong pole. Dee Ex Bee and Masar were in hot pursuit, and it was the latter that swept to the front closely followed by Roaring Lion. The red-hot favourite Saxon Warrior had been caught behind a wall of horses, though when asked to quicken and challenge, Ryan Moore must have been disappointed with the response.

Roaring Lion looked likely to chase down the Godolphin runner, but it was Masar that stayed on the strongest. As the line approached Gosden’s Dante winner faded slightly, leaving Dee Ex Bee to battle back bravely for the runner-up spot. Saxon Warrior stayed on for fourth, without ever looking like landing a telling blow. There’s no doubting that William Buick rode the perfect race on Masar, always in the right spot and throwing down his challenge at exactly the right moment. The best horse won the Derby, though the best jockey on the day played a vital role.

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Sheikh Mohammed said of his first Epsom Derby success: “It's not easy to win the Derby, but we have won it. We are pleased to be here today. Charlie Appleby is a very good trainer and it’s good the horse came from Dubai. Horses are in my blood, I love them.”

William Buick was understandably overjoyed, saying: “This is huge, it's massive. I've come close a couple of times, I think I've had seven or eight rides and while I know people have had more without winning I was wondering if my time was ever going to come. The race was smooth and Charlie was confident that he would stay the trip. He was lovely and balanced throughout and nice and relaxed. He felt like he put the race to bed very quickly. The horse has to have temperament, balance, tenacity, stamina and speed. It’s the ultimate race, the holy grail. It’s what every jockey dreams of.”

Appleby had come close to landing the Oaks a day earlier and was thrilled to go one better: “That was absolutely amazing. All I could think of in the last furlong was that I wanted to be the first trainer to win the Derby in the Godolphin blue. It was a fantastic team effort. Brett Doyle (former jockey) rides him every day and has been so sweet on him since the 2000 Guineas. We just wanted to get him to switch off and we thought he’d stay. William’s given him a brilliant ride, but the last 100 yards seemed a long time. This season, we’ve just been knocking on the door and it was the same story yesterday.”

That defeat in the fillies’ classic came at the hands of the latest O’Brien star, young Donnacha, who rode Forever Together to an emphatic victory. It’s been a sensational season thus far for the jockey, having already landed the 2000 Guineas aboard Saxon Warrior. He again showed great maturity under pressure, giving the filly a perfect ride. More testing conditions on Friday had caused jockeys to track across to the stands side after turning for home. Donnacha was quick to ensure his filly had the perfect berth on the rail and when asked for maximum effort the daughter of Galileo powered clear of favourite Wild Illusion.

The young jockey said of his second Classic success: “Forever Together was very impressive. I got a beautiful trip through the race following Ryan (on Magic Wand). He edged over and kept me company on the rail. She is very genuine and galloped out to the line really well. She is a proper staying filly. I thought a week or two ago that she had a really good chance, then the rain came and I was a bit worried. She seemed to handle it really well, but I was not expecting her to do that.”

Father O’Brien was clearly chuffed, saying: “It’s incredible, I’m so delighted for everyone, so thankful to Michael (Tabor), John (Magnier) and Derrick (Smith), it’s brilliant for everyone. She caught the eye at Chester, she’s a staying filly and got the trip very well. Donnacha gave her an unbelievable ride, it’s incredible.”

Of future targets the trainer added: “I think it will be the Irish Oaks next, we’ll see what the lads want to do, but that’s what you’d be thinking. She’d love the Curragh, you’d imagine. I was very happy with all the fillies really. Donnacha rides her in her work and rode her at Chester and she was the filly he wanted to ride. He’s always been a very good rider, he’s very cool, he rides a lot of work at home, but he’s only 19.”

Though disappointed in being beaten, Charlie Appleby was clearly pleased with the run of the favourite Wild Illusion: “She ran a very creditable race. The winner looks to have outstayed us. She got a good run into it, but I thought the leader had skipped clear. She has just been outstayed, it’s as simple as that. When William (Buick) made his move I thought she was going to go through with it. William said she was not comfortable coming down the hill. She came there to win her race, but the winner has outstayed us and was the better horse on the day.”

Redemption came the trainer’s way just 24 hours later.

Newmarket Classics taking shape

We’re just days away from the opening Classics at Newmarket, and the line-ups are taking shape.

Aidan O’Brien has been dominant, winning three of the last six 1000 and 2000 Guineas. He again appears to hold the aces, with Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior towards the head of the market for the Colts and Happily the bookies favourite for the fillies.

Gustav K won the Superlative Stakes as a juvenile and returned to action with a win in the 2000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. O’Brien spoke after the win, saying: “We’re very happy. Obviously, the ground was far from ideal, but it was nice to get a run into him as it’s a long time since he ran. Ryan said he was very impressed with the way he quickened in that ground. He’s a real good-ground horse. Newmarket is the plan if everything is well.”

The Superlative form has taken a few knocks, but this son of Galileo, out of a Danehill mare, appears to have the right kind of profile.

Saxon Warrior is unbeaten and was last seen winning the Group One Racing Post Trophy. He heads to Newmarket without a prep, as did previous winners Churchill and Gleneagles. A colt by Deep Impact, he looks sure to stay further having landed all three juvenile victories at a mile.

The home challenge is led by Godolphin’s impressive Craven winner Masar, who is trained by the in-form Charlie Appleby. Despite having a fitness edge over his rivals, it’s hard to imagine any of the Craven victims reversing the placings. Roaring Lion was almost 10-lengths back in third, giving the form a particularly strong look.

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The Mark Johnston-trained Elarqam is also fancied to go well. Unbeaten in just two juvenile starts, he is the product of two Guineas winners, in the mighty Frankel and the brilliant Attraction. Johnston knows all about the latter, having trained her to that famous 1000 Guineas success back in 2004.

The handler took the colt for a racecourse gallop at Newmarket during the Craven Meeting and was reportedly pleased with the build-up to Saturday’s Classic. “It wasn’t exactly a hard piece of work,” Johnston said, “and he hardly ended up seeing the other two horses, but he needed the experience of a day out and it’s a concern for me going into the QIPCO 2000 Guineas with only two runs under his belt.

“Elarqam has to improve but I have a lot of faith in his ability. And in a lot of ways it’s more exciting than it was with Attraction as being by Frankel out of Attraction, he’s the best-bred horse I’ve ever trained, the best-bred horse by a country mile that I have ever taken to a Classic. The implications of what sort of stallion he would be, or how popular he might be as a stallion, if he won the 2000 Guineas don’t bear thinking about.”

James Garfield recently captured the Greenham Stakes at Newbury, and it looked likely that Silvestre de Sousa would pick up the ride, but a bruised foot saw the withdrawal of Without Parole, meaning that Frankie Dettori will now be onboard. The Italian said: “He has won a Greenham, which is one of the main Guineas trials. George is very happy with him and we've got to give it a go. He is a bonny little horse and he really tries. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he should give it his best.”

Scott is thrilled to have Dettori back aboard, saying: “I feel for the connections of Without Parole, who clearly has a massive future regardless of missing the Guineas. I felt it was hugely important to have Frankie on board. He knows the horse so well and he has a lot of confidence in the horse. He is the magic man and if anyone can pull it out the bag he will.”

Assessing the 2000 Guineas, Scott added: “Although it looks a more open race this year, there is plenty of depth to it. I think Masar goes there with the best recent form. He is a course and distance winner and he was an emphatic winner of the Craven. Charlie's (Appleby) horses are flying and if we didn't win, I'd love to see Masar win as Charlie is a good friend of mine.”

Qatar Racing has a pair engaged, with the Craven disappointment Roaring Lion joined by the Greenham Stakes fourth Raid. The latter shaped as if Newmarket’s Rowley Mile would suit, and he may prove an interesting longshot. Of Roaring Lion, Gosden said: “We are going to do a little breeze (on Wednesday) and then make our minds up. I think he has come on a lot for his last race.” He’ll certainly need to, if he’s to trouble Masar.

Aiden O’Brien’s Happily is one of 18 fillies confirmed for the QIPCO 1000 Guineas on Sunday. She’s an experienced filly, having won four of her seven juvenile starts, including successive Group One triumphs in the Moyglare at the Curragh and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Chantilly. That latter success saw her defeating the boys, including Godolphin’s Masar. She disappointed on her most recent appearance at the Breeders’ Cup, though that did come at the end of a hectic two-year-old campaign.

The Ballydoyle maestro is set to send five fillies to Newmarket, including the highly touted I Can Fly. September is a notable absentee.

Charlie Appleby also holds a strong hand in the fillies Classic. He has the Group One-winning filly Wild Illusion and has supplemented impressive Nell Gwyn heroine Soliloquy at a cost of £30,000. The latter is a daughter of Dubawi and proved mightily impressive when accounting for Altyn Orda. Wild Illusion is another by Dubawi and was last seen winning the Group One Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly.

Karl Burke’s Laurens is also fancied to go well. She won the Fillies’ Mile at the end of her juvenile campaign, defeating the talented Ballydoyle filly September, by a nose. That looks a strong piece of form, and Burke has been happy with her progress, recently saying: “She did a little bit of work and did it very well. If she runs in the Guineas, she'll go straight there.” She now looks sure to take her chance.

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.”

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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.”

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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.

The Ethics of Pacemaking

Is racing a team sport? That’s the question that lies at the heart of any discussion on the rights and wrongs of pacemaking, writes Tony Keenan. The instinctive answer is no. Take a hypothetical horse race: ten runners each with a different trainer, owner and jockey, each wanting to win at the expense of the others. Tactics play their part in this imaginary race but team tactics shouldn’t as there are no teams as such, only individual concerns.

Obviously this simplistic argument is complicated by the presence of multiple horses trained and/or owned by the same person or group of people. In some of these cases, particularly in Group 1 races, we see jockeys using their horses as part of the team and expend their mounts to facilitate a stablemate, often one with a bigger profile or shorter price. Some would argue this is simply the nature of team sport; in any team, different players play different roles and not everyone can score the winning goal with some needing to contribute to the build-up in the hope there will be enough reflected glory to go around.

This would be fine in racing apart from one obvious problem: it is essentially forbidden by the rules. Consider the Turf Club’s Rule 212 (a)

every horse which runs in a race shall be run on its merits and its subsection (i) the rider of every horse shall take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to ensure that his horse is given a full opportunity to win or of obtaining the best possible place.

Horses that are ridden to cater for another runner in the field are bending if not breaking these rules which is not the same as to say that they cannot win. Indeed, horses that are ridden with something other their own winning chance in mind will often come home in front but that doesn’t mean that the intent (or lack thereof) wasn’t there. Proving that intent is tricky if not impossible but all this does highlight a strange blind-spot for the sport; we talk about how a certain ownership cohort may attempt to scheme out a race beforehand and perhaps even praise them afterwards for a well-executed plan. I’ve done it myself but it is difficult to get away from the view that such an approach contravenes the rules.

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Advocates of pacemaking will point to its chief benefit: a pacemaker ensures a fair and even pace where the best horse will win more often than not. This is a hollow sentiment and there are many examples of this not being the case. Take Churchill’s 2,000 Guineas in May, where his stablemate Lancaster Bomber set a steady gallop that would suit a horse who showed plenty of speed at two and work against the likes of Barney Roy and Al Wukair who wanted a stamina test at the trip. Regardless of your views on the relative merits of those three horses and their subsequent achievements, the Timeform sectional database suggests that the second and third were better on the day due to how fast they finished. Perhaps Churchill would have pulled out more – his style of running suggests as much – but I prefer to put my faith in the physics rather than the perception of idling.

At the other end of the pace spectrum is the overly-strong gallop and the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot is a reasonable if not perfect example. Harry Angel was forced to go a little faster than ideal in front with Intelligence Cross pressuring him (the sectionals suggest Intelligence Cross raced very inefficiently) which set things up for the closing Caravaggio who wanted a well-run race. That Intelligence Cross was spoiling Harry Angel and getting him racing a little keenly is another issue and the whole idea of manufacturing trouble and pacemakers dropping back to create lanes for stablemates coming through the pack is another grey area worth exploring.

A huge feature of jockey skill is in predicting how a race will be run; riders must be aware of how to ride the race as well as their horse and not be hidebound to the same tactics each day. The likes of Frankie Dettori have been roundly praised for setting his own pace in races where nothing else wants to go on but some of this skill is taken out of the equation when a percentage of the jockeys have a good idea about how the race will be run. This confers a massive advantage such as in the 2016 Epsom Derby when Ryan Moore on US Army Ranger was aware that Port Douglas was going to set fierce fractions and he could sit out the back and come late. This helped produce a clear career-best effort for his mount where Pat Smullen on the winner, Harzand, could only guess at what the pace might be.

Knowing the plan, and the plan working out, are of course two different things and often the internal chaos of a race will kick in and blow any predetermined approach apart; perhaps the intended frontrunner fluffs the start or maybe a really free-going sort tanks itself to the lead. We shouldn’t judge the issue on exceptional cases however and it is hard to argue that over time, broadly knowing how a race will be run is a huge edge for some riders and connections.

I realise all of this sounds horribly anti-Coolmore and Ballydoyle but that is not the intention; they are merely playing within the rules as currently applied and it is hard to fault them for that. Clearly the prime exponents of constructing a suitable pace (this might be a better way of describing it than ‘pacemaking’), they are not to be blamed as much as the authorities. As I wrote a few weeks back, the influence that Coolmore exert in Irish group races is growing all the time with their percentage of runners on the rise in recent seasons so we can expect to see even more of this in the near-future. There was even a Leopardstown maiden back in July where the pace was seemingly set to advantage their Coat Of Arms though he was ultimately unable to deliver!

As for solutions to this, I don’t really have any though less lionising of such team tactics might be a good place to start. No more than proving a non-trier, proving an attempt to choreograph a race is difficult for all that it may be obvious to onlookers. That is assuming a will to even go down that legislative route which seems unlikely in an Irish context; the Coolmore lobby in Ireland is powerful, prepotent even, and they are the ones that benefit most from the status quo. And even if trainers were asked to answer a case, they could argue – rightly – that their horse is simply a natural front-runner where the jockey got the fractions wrong or that a change in tactics was in order to spark an out of form animal. Unsatisfactory, that is for sure.

- TK

Majestic Enable Crowned Queen at Chantilly

Enable was duly crowned Queen of Chantilly, winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with a performance of sheer majesty.

We hoped and prayed that Gosden’s outstanding filly would arrive in France at the peak of her powers. And it proved a five-star performance all-round, as she made it five Group One victories for the campaign, giving Frankie Dettori his fifth success in the Arc. Owner Khalid Abdullah was also securing his fifth victory in Europe’s most prestigious race.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and that man was the enigmatic Italian Lanfranco Dettori. Tactics were always going to play a huge part in the Arc, especially with a Ballydoyle ‘bunch of fives’ doing their utmost to spoil the party.

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As anticipated by many, and no doubt by Frankie, a pair of O’Brien colts were immediately sent to the front in hope of unsettling the favourite, maybe even trapping the filly on the rail. Dettori was alert to such a manoeuvre, and having shadowed Idaho in a move towards the head of affairs, she was then switched outside of Order Of St George, as he made his move alongside his stable companion.

That piece of quick-thinking from the Italian enabled Enable a perfect ‘posi’ outside of the Ballydoyle boys, ensuring a clear passage once the moment came to strike. At the two-furlong mark Dettori could wait no more, and with a ‘Whoosh’ the flying filly was gone. She stretched four-lengths clear in the blink of an eye, with the Juddmonte International winner Ulysses doing his best to stay in her slipstream. Resistance proved futile and at the line Andre Fabre’s Cloth Of Stars ran on strongly to snatch second from Stoute’s courageous colt.

An emotional John Gosden said of his phenomenal filly: “She’s very special. She was well positioned by Frankie in order to show her sheer class and brilliance.” And of the future he added: “I think it would be hard on the filly to go to the Breeders’ Cup. If she’s in great form, we should consider next year. It would be wonderful to go to Longchamp, for the opening of the new Longchamp, and try and do it again.”

Dettori was as exuberant as ever after the thrilling success, saying: “She won like I expected. She’s an absolute freak. I said to John last week that she’s the best she’s ever been. He’s a genius to keep this filly 100% for the whole season. I got in position A, and knew I had no weight, and I know she stays, so I kicked and she gave it to me and I put four lengths and the race was over.”

Sir Michael Stoute appeared satisfied with third-home Ulysses, saying: “He's run his race and there are no excuses regarding the ground as it rode well. I don't think he's had too hard a race and, if that's the case, we will take him to the Breeders' Cup Turf again.” His jockey Jim Crowley was also pleased with the performance, adding: “I had a lovely position throughout, tracking Enable. He picked up well for me when I asked him in the straight, but the winner must be an exceptional filly.”

Order Of St George proved best of Ballydoyle in fourth. Aidan O’Brien summarised by saying: “That was probably far enough for Winter and we might go back to a mile and a quarter for the race at Ascot (Qipco Champion Stakes). Seventh Heaven is getting better and Idaho was probably lit up a bit. Order Of St George ran very well and we might look at the two-mile race (Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup) at Ascot.”

As for Enable, the thrill of victory was almost matched by the possibility of a return to action next season. She has proved herself peerless, and the prospect of witnessing such power and elegance during another summer campaign is simply glorious.

Classy Juveniles gather at Newmarket

The Arc meeting at Chantilly is understandably receiving the lion’s share of attention this week. Nevertheless, there’ll be plenty of interest in Newmarket over the coming days, as the Cambridgeshire meeting takes centre-stage.

On Friday the Group Two Rockfel Stakes is the headliner, and an event that has been won by numerous high-class juvenile fillies in its time. A handful have captured this and gone on to win the 1000 Guineas the following spring. Finsceal Beo was the last to do so, when completing the double in 2006 and 2007. Speciosa had achieved the same a year earlier. Other classy sorts to capture the valuable prize in recent years include Music Show, Just The Judge and Lucida.

The Roger Charlton-trained Gavota may prove the star attraction in this year’s renewal. An impressive winner at Lingfield last time, the daughter of Bated Breath is out of a Galileo mare, and clearly appreciated the step-up to seven-furlongs when romping home by six lengths. She carries those famous silks of Khalid Abdullah.

Mark Johnston’s Nyaleti sets the standard, having won a Group Three and finished prominent in a pair of Group Two’s. She does however, look a little exposed having run six times already this season. Nevertheless, it will take a classy filly to beat her.

Aidan O’Brien may run two, with Butterscotch looking to be his main hope. She was runner-up to Clemmie last time at the Curragh. Lightening Quick is another Irish challenger, though she is trained by Ger Lyons. This daughter of Frankel won a competitive maiden at Leopardstown on debut, though this is undoubtedly a much tougher proposition.

The Cambridgeshire Handicap takes place on Saturday, but again it’s the juveniles that will attract attention, with three prestigious renewals.

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The Cheveley Park Stakes always attracts talented fillies, and though it tends to uncover classy speedsters, it has occasionally been won by a future Guineas heroine. Special Duty was one such lady. She was yet another to sport those famous Khalid Abdullah silks, when winning impressively in 2009.

Clemmie looks likely to head the betting, and has looked high-class in winning her last two races, including the Group Two Duchess Of Cambridge at Newmarket back in July. She’s defeated Nyaleti and Butterscotch in those recent starts, both of whom are fancied to go well in the Rockfel on Friday.

This Cheveley looks a tasty renewal, with the Royal Ascot winner Different League among the contenders. Third in the Prix Morny last time, connections expect her to go well on a track that ought to suit. Her trainer Matthieu Palussiere said: “She will be my first runner at Newmarket. She ran very well in the Prix Morny and could easily have finished second. She’s a fine big, strong filly with a great nature and she looks a picture at the moment.”

Of the track, he added: “The Morny is run over an easy six furlongs, and I think that the stiffer course at Newmarket will be better for her. She handles most ground and if it came up soft it wouldn’t worry me.”

Heartache is arguably the quickest juvenile filly, and her trainer Clive Cox is hopeful that the six-furlong trip will not prove troublesome. He said: “She is in tremendous form. I think and hope that the step up to six furlongs in the Cheveley will be within her boundaries, especially if conditions on the Rowley Mile remain as they are now. She’s a very well-balanced filly, and I hope that she will handle the course well.”

Though the Cheveley Park looks a cracker, it’s the Group One Middle Park Stakes that could prove the race of the meeting. Sands Of Mali, Unfortunately and Sioux Nation are all vying for favouritism. The former was an impressive winner of the Gimcrack last time, comfortably accounting for last week’s Mill Reef runner-up Invincible Army.

The Karl Burke-trained Unfortunately won the Prix Morny at Deauville and prior to that took a Group Two at Maisons-Laffitte. Aidan O’Brien’s Sioux Nation held off Gordon Elliott’s Beckford to win the Group One Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last month. He’s by Scat Daddy out of an Oasis Dream mare, and will need the rain to stay away if he is to be seen at his best.

Elliott sends Beckford over the Irish Sea, and is hoping for a big performance from his talented sprinter. He said: “Beckford has come out of the National Stakes well. He didn’t get home over seven furlongs on a testing surface that day and this drop back to six on better ground should be in his favour. Newmarket is a proper racecourse and I don’t think he will have any problem handling its undulations.”

The trainer added: “It would be very nice to win a Group One on the flat but don’t worry, there is no chance that I will be switching my attention away from jump racing.”

The Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes forms part of Saturday’s supporting cast, and appears to be another potential cracker. Frankel famously took this as a juvenile, and Khalid Abdullah has a leading contender on Saturday. The wonderfully named Herculean is a son of Frankel and trained by Roger Charlton. He was a relatively comfortable winner at Ascot on debut, and many will be hoping he can emulate his famous father.

Charlton’s charge faces a Royal Lodge field stacked with talented juveniles. Godolphin’s Masar was an impressive winner of the Solario Stakes at Sandown earlier in the month. He’s bred to appreciate every yard of the one-mile trip. Ballydoyle’s Nelson is progressing at a rare old rate, and looked good at Leopardstown last time. He’s another from the Frankel conveyor belt.

Roaring Lion and Elarqam also look exciting prospects going into the race. The former is trained by John Gosden, whilst the latter is yet another son of Frankel out of the dual 1000 Guineas winning mare Attraction.

It looks sure to prove a thrilling and highly informative meeting, and act as the perfect appetiser, with the Arc to follow on Sunday.

Tasleet can win a Sprint Cup Slog

Hold on to your hats folks, as this weekend we’re treated to a feast of high-class racing in England, Ireland and over the Channel in France.

Harry Angel, Winter, Churchill and Ribchester are just a few of the stars on display, as they contest an array of prestigious events.

It’s the Irish Champion Stakes in Ireland, with a couple of thrilling days racing from Leopardstown and the Curragh. Churchill is even-money to capture the feature for Aidan O’Brien, with Eminent looking the main danger after his recent impressive Group Two success at Deauville.

Winter has had an outstanding campaign to date, and is another short-priced Ballydoyle favourite, as she looks to add the Matron Stakes to the four Group One’s already under her belt. She faces a field of classy fillies including stable companion Rhododendron, who looks to get her season back on track after being pulled-up in France last time. Prior to that, she had finished runner-up in a pair of Classics and could prove a huge danger to the favourite.

The juvenile scene could be in for something of a shake-up, with the Moyglare Stud and the Vincent O’Brien National taking place at the Curragh on Sunday. Gustav Klimt is all the rage for the latter, but I’m in the Beckford camp. And I will not hear of defeat for Clemmie in the Moyglare, assuming she’s allowed to take here chance on soft ground.

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Over in France, Ribchester returns to the track in the Prix Du Moulin. He’s by no means a certainty with Inns Of Court, Taareef, Zelzal and a resurgent Massaat, all capable of a massive performance. The French have won the last five, and this looks a hugely competitive renewal.

Back on home turf, attention turns to the Sprint Cup at a soggy Haydock on Saturday. Plenty more rain is forecast to fall before the flag drops on tomorrow’s Group One, and it’ll be interesting to see if all 12 declared stand their ground. Harry Angel is currently favourite to add this to the July Cup he took at Newmarket, though clearly conditions will be completely different.

Clive Cox appears confident that the three-year-old will cope, and being out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare gives hope. He won the Mill Reef with plenty of cut in the ground last September, and his action suggests he’ll be fine. Nevertheless, he’d have been an even-money shot on quick ground, and as a punter we remain somewhat in the dark until he actually proves he can cope.

Brando has been popular with punters this week, and certainly impressed in France last time. He was no match for Harry Angel in the July Cup, though he did finish well for third. He is 4lb better off at the weights for that two-length defeat, and though the younger horse may well have strengthened further in the two months that have past, the weight differential is quite substantial in a sprint. Assuming there’s no repeat of the burst blood vessel that occurred at York in May (ground was again testing), he looks sure to go very close.

Tasleet won the race in May, coping admirably with the testing conditions to win impressively under Jim Crowley. Like Harry Angel, he too is out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare, and beat some decent horses that day, including Magical Memory, The Tin Man and Growl. He disappointed at Newmarket last time, but with both track and ground likely to be ideal, he looks a huge danger to the favourite. A strong pace will help him settle, and if Crowley can get the best from him, he could take all the beating.

As well as the favourite, Godolphin are represented by the talented Blue Point. Off the track since running a close third in the Commonwealth Cup, he also has to prove he can go on the ground. He’s by Shamardal, which gives some hope, but of the Godolphin pair I’d be siding with Harry to come out best, as he did at Royal Ascot when beaten by Caravaggio.

The Tin Man ran a cracker in this race 12 months ago, when runner-up to Quiet Reflection in similarly testing ground. Likely to be coming with a rattle late-on, he’s a tough fella to predict, and though it would come as no surprise should he win, he could just as easily finish down the field. He’s a 7/1 shot, and though that is tempting I’ll probably steer clear, hoping not to regret the decision.

A three-year-old filly won this race last year, and Richard Fahey hopes to follow suit with the beautifully bred Queen Kindly. She’s by Frankel, and her Mum Lady Of The Desert, was runner-up in this race back in 2010. She’ll certainly need to step-up on what she’s been doing so far this season, but I’ve seen her name mentioned in several places this week, and at 40s there’ll be plenty taking an each-way punt.

Three-year-olds have a strong recent record, with five victories from the last 10 renewals, and I’d give a mention for Aidan O’Brien’s Spirit Of Valor. With Caravaggio staying in Ireland, this fella looks to be Ballydoyle’s best hope, in a race the team have largely ignored over the years. The ground is undoubtedly a worry for this colt with an American pedigree, but he’s not without a chance, having run well this summer, especially when a close second in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. He showed plenty of speed that day, and if coping with conditions could run a big race at 33/1.

On decent ground I’d be with Harry Angel all day long. This track is ideal for him, and I fancy he would have demolished this field with a display of devastating speed. However, in testing conditions I’m going to take him on. Tasleet showed in May that he thrives in soft ground, and he’s the one for me. I’ll also risk a few quid each-way on Spirit Of Valor, though conditions are clearly a concern.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Irish Champions Weekend 2017: The Best Gets Better

Aidan O’Brien has had an unusual last couple of weeks, writes Tony Keenan. Rather than concentrating on preparations for Irish Champions Weekend, he’s been defending Ballydoyle work practices at the Labour Court and the decision there could yet have wide-reaching consequences for Irish racing. On the track however, it’s been business as usual for O’Brien with none of his rival Irish trainers causing anything like as many problems as the labour lawyers; so it seems sensible to expect a good number of winners for the trainer this coming weekend.

In truth, Irish Champions Weekend hasn’t been the best meeting for the yard since it took its current form in 2014. In that time, O’Brien has had nine winners in total with the other Irish trainers having 23, Dermot Weld doing best with six, and the now retired David Wachman next on three. UK-based trainers had 15 winners while Almanzor was the sole French success in last year’s Champion Stakes. Despite these historical figures I’m inclined to drink the Cool(-more) Aid and expect a massive weekend for Team Ballydoyle in light of what has been going on with the other main Irish trainers this season.

Excluding O’Brien, 2017 has been one of the worst years in recent memory for Irish trainers winning good flat races in the UK. Consider the following table which totals the record of non-APOB Irish trainers in UK races worth £10,000 or more since 2011:


Irish Trainers in UK Flat Races worth £10,000 or more (excluding Aidan O’Brien)

Year Runners Winners Strikerate
2017 (to date) 4 69 5.8%
2016 7 156 4.5%
2015 17 158 10.8%
2014 21 135 15.6%
2013 17 150 11.3%
2012 21 135 15.6%
2011 11 101 10.9%


This season is far from over of course but with roughly two months of it left it is going to be a struggle to beat even last year’s total of seven winners which itself was well down on previous years. Even the quality of the four winners has been below-par; two were handicap winners, The Tartan Spartan at Salisbury in April and Thomas Hobson at Royal Ascot, while the other two were Ken Condon-trained winners on soft ground, Elusive Beauty at Carlisle and Success Days at York, hardly the most competitive contests.

One could ask what this has to do with events at home but I would counter quite a lot. Irish trainers have long gone to England for better opportunities with their best flat horses but if you can’t win at home you are unlikely to start looking away for possible targets. Perhaps the most revealing figure above is greatly reduced number of runners in the better UK races, just 69 so far in 2017 with the previous five seasons all comfortably breaking three figures. Some major Irish trainers haven’t even been trying in the UK this year with Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger being notably absent with one and four runners respectively.

It has been an entirely different story with O’Brien. As you can see below, his tally of UK runners continues to grow. He looks certain to outstrip his previous highs in terms of runners with the winner total likely to follow and the last two seasons have basically seen a 35% increase in the number of horses he runs in England. O’Brien seems to have more good horses than ever before and he needs to find more good races in which to place them.

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Aidan O’Brien in UK Flat Races worth £10,000 or more

Year Runners Winners Strikerate
2017 (to date) 96 17 17.7%
2016 108 22 20.4%
2015 59 9 15.3%
2014 64 8 12.5%
2013 69 11 15.9%
2012 62 12 19.4%
2011 68 13 19.1%


This would be less of a concern to the other main Irish trainers were they succeeding in battening down the hatches at home, maintaining levels of success for upcoming seasons when better horses come along. This has not been the case however. Here we have a table of O’Brien’s record in Irish group races over the past five years and note how not only his percentage of runners in these races has grown but also how his percentage of winners has gone into the stratosphere in 2017.


Aidan O’Brien in Irish Group Races

Year Runners in Irish Group Races Total Runners % Runners in Irish Group Races Winners in Irish Group Races Total Group Races Contested % Wins in Group Races Contested
2017 (to date) 100 375 26.7% 23 50 46.0%
2016 117 484 24.2% 24 66 36.3%
2015 84 481 17.5% 20 65 30.7%
2014 112 474 23.6% 23 63 31.7%
2013 98 460 21.3% 22 62 35.5%


The evidence again points to him becoming more dominant in terms of runners and winners but the question is where this improvement has come from. An obvious answer is that it is a by-product of a down year for Dermot Weld and he has just picked up the races that would typically go to Rosewell; but a barely remarked upon point has been the retirement of David Wachman and the relocating of the horses he had in training as well as the ones that might have been destined for his yard.

I’m sure there were a few trainers with Coolmore associations – Fozzy Stack and Joseph O’Brien perhaps – that might have hoped for some of those runners but all of them seem to have finished up in Ballydoyle. Wachman may have had a nightmare time in his final season, finishing twenty-fourth overall in the championship and having only 118 runners, but this was by no means a small operation: the previous three years yielded 261 runners (sixth overall), 265 runners (ninth) and 293 runners (fourth) respectively. Nor was Wachman short on quality, training the likes of Legatissimo, Curvy and Again in recent seasons.

So a good-sized yard with well-bred horses was basically subsumed into Ballydoyle over the winter with Winter herself the obvious standard-bearer. O’Brien has had some strong crops of juvenile fillies in recent campaigns but this season’s might be the deepest which makes sense if he has gotten extra inmates from Wachman; that trainer was often given a sizable number of well-bred Coolmore fillies and had a good record with them. Despite his skill with such runners, it is hardly unrealistic to expect O’Brien to extract more from them: not only is he a better trainer than Wachman, he is a better trainer than anyone else too.

All of this could lead to a record-breaking year for O’Brien in terms of prizemoney won in Ireland. Below is a table of prizemoney earned by the big four Irish trainers of O’Brien, Bolger, Lyons and Weld over the past five seasons. I’ve included a figure for each yard for the current season along with a projected total that they might reach. The projected figure is simply a fast and loose calculation that pro-rates what they have done already across the rest of the season; in a typical Irish flat season running March to October/November, there will be roughly 940 races and we have had 720 to this point so we are just past the three-quarters point of the season.


Trainer 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 (to date) 2017 Projected
A. O’Brien 3,867k 4,878k 4,039k 5,190k 4,619k 6,077k
J. Bolger 2,204k 1,556k 1,790k 1,711k 1,217 1,601k
G. Lyons 737k 935k 1,579k 1,324k 1,148 1,510k
D. Weld 1,345k 2,232k 2,298k 2,886k 752k 989k


Obviously these projections are subject to error as trainers like Weld that have done poorly up to now may improve over the final two months of the season while others could regress. But what they do reveal is that a €6 million figure is very much in play for O’Brien which would be more than €800,000 ahead of his previous best. Some of that might be down to prizemoney inflation in a rising economy but not all of it can be put down to that.

The vagaries of training race-horses means that their form ebbs and flows but the increase in the number of O’Brien runners suggests there could be something more going on as he takes his career up another level. Certainly a look at the top 20 flat horses in Ireland per Horse Racing Ireland’s race administration website is a sobering experience for other trainers; O’Brien trains 17 of them with the other three – Jet Setting, Awtaad and Heartbreak City – either retired or deceased.

So where is Irish flat racing as we go into Champions Weekend 2017? Weld has had a down year and Jim Bolger has basically spent recent seasons flat-lining in terms of achievement. The interesting one – and the one who has hardly been mentioned yet – is Ger Lyons. As a younger man, he might be more ambitious than Weld or Bolger and there is a chance that he finishes second overall this season though how meaningful that achievement would be can be questioned as it would have come when the usual runner-up Weld was having a bad time.

The reality is however that there is a ceiling on what he can achieve as his yard is currently constituted. Subjectively, I view him as at least as good a trainer as Weld and Bolger in how he goes about his business but he needs a major patron that can take him to the next level. That opportunity has not presented itself yet but a winner or two over Irish Champions Weekend would hardly do him any harm though the going will not be easy with O’Brien in total control. That said, owners doing shocking things and moving horses wholesale from champion yards is not unfamiliar in Irish racing; it was just that sort of seemingly crazy move that breathed life into a long-dormant jumps trainers’ title this past winter.

- Tony Keenan

Barney can battle to a Joyous Juddmonte

All eyes will be on the Knavesmire today, as York’s Ebor Meeting begins, with the Juddmonte International a thrilling centrepiece.

A magnificent seven take to the field, with Ballydoyle’s finest clashing head-on with the best from Godolphin. Throw into the mix a Stoute stalwart and a Juddmonte ‘flying filly’ and we have the prospect of a sizzling showpiece.

The first two home in the 2000 Guineas head the market, closely followed by the Coral-Eclipse winner, and the Epsom Derby runner-up. This is a truly high-class renewal, and for once the weather Gods have been kind, hopefully ensuring all seven reach the start-line.

Upsets are very rare, and in the past 20 years only Arabian Queen has managed a shock victory at odds exceeding 10/1. Chances are that we have five realistic contenders for today’s prestigious prize, though Decorated Knight and My Dream Boat are by no means a pair of nags.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this renewal is just who takes on the responsibility of setting the pace. Cliffs Of Moher may be sent to the front under Seamie Heffernan, though he’s unlikely to be making it a test of stamina with stablemate Churchill attempting the trip for the first time. Frankie Dettori is renowned for getting the fractions right, and if the pace is not to his liking, expect him to take matters into his own hands onboard John Gosden’s filly Shutter Speed.

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I fancy James Doyle will be rowing away on Barney Roy from some distance out. The long straight at York should prove ideal for the Godolphin colt, allowing him time to get into top gear. Expect Ulysses and Churchill to be played as late as possible.

Confidence appears high among the principals, with Aidan O’Brien saying this week: “You can put a line through his (Churchill) run at Royal Ascot and we've been looking forward to this day for a while. His running style suggests he'll have no problem over a mile and a quarter and he has certainly not been wilting at the end of his races over a mile. He's not soft and that toughness he shows at the end of his races will be a big asset over this trip. He's very relaxed in his races too and I'm looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”

Heffernan was also upbeat about his chances on the supposed second-string, Epsom Derby runner-up, Cliffs Of Moher, when saying: “He looks great and has been working very well. He showed a lot of pace as a two-year-old and I think the trip will suit him. He was trained for the Derby and was only collared very late in that. He has lots of pace and we know he stays. He's a great ride to get. I've no doubt Churchill will stay the trip too and they're two very, very nice colts.”

Richard Hannon believes Barney Roy is probably the best he’s trained, and can’t wait for the challenge, saying: “He hit a few of the undulations at Newmarket and Sandown. I think York will suit him immensely because it’s flat and will give him plenty of time to get going with his long stride. I’d love it if he was the type to go and win by four lengths but he’s not that sort of guy. He always makes it look like he’s struggling but the quicker they go, the quicker he goes. He keeps finding.”

The concern for Barney fans is undoubtedly the pace angle. If the race is run at a crawl and left to a sprint finish, Hannon’s fella could be caught on the hop. There’s every chance that we could see Doyle forcing the issue from a fair distance out, with Churchill, Cliffs Of Moher and Ulysses all travelling up strongly. It’ll then be a case of whether any can force their way past him, in a bruising battle to the line.

Churchill has had a decent break since his disappointing run at Royal Ascot behind Barney in the St James’s Palace Stakes. He’d certainly finished strongly when winning the English and Irish Guineas, and if back to his best looks likely to see-out this extended trip. It’s no surprise to see Moore choose him over the Derby runner-up, though it’s far from certain he’ll finish ahead of his stablemate. We’re stepping into the unknown with this fella, and there’s enough doubts surrounding O’Brien’s star to look elsewhere for the selection.

Cliffs Of Moher had problems in running when fourth in the Eclipse, but he was alongside Barney Roy a couple of furlongs out, and looked to be outpaced by the Godolphin colt and eventual winner Ulysses. A clearer path and possibly a stronger pace may suit Ballydoyle’s second-string, and it does appear that there’s plenty of stable confidence. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if he manages to turn the tables on his Coral-Eclipse adversaries.

Ulysses continues to surprise me and I’m sure many others. Sir Michael Stoute does this year after year, and the four-year-old backed up the Sandown success with a cracking run behind Enable on unsuitable ground in the King George. He’ll travel much better on a sounder surface at York, and will again be delivered as late as possible by the outstanding Jim Crowley. The way Barney came back at him in the Eclipse hints that a protracted battle will not be in his favour, and that will surely be an issue for Crowley as he tries to ‘hold-on’ to his fella for as long as possible. I’ve underestimated Ulysses throughout this campaign, but he certainly won me over with his performance last time at Ascot. I fancy he and Barney may well go hoof-to-hoof once again.

The Juddmonte filly may well prove the surprise package, especially under the ‘canny’ handling of Frankie Dettori. She won the Musidora over course and distance, and then ran respectably in the French Oaks, when fading slightly late-on. She has plenty of speed, and if allowed to dictate, Dettori could have the boys in trouble when deciding to quicken from the front. She has a victory over Enable to her name, and is therefore impossible to discount. I just fancy that despite my concern over the pace of the race, she’ll be bullied out of it in the latter stages.

I’m siding with Barney, as I’ve thought all along that York would be his ideal track. Ulysses and a resurgent Churchill could prove the biggest dangers. This looks sure to be an absolute cracker.

Phoenix Nights – Party Time for Elliott?

A pair of juvenile events are the highlight of this weekend’s action.

The Group Three Sweet Solero takes place at Newmarket, with several classy fillies on show. And 24 hours later at the Curragh, we have the Group One Phoenix Stakes, so often won by a leading Irish juvenile.

Numerous winners of the Newmarket event have returned to win the Group One Fillies’ Mile later in the campaign, highlighting the quality of filly this race attracts. Certify and White Moonstone completed the double for Godolphin in 2010 and 2012. The John Gosden-trained Rainbow View was another to complete the feat in 2008. In 2002 James Fanshawe’s Soviet Song announced herself as a talented filly, winning both and being installed as favourite for the 2003 Guineas. She became one of the greats, winning the Falmouth, Sussex and Matron Stakes as a four-year-old.

Godolphin look to add to their impressive Sweet Solero record, in the form of race favourite Poetic Charm. She’s trained locally by Charlie Appleby, and made a winning debut when defeating Ballydoyle’s Sizzling at Newmarket. She ran green that day, yet won cosily under a hands and heels ride. She’s beautifully bred, being a half-sister to Teofilo, and looks a potentially high-class filly.

The Richard Fahey-trained Dance Diva was put firmly in her place last time at Ascot by the classy Nyaleti, and now steps up in trip. She did stay-on steadily that day, and had been three from three prior to the loss. Nevertheless, that was a bruising defeat, and it’s likely she’ll find one or two a little too good for her once again.

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Mayyasah was an impressive winner on debut at Newbury. The Al Shaqab owned filly displayed an eye-catching change of gear to scoot clear in the six-furlong maiden, and looked as if a step-up in trip would suit. This is a much tougher contest, but she looks to be a leading contender.

As does Irish raider Mamba Noire, who possibly sports the most impressive form. Though only winning once in five starts, she has twice chased home Clemmie, including a close third in the Group Two Duchess Of Cambridge at Newmarket. She got within half a length of Nyaleti that day, and that performance now looks particularly impressive. She was staying on strongly, and this seven-furlong trip should prove ideal. Nations Alexander was third in the Duchess of 2016 before returning to win this. Mamba Noire will hope to do the same.

Poetic Charm looks the obvious choice for this, though it’s possibly a race to watch with interest, rather than get heavily involved from a punting aspect. Mamba Noire looks to be the main danger.

We are likely to see something special in Ireland on Sunday. The Phoenix Stakes is usually contested by the leading Irish juveniles, and was won last year by Caravaggio. In 2015 it was Air Force Blue that won impressively, before taking the National Stakes and the Dewhurst. Those performances saw him start 2016 as favourite for the 2000 Guineas. Sadly, as many of us recall, he was to prove a major disappointment as a three-year-old, and was retired after a string of poor performances.

Aidan O’Brien has an incredible record in this race, having won 15 of the last 19 renewals. Such dominance of a Group One event is simply mind-boggling. But that powerful record is likely to come under serious threat on Sunday from a most unlikely source. Jumps trainer Gordon Elliott looks sure to have the race favourite with his undefeated Beckford. The son of Bated Breath took the Railway Stakes in July, though will clearly need to take another step forward to land this. He’s undoubtedly quick, and is sure to be given a positive ride in an attempt to hold off the Ballydoyle masses.

At the time of writing, we are still unsure as to who takes him on. U S Navy Flag is among the contenders, and was a decent second in the July Stakes last time at Newmarket. He was no match that day for Cardsharp, who has since lost in testing ground at Goodwood. The colt has only won once in six starts, and though he’s clearly talented, his record suggests he’s far from star material.

I’m a fan of Sioux Nation, and should the ground be on the quick side, I’d fancy him to run a huge race. Fast enough to win the Norfolk at Royal Ascot, he’s by Scat Daddy out of an Oasis Dream mare, and should be well suited to six-furlongs at the Curragh. If he runs, I’ll be a follower.

The last British trainer to make a successful raid was Mark Johnston back in 1997. Tom Dascombe is set to send Frozen Angel across the Irish Sea, and he should not be discounted. The son of Dark Angel is a class act, as he showed when only just missing out at Maisons-Laffitte last time. He has a bit to find with Sioux Nation on the Royal Ascot run, but is clearly a talented sprinter and could easily find himself in the shake-up.

If he runs, I’ll be having a small punt on Sioux Nation. If he fails to turn up we may well see a very happy National Hunt trainer celebrating a sensational success.