Australian superstar Black Caviar will take an extended break from racing and won’t return to the track before October. The decision to give her more time to rest following her round the world trip to Royal Ascot means that she will miss the Melbourne Spring Carnival this year. Read more
It seemed impossible to think that, after Sea The Stars in 2009 and Frankel in 2011, racing could ask for yet another wonder horse. And, of course, there is every chance that racing will not find that all-conquering beast, despite the promising beginnings of the 2012 season.
But, as reader Laurence F reminded me this morning, this 2012 flat season is shaping up to beat them all.
Let's look at the various international strands that could come together at different stages in the season, and how they came to be a player in this most compelling of part-work dramas.
First up, let's start with the weekend just passed. A certain unbeaten horse, let's call him Frankel (seeing as that is his name), stretched his winning streak to double digits with a facile success in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
That tenth success was his seventh over a mile - the other three coming at seven furlongs - and the way he travelled in the race leads me to believe that it would take an absolutely turbo-charged equine to beat him at any distance from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter.
If connections shared my view - which they probably won't - that would open up an array of mouth-watering prospective matches. The most vaunted of these is the clash of the hemispheres against Australia's own wonder mare, Black Caviar. This little beauty is an astonishing twenty-one races unbeaten.
That sequence includes nineteen stakes races, and eleven Group or Grade 1 contests. She still has a little way to go to beat Goldikova's fourteen G1's, but is on the case!
Black Caviar is on track to run at Royal Ascot this season, her first trip outside of Australia, and we are very lucky to have her. She has won at up to seven furlongs (though only once at that distance), with her regular trip being six furlongs.
The interesting thing for me is that her seven furlong win was perhaps more impressive than a number of her victories over a furlong shorter. This opens the door to a possible clash with Frankel, albeit barely sufficiently to allow a shard of optimistic sunlight to illuminate the metaphorical room... if you catch my drift.
In truth, it is somewhere between unlikely and impossible that the two will race against each other. With each accumulated victory, the fear of defeat becomes stronger. In such a context, and with paddock value aforethought, it would take two monumentally sporting decisions on the part of connections to get this show on.
But, while they're still racing, we can still dream. 🙂
[Stop press: I've just heard that QIPCO have agreed to sponsor a seven furlong conditions race on Ascot King George day - 21st July - with the same finances as the Sussex Stakes. This would appear to be the most likely spot for a match, albeit still extremely unlikely...]
Perhaps a more likely tussle, and still one worthy of significant savouring, is between Frankel and Camelot, the unbeaten winner of this season's 2000 Guineas, a crown he inherited from... Frankel himself.
Camelot's next run will be in the Derby in less than two weeks time. Assuming he wins there - which is, naturally, a very dangerous assumption - talk of the triple crown of Guineas, Derby and St Leger will be rife.
But the Derby is the first week of June and the St Leger is in mid-September. It may well be that the sensible play for connections of Camelot is to 'put him away' (i.e. give him a mid-season break) for a month or six weeks.
Despite that possibility, the prospect of a meeting between Frankel and Camelot in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown in July remains live enough. Frankel's next mooted run is in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot on the 19th June. It is then two and a half weeks before the Eclipse on the 7th July. That may be too short a gap between races, especially if Frankel has as tough a race as he did last year in the St James Palace Stakes on the same Royal Ascot Tuesday.
Either way, it does seem a more plausible proposition that Camelot will meet Frankel at some point, especially given the attractive weight for age allowances the former will receive in the middle part of the season.
Talking of triple crowns brings us onto the next contender for global supremacy in this potential annus mirabilis for flat racing. Across the pond we go to North America, where Doug O'Neill's I'll Have Another added the Preakness Stakes to his Kentucky Derby title on Saturday night.
In front of an enormous crowd of 121,000 (!) at Pimlico racetrack in Maryland, I'll Have Another reprised his narrow defeat of Bodemeister achieved a fortnight earlier at Churchill Downs.
Like Big Brown in 2008, he will go to the behemothic Belmont Park to contest the Belmont Stakes as a triple crown winner in waiting. It is to be hoped that, unlike Big Brown in 2008, he at least finishes the race without injury.
One of the most famous statistics in US sport's stats-obsessed consciousness is that Affirmed was the last horse there to achieve the triple crown of Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, back in 1978.
I'll Have Another has looked to have something left at the end of his races to come past Bodemeister at the ten furlong trip of the first two legs. Whether there is sufficient stamina in reserve to retain his unbeaten run this year over an extra quarter mile remains to be seen.
Belmont's very long (by US standards) turns have found many a potential champion out, and the last four winners have returned at 38.5, 11.9, 13.0 and 24.75 to one.
There is also the small matter of I'll Have Another's trainer's somewhat dubious record with doping - see Ian's article here - which must add at least an element of dissatisfaction to a possible triple crown victory.
Onwards, for there are further top drawer beasties ready to stake their claim to be the pick of the pile.
How about Germany's wonder mare, Danedream, who started her four year old career with a win at Baden Baden yesterday? Last year's Arc winner is likely to be pointed towards that prize again this term, though she is unlikely to meet any of the others mentioned in this post, with the exception of Camelot.
Or perhaps you're more a fan of the remarkably tough, as well as talented, Cirrus Des Aigles? This chap ran eleven times last year, and has already won over two million quid in prize money this term from three starts!
He's historically been a ten furlong horse, but his win in the mile and a half Dubai Sheema and subsequent success in the mile and three-eighths Prix Ganay implies he might be tilted towards the Arc this time around.
Before then, he's tantalisingly entered in all of the Coronation Cup at Epsom, the St James Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, and the Eclipse at Sandown. So there must be every prospect that we'll see the ferrous Frenchie... the Gallic galloper... over here soon. I for one will be there wherever he runs in this country. Top, top horse.
Oh yes, and were he to run in the Eclipse, it could potentially be against Camelot and Frankel. What a race that would be!
If that sextet - Camelot, Frankel, Black Caviar, I'll Have Another, Danedream and Cirrus Des Aigles - isn't enough to induce a salivatory soaking, then you're not easily pleased!
Other older horses, such as St Nicholas Abbey, Fame And Glory (back as a winner at the weekend), and So You Think - and that's just from the Ballydoyle farm - will further spice this season's flat racing feast.
And perhaps French Fifteen will step up to become champion miler. Or maybe Bonfire will turn up the heat* (insert your own pun here) on Camelot and co in the Derby.
Then there are darker horses lying in wait, such as Italy's Crackerjack King, who has recently moved to Marco Botti in Newmarket.
And yes, maybe, just maybe, Khajaaly will come back and win for the Geegeez Racing Club again... 😀
After a fairly... well, flat... start to the flat season, things are bubbling up magnificently now, and there is much indeed to look forward to. It is just possible that we will look back on 2012 as one of the great flat racing seasons.
Bring it on!!!
Qipco, sponsors of the Sussex Stakes, are doing all they can to entice the connections of Frankel and Black Caviar to race their horses against each other at Goodwood on 1 August. They have promised to increase the prize money for the race by over 200%, taking it up from last year’s £300,000 to a round £1 million. Read more