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Champion Trainers set optimistic tone ahead of Breeders’ Cup

The champion trainers of Britain and Ireland were in upbeat and hopeful mood ahead of the Breeders’ Cup, which gets underway a week on Friday at Churchill Downs, Kentucky.

John Gosden, whose lead in the British Champion Trainer title race is already unassailable, has high hopes for superstar mare, Enable. Of the dual Arc-winning four-year-old, he said, “She was only 85% [fit] for the Arc, but she’s fully fit now. She’s fresh but she’s a filly shipping in at the end of the year. We’ll need to see how she’s travelled”.

Of the fact Enable is trying to do what numerous Arc winners, including Gosden’s Golden Horn, have previously failed to do and double up in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the master of Clarehaven seemed largely unmoved. “Golden Horn hated the ground; they had an inch and a half of rain there [in Keeneland]. And Dancing Brave was asked to train at 10 in the morning when the sun was at its hottest. It was most unfair on him”.

There are no concerns about the track either, with Enable having won around the tight turns of Chester in her three-year-old season.

When discussing Roaring Lion’s tilt at Breeders’ Cup Classic glory, Gosden was more circumspect, insisting it is a “brave, bold decision” by Qatar Racing Ltd, the recent Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner’s owners. “He’s not bred for the dirt, but a mile and a quarter is his trip. The challenge is not so much the surface, but racing in unfamiliar conditions a horse’s breathing can get compromised”.

Roaring Lion has reportedly come out of the race on Saturday well, and is expected to take his chance in the Classic, though he does have a second preference entry in the Turf over an extra quarter mile.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s perennial Champion Trainer, Aidan O’Brien, was looking forward to sending his biggest team yet to the Breeders’ Cup. The Ballydoyle battalion will fly out on Monday and may not be seen walking on the Churchill track until as late as Thursday morning.

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O’Brien saddles impressive Cornwallis Stakes winner, Sergei Prokofiev, in the opening Juvenile Turf Sprint, and he enthused, “I was delighted with him in Newmarket. He’s a very fast horse for whom a fast pace will suit; he seems to relax better when they go quick”.

The son of Scat Daddy, whose human namesake composed an opera called The Gambler, may prove to be a pretty good bet in the Breeders’ Cup overture.

The Coolmore ‘lads’ could have as many as three runners in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, though O’Brien sounded a note of caution about the participation of Hermosa, who may not run. However, Just Wonderful looks likely to take her chance. “She’s a classy filly, who likes to follow the pace, and quickens very well”.

Those are perfect attributes for a race in which APOB has saddled eleven runners but has yet to win.

In the boys’ equivalent, the Juvenile Turf, Anthony Van Dyck will take some beating if allowed to take his chance. O’Brien reported, “He’ll handle nice ground, and one of him or Broome will run, but both probably won’t”. Broome, he continued, “is in good form, but has had a tough enough season and we’re taking it day by day with him”.

The highly talented rogue that is Lost Treasure is being aimed at the Turf Sprint, over five and a half furlongs. He’s a horse that needs to be delivered right on the line as he has a marked tendency to pull himself up immediately after getting his nose in front, but there’s little doubting his ability.

In a race where they’re sure to go off hard, it may just fall into his lap. “He doesn’t want to be in front too long”, O’Brien confirmed with uncharacteristic understatement, “but if things fell for him he might be right there”.

‘The lads’ are triple-handed in the Mile as well, a race in which Aidan is 0 from 19 to date. It is a bit of a hex race from a British and Irish perspective, with no winner since Ridgewood Pearl in 1995. Gustav Klimt could be the main hope. “Ryan was delighted with him after Haydock [G1 Sprint Cup], and we wanted to give him another chance at a mile. He’s a well balanced horse who travels and quickens well”.

I Can Fly may also run here having been seen flashing home in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes behind Roaring Lion last weekend. Her trainer said, “She was comfortable back at a mile, and Donnacha was delighted with her. The QE II was a great run”.

Happily completes the trio, and “she’s coming to herself; there might be a little more to come. A flat mile will suit her well. We’re looking forward to her if she gets a good draw”.

In the Turf, O’Brien will probably saddle Magical. “She has had an easy enough season, coming into the autumn a fresh filly.”

Regardless of what precedes it, the final note for Ballydoyle will be struck by Mendelssohn, last year’s Juvenile Turf winner who takes his chance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He’s been preparing on the dirt this season, including when a gallant third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last time. There he battled Diversify through relentless early fractions and hung impressively tough to cling on for third.

“We’ve been happy with his three run prep”, reported O’Brien, “and we think he’s progressed with each run. Ryan was very happy with him the last day and we’re looking forward to it”.

It promises to be a spectacular 35th edition, with Europe holding no fewer than 49 entries, a record. The champion trainers of Britain and Ireland will both be relishing the prospect of adding to previous Breeders’ Cup victories to crown their respective seasons.

Breeders’ Cup 2018: Top Trainers

Preparing a horse for an event like the Breeders' Cup requires skill, judgement and no little luck. Some trainers seem to have an unerring knack for it, while for others the meeting is akin to a Sisyphean task.

Given the unfamiliar wagering territory the Breeders' Cup constitutes for many this side of the Atlantic, what follows is a trainer refresher...

Top Breeders' Cup Trainers: Overall Wins

The undisputed training king of the Breeders' Cup is 83-year-old D Wayne Lukas, whose 20 wins at the meeting looks set to stand as the target for at least another five years. Remarkably, Lukas is still training, and enjoyed his most recent Cup victory when Take Charge Brandi made all in the 2014 Juvenile Fillies at 61.7/1. However, he looks unlikely to have a runner this time around.

Second in the all time wins list, and bidding to close the gap on the top guy, is Bob Baffert. Baffert, 65, has 14 wins on his CV to date, including a hat-trick of Classics from 2014 to 2016. He will again have a strong hand in the showpiece event with both West Coast and McKinzie expected to line up. All 14 wins have come in dirt races.

In the bronze medal position, and vying with Baffert for second, is the master of Ballydoyle, Aidan O'Brien. He's claimed a dozen Breeders' Cup victories, ten on them on the lawn.

Now, here's one for the trivia buffs amongst you: can you name APOB's two Breeders' Cup dirt winners? Of course, everyone knows about Johannesburg, but who was the other? It was, of course (ahem), Man Of Iron in the 2009 Marathon. With little crossover between Baffert's main track runners and O'Brien's turfers, they may both narrow the differential with Lukas.

If Obie doesn't have to worry about Bob too much on the turf, he will be extremely mindful of the ascending star of Chad Brown. Brown saddled his first runner in 2008: Maram won the Juvenile Fillies Turf, setting the tone for the next decade where all but one of his ten Cup victories were achieved either on the grass or with a filly, or both. Brown will have a formidable hand to play once more, perhaps headlined by the hugely exciting unbeaten juvenile turf filly, Newspaperofrecord.

Also on ten career Breeders' Cup wins is Bill Mott, though his haul has been achieved from 95 starters (to Brown's 71), and began 21 years earlier with Theatrical in 1987. Mott was responsible for "the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar" who, after winning just two of his first 13 races, then went on an unbeaten run of 16, which included ten Grade 1's as well as the Dubai World Cup, which at that point had yet to receive G1 status. Like all other six-year-olds to attempt the feat, Cigar failed in his bid to repeat his Classic success the year after that famous line was uttered.

Mott's two chances this time look to be Channel Maker in the Turf - against a phalanx of top class Euros - and Yoshida, who had a spin in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot earlier this season, in the Classic.

Richard Mandella is one of three trainers to have saddled nine BC winners, and his performance is further praiseworthy for coming from just 42 starters, a sensational 21.43% strike rate at this most rarefied of levels. At this stage, however, it doesn't look like Mandella, trainer of triple-Cup-winning Beholder, will have a runner at the 2018 renewal.

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Claude 'Shug' McGaughey and Todd Pletcher both also have nine winners. McGaughey's last Cup win was in 2005 and he looks likely to unleash interesting dark horse Code Of Honor in the Juvenile. Meanwhile, Pletcher has fired a lot of bullets - 131 at the last count - for his nonet, and will do so again, with Bulletin and Current exciting juvenile prospects on the Friday before a quieter Saturday by the look of things.

The best of the rest of the European trainers are Sir Michael Stoute, who has saddled seven winners from 39 starters; Andre Fabre, whose quintet of winners includes last year's Turf victor, Talismanic; and John Gosden, whose four wins have come from 33 runners. He's 0 from 12 since Pounced won the 2009 Juvenile Turf, and has endured some terrible luck in the interim, perhaps most notably with The Fugue (twice) and Golden Horn.

 

Leading Breeders' Cup Trainers, by number of wins - Europeans in bold italics (statistics courtesy of breederscup.com)
Pos Wins Runs Win% Trainer
1 20 164 12.20% Lukas, D. Wayne
2 14 108 12.96% Baffert, Bob
3 12 124 9.68% O'Brien, Aidan P.
4 10 71 14.08% Brown, Chad C.
4 10 95 10.53% Mott, William I.
6 9 42 21.43% Mandella, Richard E.
6 9 63 14.29% McGaughey III, Claude R.
6 9 131 6.87% Pletcher, Todd A.
9 7 39 17.95% Stoute, Sir Michael R.
10 6 44 13.64% Asmussen, Steven M.
10 6 35 17.14% Drysdale, Neil D.
10 6 82 7.32% Frankel, Robert J.
13 5 49 10.20% Fabre, Andre
13 5 47 10.64% O'Neill, Doug F.
15 4 42 9.52% Casse, Mark E.
15 4 33 12.12% Gosden, John H. M.
15 4 31 12.90% McAnally, Ronald L.

 

Top Breeders' Cup Trainers: By Strike Rate

As impressive as the achievements of the above hall of fame are, it is worth taking stock not just of the number of wins for each trainer, but also the strike rate. As alluded to already, two trainers with nine Breeders' Cup wins apiece have got to that number by quite different means: Richard Mandella is the most selective of the top performers, winning with more than one in five of his entries; while Todd Pletcher rolls the dice most often, winning about one from every fifteen starters.

Aidan O'Brien is another man to cast his net wide, his twelve scores coming from 124 runners at a one in ten clip. Meanwhile, Sir Michael Stoute has boarded just 39 horses onto the 'plane (ignoring last year's scratch, Ulysses) for seven victories, and has the second best strike rate of any trainer with more than three Breeders' Cup wins to his name.

Chad Brown's ten winners from 71 runners (one in seven hit rate) also counts as a top class performance.

Leading Breeders' Cup Trainers, by strike rate (4+ wins) - Europeans in bold italics (statistics courtesy of breederscup.com)
Pos Wins Runs Win% Trainer
1 9 42 21.43% Mandella, Richard E.
2 7 39 17.95% Stoute, Sir Michael R. 
3 6 35 17.14% Drysdale, Neil D.
4 9 63 14.29% McGaughey III, Claude R.
5 10 71 14.08% Brown, Chad C.
6 6 44 13.64% Asmussen, Steven M.
7 14 108 12.96% Baffert, Bob
8 4 31 12.90% McAnally, Ronald L.
9 20 164 12.20% Lukas, D. Wayne
10 4 33 12.12% Gosden, John H. M. 
11 5 47 10.64% O'Neill, Doug F.
12 10 95 10.53% Mott, William I.
13 5 49 10.20% Fabre, Andre
14 12 124 9.68% O'Brien, Aidan P. 
15 4 42 9.52% Casse, Mark E.
16 6 82 7.32% Frankel, Robert J.
17 9 131 6.87% Pletcher, Todd A.

 

 

Selected Trainers' Breeders' Cup Record at Churchill Downs

The Breeders' Cup has been held at Churchill Downs eight times previously - in 2011, 2010, 2006, 2000, 1998, 1994, 1991 and 1988 - and it is worth remembering that the climate and track constitution in Kentucky is very different from a Californian setup. As such, the following are worthy of note:

- Just two of Bob Baffert's 14 victories came at Churchill, in 2011 and 1998. He has run 24 horses in Breeders' Cups at the venue (8.33%). Baffert also won with his sole starter, the peerless American Pharoah, the other time BC came to Kentucky, in Keeneland in 2015.

- Aidan O'Brien is 2/22 under the Twin Spires, both scores coming in 2011. He also recorded two victories (and a second place) from seven starters in Keeneland in 2015.

- Bill Mott has four Churchill Breeders' Cup wins to his name - two in 2011, one in 2010 and one in 1998 - from 27 starters. That's an excellent 14.8% hit rate. He was o from 4 in Keeneland, though Lea ran second in the Dirt Mile (behind the unstoppable Liam's Map).

- Todd Pletcher won three at Churchill in 2010 and two more at Keeneland in 2015. Those five came from 52 starters, at a decent rate of 9.62%.

It is worth emphasising the records of Pletcher and Mott - New York-based trainers - away from the west coast. The transit to Kentucky is shorter, the weather is more akin to east coast weather, and the one turn dirt mile is similar in that regard to Belmont, New York's monolithic main track. Their runners may be worth marking up in the Bluegrass State.

 

Other trainers to note

As I write, before the pre-entries, it is not yet known who will run what. But a trio of French trainers with identical winners and runners records are Pascal Bary, Jonathan Pease, and Freddie Head. Each has saddled three champions from eight attempts: Head of course with triple-Mile-winning Goldikova; Pease with Karakontie and Spinning World in the Mile, and Tikkanen in the Turf; and Bary with Domedriver and Six Perfections in the Mile, and Miss Alleged in the Turf.

It should be clear that the Mile is a race which has been kind to the French, but what may be less apparent is that Flaxman Holdings - the Niarchos family to you and me - have owned the four above in italics, as well as Miesque, a fifth winner for the venture in the Mile, and Main Sequence in the Turf.

If any of them nominate any of their inmates, especially in the Mile and especially if Niarchos/Flaxman-owned, they'll be worthy of at least a second look.

Matt

Breeders’ Cup 2017 Debrief

The final grand flat meeting hooplah - or yeehaa - of the northern hemisphere came and went last weekend as Del Mar racecourse, in San Diego, hosted the 34th Breeders' Cup. With a European cast in the thirties and every major American horse still standing at the end of a punishing season also gracing the stage, it was a fantastic production if not quite the self-proclaimed Thoroughbred World Championships.

Betting Bloodbath

Finding winners was tough. Super tough. A combination of course constituents made for a series of head-scratching results: an extremely tight turning track - the turf course was not long since widened to allow for the requisite field sizes and, naturally, that was engineered on the inside so as not to interfere with the existing dirt oval; a 'dead' rail on the inside of the dirt track played strongly against inside runners; and a depth of surface which was more akin to the dusty El Segundo beach from which it came than a compacted fast dirt stratum made for some lottery outcomes.

Those results were unlike any Breeders' Cup before and, hopefully, it will be a long time until we see such as them again. The Breeders' Cup series consists of thirteen races spread over two days - four on Friday, nine on Saturday. [As an aside, I have no idea why the distribution is so lop-sided. Surely five and eight offers no material dilution of the Saturday card whilst adding 25% in terms of interest to Friday's warm up. Personally, I'd like to see six and seven Cup race cards, but that's unlikely to happen in the land of 'Super Size me'.]

Thirteen races, then, and just two winning favourites. Ouch. But that is merely the tip of the punting woe iceberg. This was brutal stuff. Although a jolly (Mendehlssohn), a second favourite (Rushing Fall) and a 3rd fav (Forever Unbridled) on Friday implied winners might be gettable, Saturday was pin-stickers' territory for most of the day.

The first three Breeders' Cup winners on the main card were seventh, tenth and twelfth in their markets respectively, with average odds of 38/1. Wuheida, winner of the Filly & Mare Turf, Saturday's fourth BC race, was sent off 11.2/1 third choice, and Roy H was logical enough at 4.9/1 (also 3rd fav) in the Sprint. Then, in the sixth of nine Cup races, we got a winning favourite. World Approval was well fancied and was much the best, regardless of luckless runs in behind: you make your own luck to some degree, and this guy was in the right spot throughout.

If that hinted at a positive correction, Bolt d'Oro's odds-on failure in the Juvenile quickly put the lid on such optimistic notions. The winner was another double-digit scorer on track, and only sixth choice of the local betting public. He was followed by the fifth market rank, at 14.1/1 locally, in the Turf.

If you had any money left by now, Gun Runner was easy to find - if totally not for me - in the Classic. He was sent off the 2.4/1 favourite. But let's be clear, this was some bloodbath for most.

**

How the Compendium Fared

I produced and shared a report called the Breeders' Cup Compendium to help punters understand the US form and piece together the relative merits of runners from both sides of the Atlantic. It was a very good report, though I say so myself, and you can find it here.

The amount of effort that went into producing it was significant. As I've said previously, there is nothing in my professional year that makes less sense than the time I lavish on that document compared with the commercial return on investment. No matter, for it is - clearly, I hope - a labour of love, and something I'd be doing in large part for my own benefit anyway.

My aim this year was even less 'commercial' than usual. I use that word in a loose sense as I normally only try to cover the air fare and hotel at best. Dinner and a drink is at my own expense. Anyway, this year, as you probably know, I offered the Compendium on a 'pay if you like' basis. That was because I wanted more people to engage on a slightly more cognisant level with what I believe to be a special event, even when it is as unpredictable as last weekend was.

I'm pleased to say that the download page had been visited 7,916 times as I write. That means a good few thousand people had at least something more than a passing interest in the weekend's action. Great stuff, really pleasing. And many thanks to the 107 who offered up the £12.50 - it's much appreciated and covered the flight and one night's accommodation, which is more than I expected from what was somewhere between vague altruism and a social experiment on my part.

Anyway, never mind all that, how did the report fare?

Learning a lesson from last year, I was deliberately unclear with staking advice. The selection sections, as you will see shortly, were intended to inform in a general sense. That said, each race - with one exception - had at least one suggested play. My own style is often to back multiple runners in a race and that, too, was reflected. Here's how things panned out...

Friday

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Trends Contenders:

Significant Form, Rushing Fall

Form Contenders:

Happily, September, Juliet Capulet

Juvenile Fillies’ Turf Selection:

Happily has a very good chance to win this race. But the combination of much quicker ground, the terrible record of Euro fillies in the race, and her price is enough for me to look elsewhere. She’ll obviously not be a shock result, but nor is she any sort of value.

It’s a really tricky race, with that historical hoodoo casting a long shadow over the merits achieved by a number of British and Irish fillies in the form book. If I was going to back one of ‘ours’, I think Juliet Capulet could be the one. She’s moving forwards nicely, and her trainer’s record at Breeders’ Cup is a respectable if unspectacular four from 32.

But Chad Brown knows how to win this. His record is peerless, and he has two strong cards to play this time. Rushing Fall lucked out at the draw and is short enough, though drifting towards a backable price at 4/1 in a place. 5/1 and I’d be having at least a saver.

Her stablemate, Significant Form, has taken the more established Brown route by winning the Miss Grillo last time out. Brown’s record with winners of that race in the JFT is 1211, the last three of those coming in the past four years.

In a race where I’ll not be getting heavily involved, I think she is the best value option, at 10/1. That said, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock ever if the second horse there, Best Performance, improved past her on what will also be only her third turf start.

Significant Form each way at 10/1 (Hills, betfair, PP) – advised 1st November

Small saver on Best Performance each way at 20/1 (general) – advised 1st November

Result

Rushing Fall was wide all the way around, but that didn't stop her winning. She was much the best and saw off 20/1 suggestion Best Performance in second. Significant Form rounded out the superfecta, one place behind Ballydoyle's second string, September. Aidan O'Brien's Happily finished last as the on track favourite.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Dirt Mile

Trends Contenders:

Mor Spirit, Sharp Azteca

Form Contenders:

Accelerate, Mor Spirit, Sharp Azteca

Dirt Mile Selection:

I think Mor Spirit is the most likely winner. Sadly, so does the market, and I don’t think he’s value at just better than 2/1 even though he may well win.

Sharp Azteca’s chance seems to hang on how much he has to do to get a forward position in a race where there could conceivably be four horses vying for the lead. I fear him in that context, but he could easily run off the board if doing too much too soon, so doesn’t make each way appeal.

The one for me, each way, will be Accelerate. Not exactly a win machine, he is nevertheless very consistent, and has solid course form in his last two starts. He may well have failed to stay over a quarter mile further last time so, dropping back in trip and with a versatile run style, he looks capable of running a big race.

Accelerate each way at 6/1 Skybet NRNB (advised 24th October)

Result

This was a shock. Battle Of Midway was simply not in my thoughts even though it's a race where shocks are commonplace. Indeed, this was the sixth time in eleven renewals that a horse outside of the top three market choices has won. The favourite is now just two from eleven. Sharp Azteca ran a mighty race in second and, while I was right to oppose Mor Spirit at the price (8th as the 2.4/1 favourite), I was wrong to do so with Accelerate. He never lifted a leg and ran as though over the top on the season. He was not the first, and certainly not the last, to fail to fire on a track as divisive as any for a Breeders' Cup since the slop shambles in Monmouth Park in 2007.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Juvenile Turf

Trends Contenders:

Masar, Mendelssohn

Form Contenders:

Masar, James Garfield, Mendelssohn

Juvenile Turf Selection:

I don’t like this race from a betting perspective, not one bit. On the face of it, the Euros have a huge class edge and should win. In fact, they could conceivably fill out the trifecta and perhaps even the superfecta.

But... it shapes to be a messy affair, and it may be the colt that gets the cleanest run who wins.

The most likely winner for me is Masar. He’s classy and progressive, should handle the turns and his trainer knows how to get this job done. The return to a sound surface is also expected to be in his favour.

If his stamina holds out and he gets a clear run, I also believe James Garfield can hit the frame.

Catholic Boy is a very promising colt, too, but I doubt whether he has the ability of the overseas squad.

This is as close to ‘no bet’ territory as there is. Gun to head, Masar. But given we live in a country where gun control laws are sensible – as opposed to the laws from where I write this – I will say no bet.

No bet – advised 1st November

(If pushed, Masar 9/2, very tentatively)

Result

Masar and James Garfield had terrible runs, and were unable to show their best. Masar in particular may have played a hand but for the traffic jams. Mendelssohn has no such issues and was clear pick on the day.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Distaff

Trends Contenders:

Paradise Woods, Elate

Form Contenders:

Stellar Wind, Paradise Woods

Distaff Selection:

A very trappy affair. All should be able to run their races, though Champagne Room may ‘spoil’ Paradise Woods by pressing her hard early. That’s important because I think Paradise Woods is the danger to my fancy if she gets loose on the lead.

She has a very good trends profile, is really fast on her going days, and as a three-year-old has more scope to step forward again than the veterans in the field.

That’s the key to a bet here. Both Stellar Wind and Forever Unbridled are five-year-olds, an age at which most mares are either in the covering sheds or have shown they’re not good enough. Beholder struck back for the oldies last year in a thriller with Songbird, but history says we should not bank on a repeat.

Furthermore, both of that pair have been extremely lightly raced this term, bucking a strong trend whereby winners have had five-plus seasonal starts. Two and three is not close to that level of match fitness.

I’ve personally already backed Elate, directly after she won the G1 Beldame last time out, and she’s the one I like. It wasn’t a big speed figure there – she’s never run one – but she got caught in traffic and when the gap came, she burst through it to put the race to bed in a matter of strides. There is definitely more in her tank. I think she’ll be really tough to keep out of the three so, at 9/2, she rates the proverbial each way bet to (almost) nothing. I’ve backed her again at 4/1 (can’t get on with the 9/2 firms) and rate her the best bet on Friday. Paradise Woods is worthy of a saver in my opinion.

Advised 29th October

Elate each way at 9/2 888sport, Unibet (4/1 general)

Paradise Woods saver at 8/1 Lads, Boyle, Sunbets

Result

My going in position was that I wanted to field against the older brigade and I wanted to be with Elate. I wagered robustly in that direction. And I got it badly wrong. Forever Unbridled, third in a better Distaff last year, was first this year, and deservedly so. She was very good on the day. Paradise Woods faded to third having been involved on the sharp end with others, and late running Abel Tasman picked up the place without threatening the winner. Elate was another who either didn't act on the track or showed the effects of a hard season: this was clearly not her running. Sigh.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

**

Saturday

Juvenile Fillies

Trends Contenders:

Moonshine Memories, Heavenly Love

Form Contenders:

Moonshine Memories, Heavenly Love, Separationofpowers, Piedi Bianchi, Caledonia Road

Juvenile Fillies’ Selection:

I’m hanging my hat on this being run at a rapid pace. If that comes to pass there’s a chance that a closer will gun down the early speedsters.

While I think Moonshine Memories is a legitimate jolly, she could be susceptible to the late rally of a filly like Piedi Bianchi (white feet, if you were wondering) or Caledonia Road.

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I’ve been quite taken by Piedi Bianchi and reckon she’s a fair each way play in what is a pretty open race. She’ll not be involved in the early skirmishes and will need to make her run entering the home turn: that’s what she did in the Del Mar Deb at this track and 14/1 understates her chance a touch.

Back Piedi Bianchi each way at 14/1 (Betfair Sports, 12/1 general) – advised 3rd November

Result

As projected, the market leaders were also the early race leaders and went unsustainably fast. Alluring Star hung toughest to hold on to second, but she couldn't repel the late rally of Caledonia Road, for whom this more extreme test of stamina was ideal. Piedi Bianchi ran a solid race in fifth (one bookie was apparently paying five places, good luck if you managed to get out on that!). I really should have 'bold typed' Caledonia Road as well as White Feet. But, of course, everything is easy with hindsight.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Turf Sprint

Trends Contenders:

Pure Sensation, Marsha

Form Contenders:

Lady Aurelia, Marsha

Turf Sprint Selection:

The Turf Sprint is Lady Aurelia’s to lose. She has a speed edge, a class edge, a great draw and, well, what else do you want?

For those looking to play exacta and/or each way, Pure Sensation could get near the front early, even from the widest draw, and may stay there some way into the home straight. He’s a fast horse who is optimally suited by five furlongs. And he’s 16/1.

Cotai Glory could also grab some of the ‘pieces’ without having any reason to beat Lady Aurelia; and Hogy might run top four or five at a big price.

Sadly, I’m against Marsha, though I hope she runs a belter for her connections: each of Luke Morris, Sir Mark Prescott and the dreamland posse of Elite Racing Club members are into uncharted waters. Good luck guys!

Lady Aurelia to win 6/5 (Betfair, Paddy, winner), 11/10 general – advised 2nd November

Small each way Pure Sensation 16/1 bet365 (NRNB, ¼ 1-2-3) – advised 2nd November

Result

Lady Aurelia, sent off 9/10 favourite, was all at sea around the turn and eased off when her chance was gone. With Marsha not faring brilliantly on the loop either, it was left to unconsidered outsider, Stormy Liberal, to pick up the pieces. He had never even run over five furlongs and was appearing here after five months off. His trainer, Peter Miller, also saddled the second home, Richard's Boy - and the main track Sprint winner, Roy H: a remarkable feat indeed.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

*

Filly & Mare Sprint

Trends Contenders:

Ami’s Mesa, Finley’sluckycharm, Curlin’s Approval

Form Contenders:

Unique Bella, Curlin’s Approval, plenty of others

Summary snippet:

This seven furlong ‘sprint’ revolves around the fast and classy three-year-old, Unique Bella. She’s unbeaten in five starts since a debut second, and has won by some wide margins.

If that’s the good news, question marks remain. First, she’s never run a fast figure. Second, she was talked up as a Distaff filly and has ‘bottled’ that engagement. Third, she’s never won in G1 company. Fourth, she has a wide draw in stall eleven. Fifth, she may want to get involved in a tussle for the lead, along with four or five others. Sixth, she was off for five months before her last race. Seventh, she seemed to have an awkward head carriage in the straight in that last race. And eighth, she’s a three-year-old: that age group are collectively 0 from 28 in this race so far, and they’ve had fancied runners before.

She could blitz them, but as you can see there are plenty of reasons to look for something at a bigger price.

Filly & Mare Sprint Selection:

If you want to be with the favourite, Unique Bella, fair play and good luck. She’s a very smart filly but there are plenty of reasons to try to get her beaten.

With what is a more difficult conundrum: there are a number of ladies who could prevail including Skye Diamonds, Paulassilverlining, Finley’sluckycharm, Ami’s Mesa, and Curlin’s Approval.

I’m not getting stuck in here but will roll the dice for small money on three.

The first is 50/1 poke Ami’s Mesa: having backed her already at 33/1, I just have to try again at 50’s. The phrase good money after bad springs to mind, but who knows, it could be the score of the weekend!

More realistic, according to the betting at least, is Paulassilverlining. She’s a class mare who was improving all season prior to the Ballerina flop last time out. Chuck that out and she’s second favourite. Instead, she’s 14/1.

Finally, I’ll have a small piece of Curlin’s Approval. I like her quiet preparation and she might be ready to produce a career best. Trap three aids that prospect.

Small bet on Ami’s Mesa at 50/1 general – advised 3rd November

Small bet on Paulassilverlining at 14/1 Betfair Sports/Paddy – advised 3rd November

Small bet on Curlin’s Approval 20/1 Betfair Sports/Paddy – advised 3rd November

Result

Ugh. This was painful viewing. I was in for a proper score had Ami's Mesa (backed at 33/1 and 50/1) been propelled to the front just a touch later. As it was, her jockey - who gave her a fine ride but needed an imperious one - just left her marginally too exposed to the late-running unconsidered 66/1 poke, Bar Of Gold. 11/10 favourite, Unique Bella, was given eight reasons to be beaten - replicated above - and ticked just about every box in defeat.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Filly & Mare Turf

Trends Contenders:

Rhododendron, War Flag

Form Contenders:

Lady Eli, Rhododendron, many many others

Filly & Mare Turf Selection:

 

This is not a race for the wagering faint-hearted. There is little between maybe eight of the field and the filly or mare with the best luck on the day is the most likely winner.

On form, I’d want to be with Lady Eli. She is training very well here in Del Mar since shipping across from New York and she’s undoubtedly the most talented of the Americans. But will she get a clear run from stall nine? If she does, I think she’ll win.

If it gets messy, there are so many options. I have to have a small piece of Senga, who may be a bigger price on the tote board than her current UK quote of 14/1. Her trainer looks to have had this in mind for some while and, as long as she doesn’t get shuffled back from trap two, she has a withering turn of pace.

There are credible cases to be made for lots of horses in here. It is not one to get stuck into in my opinion, so the following are token suggestions: I will be backing Senga, saving on Lady Eli, but I won’t get rich or poor whatever happens.

Full disclosure: I backed Grand Jete for small each way money a couple of weeks ago at 20/1. William Hill still offers that price.

Small bet on Lady Eli to win at 11/4 general – advised 2nd November

Small bet on Senga each way at 14/1 bet365 – advised 2nd November (may top up on the local tote on the day if bigger than 18/1)

Result

Lady Eli suffered terrible trouble at the first turn and was badly struck into twice.

She also lost a shoe and, in the circumstances, ran a very brave race in defeat. She may now not be retired, having been withdrawn from this week's mares' sale. It is to be hoped she gets a shot at redemption - she is some filly.

The main beneficiary was Wuheida, given a fine ride by William Buick, and readily seeing off Rhododendron - herself receiving a great ride but unable to overcome the widest draw of all on a three-turn nine furlong race. That all-Euro exacta paid 85.7/1 - well done if you had it.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Sprint

Trends Contenders:

Whitmore, Roy H, Imperial Hint

Form Contenders:

Drefong, Imperial Hint, Roy H

Sprint Selection:

A superb race in prospect, and one where there is no margin for error. A missed beat at the gate, or a four wide trip, or a blocked run, and the game will be up.

There could be a speed duel between Drefong and Takaful, an eventuality which would suit neither. Still, Drefong just has to be respected: he’s the defending champion and he’s unbeaten in six completed starts since a debut defeat, the last three of those in G1 fields.

6/4 is very short, however, which makes for potential value elsewhere. I think both Roy H and Imperial Hint are worthy of support at the prices.

Roy H has the fastest figures in the field and comes here on a technical win streak of five. He wants to be close to, but not on, the lead, something he should be able to manufacture from trap eight with slowish starters to his immediate inside.

Imperial Hint falls into the ‘could be anything’ category. This is the acid test for him, having embarrassed some decent opposition away from the bright lights. His cruising speed has been his biggest asset, including in races with sub-22 first quarters. I’m excited to see what he can do in the big league.

Back Imperial Hint each way at 10/1 Skybet – advised 3rd November

Save on Roy H at 5/1 bet365 (1/4 1-2-3) – advised 3rd November

Result

The wrong way around again. Imperial Hint ran a massive race, mixing it on the speed and only just coming up dry against another Peter Miller sprint sensation. Roy H was a credible rival to Drefong and he did it well. Drefong, sent off at 7/5, missed the break a little and was cooked thereafter.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Mile

Trends Contenders:

Midnight Storm, Heart To Heart, World Approval, Ribchester

Form Contenders:

World Approval, Ribchester, Suedois

Mile Selection:

A really tricky race with loads of credible winners. World Approval is versatile enough to sit off the expected fierce first fractions, and he’s got a bit of Wise Dan about him. He ought to go close though he’s an unsexy price.

Ribchester would be far from a surprise winner, and he’s the most likely of Euros. But this is a race Britain hasn’t won since Barathea in 1994. Ireland’s record is only slightly better, Ridgewood Pearl prevailing the following year. That’s 22 years since a British or Irish winner. France meanwhile has scored seven times in that intervening period, with the US claiming the rest.

I’m inclined to look for a horse at a price in a race which could go many ways, and the one I think I want to be with – small money only – is Zelzal. He’s been close up in his last two runs in G1 company, and shapes like an improver off that prep effort in the Foret. Faster ground and first time Lasix could make a man of him. 10/1 isn’t a fantastic price, mind you, and he could be a drifter on the local tote board.

I also think Lancaster Bomber could make the frame with a kinder passage. He had plenty go against him two back behind World Approval, and you can ignore the Ascot prep run on soft. Again 12/1 top price may be improved upon on the ‘nanny goat’ here.

Suggestion is to look at the US tote board and take a couple of fliers at prices. My two in that context are Zelzal (hopefully 15/1 or bigger) and Lancaster Bomber (the same).

World Approval will probably be shorter than his 3/1 quote with bet365, so back him now if you want to cheer the jolly. He should go very close.

Above advised 2nd November

Result

World Approval was indeed shorter than his 3/1 quote, though not by much, sent off the 2.7/1 jolly. He was a dominant winner having attained and maintained the perfect stalking position. Others, notably Zelzal under the occasionally hapless Gregory Benoist, fared less well in the run. Lancaster Bomber was second, and one of you may have found the exacta from the bold type comments. Most of you, like me, would not have taken that path... for the record, it paid 47.5/1. Nice. Sigh.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Juvenile

Trends Contenders:

Bolt d’Oro

Form Contenders:

Bolt d’Oro, Solomini, Firenze Fire

Juvenile Selection:

Bolt d’Oro should win this despite a wide draw. He’s streets ahead of his rivals on the clock and his trainer believes there’s plenty more to come. Having seen him in the flesh this morning (2nd November), I can relate that he is an absolute tank of a two-year-old. Unless he’s feeling the effects of that massive FrontRunner success, he’ll win.

For each way and/or exacta purposes, Solomini might be a little under-rated. Yes, he was whacked by Bolt last time; but that was just his second start and he had a less than perfect trip. He’s training well and has something of a ‘now’ progressive profile about him. He’s 6/1 on the morning line here, and 16/1 with William Hill. If anything were to go wrong with Bolt, who’s to say Solomini won’t frank the form from a nice inside post?

Bolt d’Oro to win at 11/8 (Skybet) – advised 2nd November

Small each way on Solomini at 16/1 (William Hill) - advised 2nd November

Result

Bolt d'Oro looked rock solid for this, and seemingly only had to run close to his last effort to win comfortably. In spite of being hung wide, he didn't show enough to suggest he ran anywhere near that huge effort one back, and presumably bounced. The one to take advantage was maiden (!), Good Magic. He was second in G1 company last time and was having his third lifetime start - the exact same blueprint deployed by Caledonia Road in the Juvenile Fillies earlier in the day. So easy afterwards...

Solomini rewarded each way suppoer with a very good second, one place in front of Bolt, giving further credence to the notion that the jolly missed his cue for one reason or another.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Turf

Trends Contenders:

Ulysses, Cliffs Of Moher, Beach Patrol

Form Contenders:

Highland Reel, Ulysses, Beach Patrol, Seventh Heaven, Talismanic

Turf Selection:

Trappy stuff. Obvious horses often get beaten in the Turf, as I’ve consistently discovered to my cost. I’ve got a portfolio of wagers in the race already, the worst of which will see me win slightly more than invested by the time I’ve topped up with Seventh Heaven and Talismanic, both of whom will get optimal conditions for the first time in some time.

I have also backed Highland Reel at 4/1, who strikes as the most likely winner but whose price is unappealing now it’s 2/1.

Ulysses is the one I have to let go – you can’t back ‘em all, can you? – even though he has robust credentials.

But the result I’m really hoping for is Beach Patrol. He’d be a chunky score, and I think he has a decent chance: value even at the remaining 8/1 as an each way bet. American-trained horses have won this in two of the last five years, so write this lad off at your peril.

I’m actually a little uncomfortable offering a selection here, as you can probably tell. My own approach has been scatter-gun, and perhaps scatter-brained, but I’m happy with the position on balance. For giggles, and for the record, I reckon the best remaining value may be…

Back Seventh Heaven each way at 12/1 general – advised 3rd November

Back Beach Patrol each way at 8/1 general – advised 3rd November

This may also be a race where exactas and trifectas comprised of numbers 1, 3, 5, 9, 12 pays off. But then, since when have I ever picked up a payday on the Turf? Caveat emptor, once more.

Result

Ulysses failed to show, unfortunately. In his absence, the above was correct on just about everything, except Seventh Heaven. She ought to have been closer but didn't get one of Seamie's better steers. Talismanic crushed my chances of a second whopper score, this time Beach Patrol being denied. I'd wagered him at 25/1 after his last race for a nice few quid. Win only, of course. The trifecta copped for those who played - I know some did - and paid a bang tidy 260/1.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Classic

Trends Contenders:

Arrogate, Collected

Form Contenders:

Arrogate, West Coast, Collected, Gun Runner

Classic Selection:

By now, if you’ve read my blurb above, you will know I am happy to let Gun Runner beat me if he can. He has too many questions to answer to be considered at shorter than 2/1. To be blunt, I wouldn’t back him at 3/1, and I’d only take him as a saver at 4/1. I may very well be wrong about him, but I think he’s a terrible price.

Arrogate is harder to dismiss. Much harder. And I only do so on the basis of price. Full disclosure: I backed him in late September at 4/1 NRNB so I’m all right Jack. Sorry. With regards to his price now (11/4 top) versus his chance, it’s about right I’d say. He has to show his work can be replicated in a race, he has a dodgy draw on the inside for a slow starter, and he may just not like the Del Mar track with its tight turns and short stretch. I’d love to see him win, but I won’t be going in again at the price.

I’ve a soft spot for Collected. He did it well in the Pacific Classic and he’s a winner – four from four in 2017 and seven from seven lifetime on fast dirt. I think if you back him you’re almost certain to get a run for your money. And I may have a little saver yet, because he’s 7/1 in a spot.

But I’m going to suggest West Coast as the each-way play. Bob Baffert has won the last three Classics, each time with a three-year-old, and this late-maturing improver can take Horse Of The Year honours by prevailing in a thick field.

If you want to cheer a Euro, or even if you don’t especially, I think War Decree is over-priced. Even allowing for the fact he may hate dirt and he may be some way below good enough, there is more than enough juice in his price to take a flier. I backed him at 33/1 in late September when he was an uncertain starter, so I’ve been delighted to see the 50’s non-runner no bet still available now! He’s worth a go at double-carpet or better.

Let’s hope for a great race and, if it’s our night, for a decent payout to close proceedings.

Main Bet: West Coast each way 6/1 NRNB (bet365, Fred, Tote) – advised 1st November

Tiny interest: War Decree each way 50/1 NRNB (bet365) – advised 1st November

Result

I was against Gun Runner. I felt his form in beating War Story and, basically, nothing else was ordinary in the context of a race like this. I also doubted his ability to see out ten furlongs, something he'd failed to do in three prior attempts. I was wrong, wrong, and wrong again. Although Arrogate again showed his disdain for this too tight circuit, everything else seemed to show up and run a race (Irish pair excluded) and Gun Runner repelled them with some style. He did it the hard way, from the front, on a track that wasn't allowing any other to achieve such a feat.

Absolute kudos to the horse, and to his trainer, Steve Asmussen, who was understandably delighted. This clip of him during the closing stages is a thing of beauty.

A Baffert brace rounded out the places, course specialist Collected holding off three-year-old West Coast, with the lampooned (by me) War Story running a mighty one to bottom out the superfecta. Arrogate dead heated for fifth, and was in front a furlong after the line. He needs further, or at least a big galloping oval. Sadly, that conjecture will never be challenged as the big A has been retired.

Churchill and War Decree, the Irish pair and the latter of which I had a sneaking fancy for, failed to handle the surface and/or were not good enough. The 50/1 and 33/1 on War Decree was worth the risk, the shorted odds on Churchill were probably not.

The full result can be found here.

Race Video

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Closing Thoughts

This first visit to Del Mar was wonderful in many ways. Unfortunately, almost all of them were non-racing ways. The tracks, both dirt and turf, were unsatisfactory for such a big occasion in my view. Whilst it is reasonable that one has to play the hand one is dealt - put another way, bring a horse that can handle conditions - too much trusted to luck on the lawn, something which cannot be planned for, and the dirt surface was supposed to have been riding faster and fairer.

That's not pocket talk. It can't be when I've mainly backed big prices and very short favourites have sunk left, right and sideways.

Del Mar is a glorious place - here's Dog Beach, just across the way:

And I'd love for Breeders' Cup to return. But... that has to be conditional on sorting the tracks. One could almost endure the known crapshoots on the grass if the seven dirt track races were run on a typically fast strip. There is chatter among those in the know that we might see a return in 2021. If that's the case, there are four years to ponder and address.

For now though, thoughts turn to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and host of eight previous renewals, for next year's Breeders' Cup, the 35th installment. It will be colder, but there is more chance of a winner to warm the cockles of one's wallet.

More immediately, and closer to home, it's National Hunt just about all the way for the next six months. Bring it on!

Matt

Monday (ish) Musings: Mixed Fortune for the Raiders

I was at Gosforth Park on Saturday – where the Turf meets the Tapeta, writes Tony Stafford. At 11.20 a.m. Del Mar time, Newcastle racecourse’s big screen showed what was to be the forerunner of a brilliant day for Ballydoyle as Declarationofpeace and Ryan Moore came with a nicely-timed run to win one of the 100 grand warm-ups to the nine Breeders’ Cup championship races.

He was a 14-1 shot and I hope some of the Aidan O’Brien/Coolmore acolytes had finished breakfast in time to throw away a few dollars on him. Big crowds and big pools make for big dividends – even bigger than some of the gargantuan breakfast buffets you get in the US.

I’d stopped wearing my “wish I was there” face long before undertaking the five-hour drive on Saturday morning, even making a late decision to stop en route at Wetherby. After all it’s only a five minute diversion which I usually take at the services there anyway.

The country’s most underrated and certainly under-publicised jockey had a winning chance and I wanted to watch him show his class. Jack Quinlan had just the one ride, for the highly professional Amy Murphy on her father Paul’s Kalashnikov, winner of his only previous start in a bumper on the same track last season.

Kalashnikov shared second-favouritism behind a Dan/Harry Skelton favourite in a good novice hurdle, but brushed the jolly aside with a stylish 10-length win. Unable to curb my delight, I picked out the Racing Post’s David Carr in the winner’s enclosure and said: “Maybe somebody might now start to notice what a good jockey Jack Quinlan is?”

Maybe not. The following day’s report gave a complimentary comment on the winning horse and trainer, but unlike the usual glowing reference to a later Richard Johnson winner, Jack remained as ever conspicuous by his absence. Mr Incognito. I’m not sure who it was, but one observer likened his style to Declan Murphy’s, praise indeed. Don’t worry Jack, Amy has enough nice horses to get you some coverage if only during the race commentaries.

I had intended staying in the north overnight, but after watching a couple of Raymond Tooth horses finish unplaced, although not entirely without promise, I reckoned I might make it home in time for the Turf race, although news that Ulysses was unable to take on Highland Reel took away some of the potential glamour.

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It did mean I’d miss seven of the races and in retrospect it was not such a bad thing as it must have made macabre watching for anyone other than pin stickers, or punters who like the number 5.

Generally the term “Industry Prices” has me instinctively going into “It’s a Rip Off” mode, but in actual fact most of the winners paid more here than on the US tote.

The carnage started in the first of the six dirt races, with a 20-1 winner, Caledonia Road, followed by 40-1 (Stormy Liberal) and 66-1 shot Bar of Gold. Those three dirt races were the opening three legs of the early Pick Four, which carries a 50 cent stake. The total Pool for the bet was $2,272,356 and after Wuheida and William Buick saw off a late-running Rhododendron in the Fillies and Mares race on the turf, the half dozen lucky winners collected $289,000 each.

Daily Racing Form’s post-race analysis pointed out mid-meeting that the inside on the dirt track had become so slow in relation to the rest of the track that the jockeys were re-directing their horses away from the rail. While somewhat less impossible from that point, Roy H won the next dirt race at 9-2 (11-8 fav unplaced), before World Approval became the sole Breeders’ Cup winning favourite on the day in the Mile in which Lancaster Bomber was second and Roly Poly unplaced.

Two more double-digit winners followed, Good Magic at 12-1 in the Juvenile (dirt) with odds-on Bolt d’Oro a well-beaten third, and US Navy Flag miles back after trying to make all, while Talismanic and Mikael Barzalona battled home at 14-1 in the Turf with Highland Reel a close third.

Then, having collected my thoughts and unpacked my bag, I settled down to watch Gun Runner beat Arrogate – and he did. There was nothing majestic about it. They probably went fast enough, although they were outside the normal US mile-and-a-quarter “standard” of two minutes flat, but there was little evidence of any majestic thoroughbred motion as they slogged home in another apparently slow-motion finish.

I was amazed that Arrogate, whose slovenly starts had transformed him from the Horse of the Century – “best since Secretariat”, said Bob Baffert – to a grinder who never looks the part, should head the market. They had to give him one last hurrah, but he couldn’t even finish first of the Baffert quartet, with Collected second and West Coast proving best of the three-year-olds in third and Arrogate a never-nearer fifth.

Churchill, who never recaptured his double Classic-winning  spring brilliance once surprisingly beaten in the St James’s Palace Stakes, was seventh, presumably finding the dirt as awkward to contend with as many of the locals who deal with it every day. As I hinted just above, dirt racing can make for an unappealing spectacle, especially when the outsiders win!

On the day, the lemmings in the stand, those who love a favourite and that means many of us, will have collected just once with 11-4 shot World Approval. He was one of eight winners by US based sires in the nine races, the only exception being Charlie Appleby’s Wuheida, a daughter of Dubawi. The beaten favourites were, in time order 9-4, 8-11 (the highly disappointing Lady Aurelia), 6-4, 9-4, 11-8, 10-11, 11-10 (Highland Reel) and 2-1 (Arrogate).

If I was there I would have backed the last winner Gun Runner, whose form all year entitled him to be favourite, but the undeniable instinct to go to the well one last time with the old champ was hard to resist for many.

Now the attention switches over here to jumps, and Kalashnikov will be one to follow until beaten – or when Jack Quinlan gets a mention in the Racing Post – probably the former. At around the same time tomorrow that I began these thoughts today, I hope to be awake in time to see Marmelo and Hugh Bowman win the Emirates Melbourne Cup for the Hughie Morrison stable.

If they cannot win, let’s offer the best of luck to Aidan and Joseph O’Brien, Willie Mullins, Iain Jardine and Hugo Palmer. It would be especially nice if Hugo could win as he has an Australian wife and worked for some time with legendary Melbourne trainer Gai Waterhouse as well as once being assistant trainer to Morrison.  He has certainly gone along the local route with his light-weight Wall of Fire, the mount of lightweight Craig Williams. Hugo gave him a nice work out in a Caulfield Group 2 over a mile and a half and his strong-running second puts him in with a shot, just like 20 others!

[Stop Press: Since this was written, Ireland enjoyed a 1-2-3 with Joseph O’Brien’s Rekindling fending off father Aidan O’Brien’s Johannes Vermeer and Willie Mullins’ Max Dynamite. Europe claimed six of the first seven spots home, and nine of the first eleven. Australia must be spitting!]

So Much To Look Forward To…

British Champions' Day is behind us and, for me, it was a bit of a bloodbath punting-wise. Such is the nature of the big meetings, especially towards the end of busy campaigns. Too many horses I wagered were either over the top or couldn't handle the presumed sticky, drying ground at Ascot. It's my contention that the going was what is known in France as 'holding', i.e. gluey.

Holding is called soft or occasionally good to soft here because it is when wet ground dries out. But it is very different from soft or good to soft when dry ground is rained upon. The absence of an additional going description for this is bonkers to me, and a change is long overdue. We are simply betting blind in such circumstances, as nothing in the form book can help us know if a horse will act on a surface on which - heavy and firm aside - the fewest horses can act.

If that sounds like whining, well, I guess it is to a degree. But too many of the top horses underperformed at the weekend to be easily written off as merely being 'over the top'. BCD's slot in the diary means it will always be prone to meteorological inclemency, but this is not about that: it's a more general point about the accuracy of going descriptions.

Frequently I - and many others with more experience and/or acuity than me - believe the clerks of courses mislead with their official going descriptions. Happily, measures are being taken to more closely scrutinize what is reported versus what comes to pass. But here, clerks are totally exonerated on the basis of their hands being tied to a band of descriptions which is insufficiently broad for its role. I don't see any change on this in the near future, but it is something I'll be raising with HBF.

As an example of 'breakout' thinking, the excellent Andrew Cooper, clerk at Sandown and Epsom, described a meeting as soft (holding) in March of this year, and went on to offer a very good description of it in this clip on RUK:

If only clerks were actually 'allowed' to offer such information officially. Closer to home, if only geegeez.co.uk could afford to hire a daily race reader to add an unofficial going description to our results and form. Sigh.

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Before we move on, there has been much animation regarding the performance of Cracksman in Saturday's Champion Stakes. His seven length victory over Poet's Word and Highland Reel was impressive, but arguably less so than has been reported in some quarters.

My view is that the run, whilst clearly extremely meritorious, was not superlative form to that offered consistently by Enable all season. That is not a view shared by one major ratings agency, who immediately put Cracksman at the head of their seasonal ratings.

His overall form creaks - Group 2 wins over second tier horses, defeats in two Derby's - in the context of Enable's thorough demolitions of genuine proven Group 1 animals all season long. Moreover, the horses he beat on Saturday are either just below top class themselves or were ill at ease on the ground, or over the top.

Highland Reel, a class horse and genuine marker on quick, but one that hates such turf, plugged on for third, nearly snatching second from Poet's Word. Poet's Word, for his part, brought dubious top table credentials to the party: second to Decorated Knight in a very weak renewal of the Irish Champion Stakes earned him a six pound elevation to an official mark of 119. Any belief that he ran to 119, and Cracksman should be rated on a line through him, is madness to my eye.

There is little doubt John Gosden's three-year-old colt has improved as the season has progressed, but so too did his three-year-old filly. The depth of Enable's form in multiple Group 1 processions stands far closer scrutiny to the single G1 stroll of Cracksman, at this point in time and in the eye of this player, at least!

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Moving on, and the jumps season really ratchets up a notch in Britain today. Across the Irish Sea, the dogs have already been barking for exciting novices Death Duty and Samcro but, at Exeter this afternoon, it's the turn of an established player, Alan King's Yanworth, to shake off the last vestiges of his aestivation as he embarks on a chasing career in Exeter's Best Mate Beginner's Chase. He has a stone and a half class edge on his rivals on hurdle ratings, and I'm not seriously suggesting he'll get beaten today. But it will be interesting to see how this sometimes awkward hurdler traverses larger obstacles. Hopefully it will be the making of him.

Elsewhere, Anthony Honeyball, whose yard geegeez.co.uk sponsors, takes the wraps off the first of his young team for this term. Anthony has his biggest and best squad for the forthcoming campaign, and geegeez.co.uk syndicates have two horses in training with him this season, East Wing and My Dance. Today sees Acey Milan make his debut in the 'junior' bumper at Exeter, and it will be exciting to see how he goes.

Anthony was kind enough to do a full stable tour 'podcast' with me a month or so ago where he discussed his entire team. You can - and should! - check that out here. He has plenty more runners to unleash in the coming days and weeks, many of which are unfamiliar names, so do check that post out and arm your tracker accordingly!

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Finally, while turf flat racing in Britain and Ireland is all but over for the year, the international bandwagon rumbles on. For the first time for a few years, we have a correspondent covering the Melbourne Cup; and as always I will be covering the Breeders' Cup, which is now just ten days away.

Breeders' Cup 34 will be hosted for the first time in Del Mar, north of San Diego, on the left coast of America. The cast looks excellent - genuinely deep and cosmopolitan - and finding winners will be the usual challenge.

For those who like to play the meeting, I will have a Breeders' Cup Compendium available. It's a product packed with data, factoids and opinions, and you'll be able to get a copy in a day or two.

STOP PRESS: BREEDERS' CUP COMPENDIUM FIRST RELEASE IS AVAILABLE NOW - CLICK HERE

The nature of the beast - with information coming through bit by bit - means the BC Compendium will be released in stages, as and when pre-entries, draw positions and final preferences are known. Rest assured it will be the best Breeders' Cup product this side of the pond!

Enough for now - enjoy the racing at Exeter. What a fantastic time of the year this is.

Matt

Monday Musings: The Globetrotters

When I reluctantly trudged into the office even earlier than usual this morning – clocks-back sleep lag – my idea of the lead topic was the victory first time out of the Sam Sangster-owned Giovanni Battistta (John the Baptist to you) at Newmarket on Friday.

The son of Clodovil – probably named after the Brazilian fashion designer, then television presenter and politician – showed great raw talent in outpointing a well-backed Godolphin newcomer with the rest five lengths and more away.

Where was Sam? He was admirably taking his mum to lunch in London and smiling away while he did, at the anticipation of all those bids from Hong Kong. He’s truly his father’s son.

But I’ll leave Sam with his picture of HK dollars, especially with a devalued pound, and reflect once again on the Cesarewitch, the form of which is working out amazingly well. Did you notice that Star Rider, eighth at Newmarket three weeks earlier, came back there on Friday and easily won the two-mile handicap by four lengths at 9-2 for Sweet Selection’s trainer Hughie Morrison?

On Saturday it was the turn of Tony Martin’s Golden Spear, a fast-finishing fifth at HQ who went on to win the ultra-competitive Leopardstown October Handicap, also two miles, at 7-1. The same day Ian Williams’ Blue Rambler, sixth in the Cesarewitch, easily won a handicap hurdle at Wetherby after being well backed into 11-8 favouritism to do so.

Martin will be supplying one of the best-fancied European challengers for tomorrow morning’s lavishly-endowed Emirates Melbourne Cup. His Heartbreak City, four-length winner of the Ebor back in August and, typically for the trainer, unraced since, receives 7lb from joint-top weight Big Orange and must be a big threat.

Among his closest victims that August afternoon were Shrewd, Martin stablemate Quick Jack (a big winner since at Leopardstown), Oriental Fox (won at Pontefract) and Godolphin’s Oceanographer, who was seventh.

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Oceanographer is one of three Charlie Appleby stayers to win in Australia in recent weeks. He has made the cut, in part thanks to a 3lb penalty for his victory in the Lexus Stakes over a mile and a half of the Cup course at Flemington. That was only his second run since the Ebor and followed hard on his effort ten days earlier in the Geelong Cup, third behind stable-companion Qewy, whose 2lb extra for that win also secured his Melbourne Cup slot.

Francis of Assisi meanwhile was victorious in the Bendigo Cup, but does not appear in the final 24. Wicklow Brave, whose trainer Willie Mullins was second last year with Max Dynamite, is here fresh from his Irish St Leger defeat of Order of St George and the Godolphin hordes are further bolstered by the Saeed bin Suroor pair, Beautiful Romance and Secret Number, the latter winner of the Doonside Cup at Ayr on his only start of the season.

So there’s plenty for John Ferguson and his son James, who has been holding the fort Down Under in the build-up to the race, to enthuse about. Ferguson senior’s promise to shake up Godolphin in his new role brought as much sceptical amusement as conviction from this quarter, but when you consider carefully what he’s done over the past few years, you have to admire his energy, enthusiasm and above all professionalism.

A year ago he was well into the early part of his last – few knew at the time – season training jumpers for Bloomfields (Godolphin’s winter wear).  While no Cheltenham Festival winner was forthcoming, many important wins were achieved and the objective of giving once decent stayers another career-stretching option was in large part fulfilled. Then, when Ferguson revealed early in the year a reverse strategy whereby some of the better jumpers would be sent to Charlie Appleby, the head-shaking resumed.

Yet those three Australian wins included two ex-Ferguson inmates, Qewy and Francis of Assisi and, while the latter cannot figure, victory for any of the five blue-clad runners would be a resounding triumph for Sheikh Mohammed’s right hand man.

Soon after the announcement of the change in direction, 46 Ferguson inmates were catalogued for the Tattersall’s Ireland sale at Cheltenham on April 24 and in a masterpiece of preparation, all 46 turned up at Cheltenham and every one found a new owner. No reserves; no fiddles and no complaints afterwards. They sold for sums between 95,000gns for the once-raced Wenyerreadyfreddie (bought by Fergie for 41,000 Euro two years earlier) and in a single case a paltry 800gns, but mostly in the 10,000-50,000 bracket.

Commissioned, bought by Nick Bradley for 65,000gns, won the Queen Alexandra Stakes for Gordon Elliott less than two months later, while most recently Ian Williams, who bought three from the dispersal, has won twice with London Prize, for whom he paid 70k, as well as Blue Rambler who cost 48,000gns.

Four days on from Melbourne, the ever-dwindling band of UK-trained runners at the Breeders’ Cup will be flexing their muscles against the home team. Naturally Aidan O’Brien is sending plenty and it is probable that Europe’s sole venture into the uneven playing field of the dirt track will be his Arc heroine Found, in a career-defining attempt at the Classic and its big prize. The also-engaged Highland Reel is the main Ballydoyle hope in the mile and a half Turf race.

Sir Michael Stoute’s excellent season gets a couple of late chances for further lustre, but outside the O’Brien challenge, bolstered by one for Joseph, and a couple of runners for David O’Meara, it’s slim pickings.

Trainers know that there’s no point in looking at the money on offer in preference to the likelihood of bringing any home. Simon Crisford and Ralph Beckett have one each in the Juvenile Turf, Hugo Palmer has two options, Turf Sprint and Turf Mile, for Home oOf The Brave while Charlie Hills and Henry Candy (Limato) also look to the Mile race.

Tattersall’s at Newmarket have concluded business on the autumn part of their sales season and there was excellent trade at last week’s Horses in Training auction over four days, despite the ever-irritating and seemingly ever-increasing number of withdrawals.

Much of the success of this sale is that it attracts so many overseas buyers. It always frustrates when a horse you want to buy is withdrawn. The list of withdrawals is kept meticulously up to date by Tatts, but many of these happen after a trip from afar has already been funded.

My boss Ray Tooth said goodbye to Dutch Law (150,000gns) and Harry Champion (31,000gns), nice money for two home-bred geldings who’d also each won races both last year and this. Hughie Morrison and Hugo Palmer both deserve hearty thanks for their excellent handling of their careers and we hope the horses will do well in the next phase of their active lives.

Ray also made an acquisition, going along with Steve Gilbey’s hunch about Eve Johnson Houghton’s Cape Cross four-year-old gelding, Starcrossed. We were pleased to get the 13 furlong Flat winner for just 10,000gns and he has joined Dan Skelton, who described him as: “a lovely, big sort who should enjoy jumping”. Hope he’s right.

Breeders’ Cup 2015: A Homecoming for the Ages

Breeders' Cup XXXII, hosted for the first time by Keeneland racecourse, in Lexington, Kentucky, was billed as a homecoming for the franchise. As the birthplace of so many champions - Kentucky can boast to have bred 78% of all US-bred Breeders' Cup winners, and 64% of all winners since inception - this was a venue as fitting as any to host the end of season 'World Thoroughbred Championships'.

Romance and appropriateness aside, questions had been murmured regarding Keeneland's ability to accommodate such a vast jamboree. After all, this is no Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby annually welcomes 170,000 racegoers and revellers; nor is it Santa Anita, host six times since 2008 and nine in all, thus possessing a bombproof blueprint for staging the event.

Moreover, the last time the Cup was hosted outside of those two venues, at Monmouth Park in 2007, it was something of a disaster with rain and logistics making that year memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is surely more than coincidence that it took another eight years for a new venue to be chanced.

The main risks were perceived as the weather - as Bayern was winning the 2014 Classic in sunny Santa Anita, snow was falling in Keeneland - and those pesky logistics: could a track unaccustomed to 50,000+ crowds cope with such a phalanx of fans? As time soon told, there was little about which to fret.

*

One of the great things about racing, and about Breeders' Cup week in particular, is that horses are largely trained under public scrutiny on the track. What makes Cup week so special is that global equine superstars congregate in a single place, allowing aficionados unprecedented access to their horsey heroes.

So it was that this week, as well as the likes of Golden Horn and Gleneagles, familiar friends of European track dwellers, the best of the rest also strut their thang for all to see. Best of the best is a chap called American Pharoah, a home bred born and raised in the state of Kentucky - where else?

American Pharoah completes his final workout

American Pharoah completes his final workout

Winner of the Triple Crown in America, the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 (and only the fourth since 1948), this fine fellow has enjoyed a special year, and was already assured Hall of Fame status courtesy of that terrific treble in the early part of the season.

A few moments before AP graced the training track, his main rival, a five-year-old mare called Beholder, also cantered a couple of circuits. Sadly, her interrupted preparation - she spiked a temperature during transit from California - caught up with her and she was withdrawn from the field.

If there were a few initial clouds of doubt regarding the venue for 2015 Breeders' Cup, there were no such reservations about the quality of the participants. The brain fails when trying to recall a deeper entry, as the winners of the Derby, Arc (Golden Horn both), 1000 Guineas (Legatissimo), and English, Irish (Gleneagles both) and French 2000 Guineas (Make Believe) all flew in to represent the European Classic generation.

A robust older, and younger, Euro contingent supplemented the established stars, and they in turn joined the biggest names on the US scene this year: Liam's Map, Private Zone, Runhappy, among many others.

The stage was thus set for what is a slightly lop-sided two day extravaganza, with four races on Friday little more than an amuse bouche ahead of Saturday's vast a la carte selection [personal preference would be for one further race - the Turf Sprint perhaps - to move to Friday making a slightly less unbalanced 5-8 split].

Friday Races

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

First up, the Juvenile Turf, and the word in McCarthy's, Lexington's obligatory Irish home from home, was that Hit It A Bomb could not get beaten. Strange then, in the face of such confidence, that he was sent off at 7.2/1 against 9/2 in the early running here in Blighty. The reasons for his market uneasiness were threefold: inexperience off just two lifetime starts, lack of Group race form, and a "parking lot" draw.

As it transpired, Hit It A Bomb had three things in his favour: a rapid early pace which strung the field out; Ryan Moore riding a perfect race (again); and his own incredible talent enabling him to surge to the lead in the last few yards having spotted a dozen rivals distance turning in.

1-0 to Europe and, with so many top-notch turfers still to come, hope swelled for a strong European weekend.

**

Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

Little Euro interest in race two, the 'Dirty Mile', as the shortest priced favourite of the entire weekend, four-year-old Liam's Map, was 'expected'. And for good reason. Liam's Map had charted a course to five wins in a very light seven race career, including by a wide margin and with a career best Beyer speed figure in Grade 1 company on his most recent start.

Generally a need the lead type, the question here was that if he was taken on early how would he react? Missing the break was an unfortunate beginning, and then when forced to check numerous times on heels behind the pace-pushing pair of Mr. Z and Bradester it looked as though the shallow odds were in deep water.

Shuffled back to a boxed in seventh, albeit only two lengths off the lead, rounding the far turn, Todd Pletcher's grey colt showed all his class when the gap finally came, ceding first run but not first past the post to a game and clear second best, Lea.

In the circumstances, this was an effort that could be marked up and marked up again. Sadly, that will be for academic purposes only, as Liam's Map now travels the ten miles from Keeneland to Lane's End Farm's breeding sheds to begin his new career.

**

Juvenile Fillies Turf

The second of the two juvenile turf heats, this time for the girls, and with Alice Springs, Nemoralia and Illuminate in the field, Team GB/Ire looked promising. In the event, the raiding party again failed to deliver as it has done in all bar two of the eight renewals. It may be no coincidence that the two victories came in the two 'Lasix off in juvenile races' years (Lasix being an almost ubiquitously applied elixir in American racing to restrict horses' bleeding) of 2012 and 2013.

That was supposed to lead to a wider ban on the drug at Breeders' Cup but, instead - and perhaps partially as a result of Europe sweeping the board in the juvie turf events at those two Santa Anita meetings, the US horsemen revolted and the Breeders' Cup Committee reneged.

Still, before we get too morally pugnacious, it should be noted that most of the European team - including both of its winners - were deploying raceday medication. So was main Euro hope, Alice Springs, here. She ran a great race in second, possibly squeezed a little in the straight, behind by Canadian-based Mark Casse's maiden Breeders' Cup winner, Catch A Glimpse, and in front of Jeremy Noseda's all-too-late runner, Nemoralia. It was to be a great weekend for Casse.

**

Breeders' Cup Distaff

With Beholder's defection to the Classic, and latterly her defection from the meeting, the Distaff looked wide open and lacking in star quality. Five year old Wedding Toast was favoured, but she ran a lacklustre race having used plenty of petrol trying to secure her preferred front rank berth.

In the end it was a dirt double for Todd Pletcher, as he welcomed Stopchargingmaria into the winners' circle. She'd run a flat fourth last time out and had failed to better a 95 Beyer in 15 career starts. In beating Stellar Wind, a progressive three-year-old but one which had also failed to surpass 95 Beyer, this looked a moderate renewal. Indeed, every previous winner since 2005 had recorded at least 100 on that speed scale.

For the record, here's the tape.

**

A crowd of 45,000 watched the Friday action and, as one of them, I felt the track handled the numbers well. Queues for wagering, drinks, food and toilets were all shorter than at big UK race days, and there was the usual relaxed Breeders' Cup crowd vibe throughout. The sun even poured a beautiful sunset over Keeneland on Friday evening as a portent of what was to follow during its next arc.

The sun sets on Day One of Keeneland's Breeders' Cup

The sun sets on Day One of Keeneland's Breeders' Cup

**

Saturday Races

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies

A bigger crowd of just north of 50,000 were in attendance on Saturday, though many of them were yet to arrive as the young ladies prepared for the first of nine Cup races on Saturday, a nonet culminating with American Pharoah's bid for pole position in the pantheon of American racehorses.

Songbird, a winner of three, including two consecutive Grade 1's in dominant fashion, shipped east from California. Her form was in a league of its own, her speed figures were in a league of their own, she looked set to have her own way on the front again, and she traded commensurately short at 3/5.

As the gates opened, she catapulted to the front and never saw a rival, easing off to a near six length verdict over the pick of the East Coast entries, impeccably bred Rachel's Valentina (by Bernardini out of Rachel Alexandra). Songbird is the best winner of this I can remember. So, while Beholder (2012) went on to great things including beating the boys up this year before injury intervened ahead of the Classic, this filly could take on the lads much earlier, perhaps even having a tilt at the Kentucky Derby.

Her time here compared favourably with the Juvenile winner though, as we'll see, that one didn't have quite such a straightforward trip.

This is one to enjoy, as have all her races been, three of them Grade 1, which she's now won by a combined 22 lengths, for an average 5 1/2 length winning margin. She's a fleet-footed filly. Fact.

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**

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint

Next up, the Turf Sprint. Run for the eighth time, but the first time at the intermediate distance of five and a half furlongs, that proved to be the key to unlocking a big-priced winner. Mongolian Saturday was his name, and his beautifully swathed connections were a treat for thousands of appreciative spectators, many obliged in their search for selfies.

The perfect Mongolian Saturday... in Kentucky

The perfect Mongolian Saturday... in Kentucky

Running free of Lasix, the son of Any Given Saturday was to kick off a noteworthy 'clean' Sprint double, the only runners in their respective races not on the 'juice'.

He'd been a tremendous servant to connections all season running some competitive speed figures and finishing in the frame in his previous ten races.

But back to that aforementioned distance key. Mongolian Saturday had won his only five and a half furlong turf race; and second placed Lady Shipman had won four of five turf starts at the trip. They were two of only four in the field with a strong record at the precise range which, in races decided by fine margins, may have tilted the scales in their favour.

Specifically in relation to the winner, he's run a sensational race, having been drawn on the wide outside, been gunned to contest a 22 second flat opening quarter, and hung tough in the straight to win by the proverbial fag paper. This was Florent Geroux's second Cup win of the weekend and his third in all after Work All Week's Sprint triumph last year. He's a name to note.

Mongolian Saturday was a 15.9/1 chance on the tote board, having been 25/1 here.

Here's the race: heart-breaking if you backed Lady Shipman, heart-warming if you were a North American racing fan based in Ulaanbataar!

**

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint

Now eight years old, the Filly and Mare Sprint has still to welcome its first three-year-old winner, but that didn't stop Cavorting being sent off the warm 3.4/1 favourite. She ran pretty well in truth, eventually finishing fourth having been held up from her outside draw, but she was no match for Wavell Avenue.

That one, giving Chad Brown his first dirt winner at the Breeders' Cup and his sixth Cup win overall, reversed the form with La Verdad from Belmont's Gallant Bloom Handicap. If this race had been the same distance as that one - six and a half furlongs - the result would have been the same. But this was seven furlongs, and the visual impression of Belmont was confirmed at Keeneland, as La Verdad's stamina gave best to Wavell Avenue's late run.

La Verdad and Wavell Avenue ran the same races for 6.5f

La Verdad and Wavell Avenue ran the same races for 6.5f

Taris looked the unlucky filly, caught on heels for much of the home straight, and Simon Callaghan's Coolmore four-year-old can be marked up on this effort. This viewer thought Taris's jockey, Gary Stevens, was a tad lily-livered about making something happen and probably should have been at least second if he'd switched to the three path about a furlong and a half out. Uncharitably, Stevens blamed La Verdad for checking his run up the rail, but he was looking for a miracle gap and it was a poor ride, plain and simple.

Anyway, don't take my work for it. Judge for yourself...

**

Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf

Run for the first time over nine and a half furlongs, the shortest distance in the race's 17 year history, Europe had a very strong hand. Legatissimo has carried all before her on our side of the pond this year, winning the 1000 Guineas, the Nassau and the Matron Stakes, and running close seconds in the Oaks and Pretty Polly, all Group 1's.

Here she was sent off the 9/10 jolly, with a trio of further solid European Group 1 performers in Miss France, Secret Gesture and Queen's Jewel in support. The worry for Legatissimo, long season aside, is that she tends to take a while to hit her stride, something inconducive with the inside turf oval at Keeneland.

Concerns proved well founded, as Moore's firm rousting took a furlong to elicit the desired response, during which time Stephanie's Kitten had kicked in her more instant turbo and burned through a dream split between the fading trailblazers to put the race to bed.

This was a second Breeders' Cup success for six-year-old Stephanie's Kitten, who won the Juvenile Fillies Turf back in 2011; and she'd also run a game second in this race last year. Her 2015 victory took place just six miles from where young Stephanie was born and raised as a kitten, and it is to there that she will now be retired to the paddocks. This was a seventh BC triumph for Chad Brown, hard on the heels of his sixth in the previous race.

Queen's Jewel, with Lasix aiding her constitution for the first time, was hampered in the initial furlongs and ran home best of all in third. But it would be ambitious to suggest the early impediment was the difference between victory and defeat. It was not.

Irad Ortiz, Jr., architect of Secret Gesture's "taking down" in the Beverley D. had a dream trip through a packing field here to prove the scourge of Europe once again. He's surely used up two of his nine Kitten's lives in recent weeks.

**

Breeders' Cup Sprint

This looked a great race in prospect, and it was the fairy story of the weekend, though with a Roald Dahl (or Edgar Allan Poe if you prefer) ending. Trainer Maria Borell had been successfully tilting at windmills all season with her gorgeous three-year-old Super Saver colt, Runhappy. This young chap, and his young trainer, are very hard not to love. Both go about their business with passion and talent, and both wear their hearts on their sleeve.

Here, Runhappy was up against a much more battle-hardened foe in the shape of Private Zone, a six-year-old veteran of 30 races, against Runhappy's six prior outings. Private Zone had been invincible this season at seven furlongs, but was dropping back an eighth here, against a progressive long-striding six furlong specialist.

The fractions were ridiculous, Private Zone dashing out from stall 13 to share the lead through the first quarter in 22.05, and the half mile in 44.31. What a huge race he ran in defeat eventually yielding to Runhappy late in the last furlong in a finishing time of 68.58 seconds. That's an average seconds per furlong of 11.43. Whoosh! Track record.

Runhappy had a wide trip in the three path around the turn so he too can be marked up on what is already a phenomenal run. Moreover, this was the first time he'd sat off the lead, rating in third. It caused him little or no inconvenience as he bounded up the home stretch to win going away. He'll get seven easily, and may stretch out to a mile if that rating style can be harnessed.

There was to be the ultimate sting in the tail, however, as Borell learned the morning after "the best day of my life" that she would no longer be training the horse. This staggering bombshell was delivered as it emerged that there was a conflict of opinion between the trainer and the owner's racing manager about Runhappy shipping west to continue his racing career.

For a young trainer who has done nothing wrong - and a heck of a lot right, regardless of the raw ability of her horse - that must be so hard to take. Horse racing is a cruel sport at the best of times, but decisions like this beggar belief, and I trust the owner, a mattress salesman, continues to sleep soundly at night. I'm confident I wouldn't be able to.

Here's the unbridled majesty of Runhappy gunning down a gladiator...

**

Breeders' Cup Mile

The Mile has been about France and America since Ridgewood Pearl last claimed the prize for Britain or Ireland in 1995. That was 20 years and 50 runners ago, and that sequence extended to 52 runners here.

In truth, before the race it looked like one for the French, who had a fearsome line up of G1 scorers in Make Believe, Impassable, Esoterique and Karakontie. But, for whatever reason, they all misfired and misfired badly, running no better than fifth between them.

The winner, Tepin, had been clear pick of the domestic squad coming in to the Mile, having blitzed a massive seven length Grade 1 victory over course and distance (soft turf) four weeks earlier. She proved that career best to be no fluke, stalking obvious pace angle, Obviously (!), before finding herself five clear with a sixteenth to go.

As is often the case in the Mile, regardless of the host track, there was scrimmaging on the inside rail, the Gallics clambering all over each other. Mondialiste, held up as usual, saw daylight too late but flew home for a clear second for Danny Tudhope and trainer David O'Meara. Clearly my Friday night pep talk with the cuprous conjuror had worked its magic!

Tepin, 4.9/1 at the off but available at 14's just a few days ago in Britain, had the perfect position off a steady pace, and gave her trainer, Mark Casse, his second win of the meeting, and jockey Julien Leparoux his sixth Breeders' Cup win overall.

Here's the race again:

**

Breeders' Cup Juvenile

The antepenultimate Cup race of 2015, the Juvenile, looked a touch sub-standard on paper, and so it proved. Nyquist, one of only two unbeaten colts in the race, and one of only two unbeaten on dirt, had a tough post in 13 to overcome.

Things looked insurmountable as jockey Mario Gutierrez was forced six wide around the first turn. But that was down to three wide into the second turn, and Nyquist's stamina kicked in to forge the pairing into a three length lead in the straight. By the line, he was all out to hold another wide-drawn wide-tripper, Swipe, but hold him he did to reward backers at odds of 4.7/1.

The pair pulled more than two lengths clear of their field and, though it was probably a moderate field, this duo can be rated slightly higher than the finishing time for their efforts.

In what looks a wide open Durrrby year in 2016, both deserve their places near the head of the market, albeit at prices (20/1 Nyquist, 33/1 Swipe) that reflect the openness of the heat. Brody's Cause also had a shocker of a run, finishing caked in filth for a staying on third, and his 33/1 quote is moderately attractive too, this first loss on dirt perhaps down to inexperience as much as anything.

Songbird is the 16/1 favourite with British books, and there are surely worse 16/1 shots than her, notwithstanding that she may not take in the Kentucky Derby, and that it is very, very hard to win that race with her run style (only War Emblem, 2002, has led gate to wire since 1988).

A lot will change between now and the 'run for the roses' in the first weekend in May but, for now at least, this may be the best trial there has been so far.

**

Breeders' Cup Turf

The last of the six grass races is the immaculately-named Turf, a mile and a half contest. It has been an awful race for favourites down the years with highly-touted 'obvious' Europeans routinely beaten. Against that backdrop, Golden Horn - winner of the Arc and Derby this season, as well as the Coral-Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes - attempted to buck the trend.

In opposition was a solitary further Euro, Found, a filly who has a propensity for close up defeat and who ran an unlucky five lengths ninth in the Arc in her only try at the distance. It was her general malady of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory rather than that Arc run which put this scribe off the 'wrong' Euro in a race I traditionally call wrong, and from which I am now considering self-exclusion.

Suffice it to say that, in the face of an ordinary enough challenge from Team USA and the presence of an only remotely interesting South American challenger, Ordak Dan, I wagered heftily on Golden Horn at what turned out to be a too good to be true local quote of 4/5. Way to return significant profits from whence they came!

In the race itself, Goldie Hawn looked to have few problems with his trip, likewise Found. Indeed, likewise all, so the result has to be seen as fair if not necessarily representative. After all, whilst Found over Golden Horn is credible, that the pair were no more than a length or so in front of Big Blue Kitten and, more notably, Slumber, implies one or both of the shippers ran some way below their best.

Maybe it was their long seasons, maybe the travel, more likely a combination of both. But the differential between Derby/Arc-winning form has to be more than a length superior to the pick of the local crowd, doesn't it? What is worth taking away is that both third and fourth were trained by Chad Brown, comfortably the best American trainer of Breeders' Cup turf runners, and a man to keep well onside going forwards.

For those who didn't back Golden Horn - especially if you did take some of the incredibly-generous-and-not too-good-to-be-true 6.4/1 on Found (exacta paid a whopping 20/1) - here is the re-run.

**

Breeders' Cup Classic

Despite a dozen races having been confined to the record, those Breeders' Cup propagandists had it bang on the money: "The Best Is Yet To Come".

The best was yet to come. Not the best race, you understand. That was probably Runhappy's cold-blooded assassination of the ageing warrior, Private Zone. But the best racehorse. A fellow by the name of American Pharoah.

The 'Pharoah' was a champion coming into the race, having won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes - the Triple Crown. He was the first since 1978 to achieve this mythical feat and he did it at a time when American racing was pleading for a shot in the arm of his ilk.

Since the Belmont in early June, AP had raced twice: first he confirmed superiority over his age group in the Haskell, but then... he... was... beaten. Gasp.

Just as tactics got the better of Golden Horn in mid-season, so the Pharoah was tactically mastered in the Travers. Not by a single horse, but rather a 'double teaming' whereby Frosted - a rival here - buttered him up on the speed before Keen Ice - another rival here - ran by in the lane. Not. In. The. Script.

But if gamblers love a golden child, they love a story of loss and redemption more. In truth, there was little to redeem, AP losing nothing in defeat due to his valiant efforts in the face of tough breaks. He was akin to a Tour de France champion being mastered by team tactics on an Alpine stage, but with General Classement victory assured.

Here, his task was simplified considerably by the late defection of Beholder. The clear main danger had not been herself since travelling to Kentucky, and she succumbed to the almost inevitable in scratching. Her absence made Pharoah's task easier than merely having one less horse to beat.

No, Beholder was a key facet of the tactical shape of the race, having been expected to ride on the shoulder of AP from half a mile and more out. In her, and also the bulky hard-to-keep-sound Smooth Roller's absence, there looked to be no pace contention for Bob Baffert's world beater, whose metier is to turn the screw from the front. To use the cycling analogy once more, AP is happiest when in solo time trial mode.

Here, off a steady first quarter mile, he led all the way, gradually increasing his cadence as his rivals wilted in behind, eventually running away from them by six and a half lengths in a time of 2:00:07. Two minutes and seven hundredths of a second. But for some supreme saddle posturing by jockey Victor Espinoza in the shadow of the post, American Pharoah would surely have ducked under the two minute barrier.

Still, as you can see, it was a GREAT photo opportunity, very well taken, and an image which looks sure to endure for generations to come.

Victor with a grin for the ages...

Victor with a grin for the ages... (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The race itself was without other incident, and it was without the need for other incident too, this being a glorious equine monologue, the final procession of a Pharoah: the American Pharoah.


The crowd had come to watch him strut his stuff and, in the face of no adversity, he did just that. His welcome was rapturous and, over the course of the season, wholly deserved.

Once the dust had settled, I snuck away from the madding throng to wave cheerio to, as NBC's fantastic race caller put it, "the horse of a lifetime", as he was led away from a race track for the final time.

**

Keeneland 2015 was one of the great Breeders' Cups. Perhaps the greatest of all Breeders' Cups. Certainly the best of the thirteen Breeders' Cups since 2001 that I've been lucky enough to attend.

Fears about the ability of Keeneland, and Lexington in general, to cope with the legion of racegoers were unfounded. The track and the town handled the influx comfortably. The weather was cool - sure, it's November, right? - and, for the most part over Cup weekend, dry. On another weekend it could have rained, and on another one still it might have snowed. But racing isn't always in sunshine, and not all horses train under nature's lights, so I say fair enough.

More importantly, for the Breeders' Cup itself, it basked in its own sunshine by bringing the American Pharoah out for one last glorious hoorah. From a selfish perspective, I hope this signals the start of a new confidence in pushing the boundaries of Breeders' Cup locations.

Keeneland, in Lexington, in Kentucky, is more than just a spiritual home for US racing. It is the epicentre of the breeding business, itself the lifeblood of the sport. After a Breeders' Cup where eleven of thirteen winners - 85% - were bred in the state of Kentucky, this truly was a homecoming for the ages.

Matt

p.s. the Breeders' Cup Compendium, which can be downloaded here, made a clear profit of over 21 points on stakes of just 16 points. It flagged winners at 25/1, 14/1 and 12/1 as well as a number of others at shorter prices; and it made for a very fun evening for subscribers 🙂

Round up, and an apology…

Breeders Cup 2014

Breeders Cup 2014 is coming

Well, what a week it's been... I don't feel like my feet have touched the floor since about this time last week, and in today's post I'll outline what's been going on, what's coming up next, and offer an apology.

Let's start with the 'sorry'. Over the last couple of years, geegeez.co.uk has grown from a little blog to a content hub housing some of the best race cards and form tools on t'interwebz. In order for things to run (fairly) smoothly, we now use a whole bunch of different servers and databases and programs and blah blah blah.

Well, this morning, one of our servers - the one on which the actual website sits - went pop. Full up. Overloaded it. The people who host it simply prevented all visitors from accessing the site, which was a little unhelpful. Long and short, the site was down for about an hour this morning. Ultimately, it was my fault. Apparently, you can set up alerts for when you're close to using all of the available capacity. Who knew?!

We're up and running again now, and have a task over the weekend to review the unused content and delete as much as possible: a bit of a house clearance!

That problem was compounded by the fact that I was trying to feed Leonardo his 'hoops' (Cheerios) this morning at the time of said incident, and he decided that they'd be better used as a textured wallpaper... Mrs Matt is away this week, in Las Vegas (!), so I'm in sole charge of the boy (now 25 months old, time passes, eh?).

And, I don't mind admitting, it's been bloody hard work. Trying to balance my two babies (geegeez being the other, natch) is an inevitably hopeless task and I've done what I hope most will believe to be the decent thing, and focused on the more recent of the pair.

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That has meant no decomposition of Future Champions Day (management summary, ignore the form largely) or British Champions Day (management summary, great races, got the big field handicap draw wrong - again). And it's meant I haven't shared any of the excellent Breeders Cup content I'm working on either.

I'm planning to offer those who love a bit of a tickle on the self-styled 'World Thoroughbred Championships' a full chapter and verse package, including trends, pace analysis, and runner profiles. This will be a paid service, but at a pound a race or thereabouts, it's within the compass of almost anyone who wants it. I'm very nearly finished with the trends and will have more info on this next week - Breeders Cup Friday is a week today!

I'll be heading over to Santa Anita - my turn, after Carole gets back on Sunday - on Tuesday, and will be reporting live from trackside Friday and Saturday nights.

I'll share more details on the Breeders Cup package with you next week.

Now, before then, and closer to home, we have two crackers tomorrow, the Racing Post Trophy and the Old Roan Chase. Tomorrow's Aintree feature has been previewed here, with a doff of the cap to the lad whose name has been appended to Old Roan in the race title.

As for the Racing Post Trophy, well, it's been won by Aidan O'Brien's powerful Ballydoyle yard in three of the past five years, and seven times in all. O'Brien still lags behind Sir Henry's incredible ten wins in the race, but is closing.

This time he runs two, with a mysterious switcheroo occurring earlier in the week. At that time, it was believed that Giovanni Canaletto and Royal Navy Ship were to be his pair of representatives, but they've been supplanted by the lightly raced pair, Jacobean and Aloft. With trainer's son Joseph banned, and Ryan Moore (the ultimate supersub) in Australia, Colm O'Donoghue will reportedly ride Jacobean and William Buick, Aloft.

Jacobean, a 7/2 chance, is flag bearer for the Royal Navy Ship form, as he was second to that horse in a field of 22, less than a fortnight ago. He's clearly held in high regard to be pitched in here as a maiden and with such a short hiatus between runs. Aloft also backs up quickly enough, having won his maiden at the second attempt just three weeks earlier. Interestingly enough, that was a Newmarket maiden which, for an Irish trainer, was a probable 'sighter' of the home guard.

The home team will be spearheaded by Royal Lodge winner, Elm Park, who took his time to get going there but was an impressive winner in the end. A true run mile should be ideal, and Andrew Balding's Phoenix Reach colt undoubtedly sets the bar in terms of established form.

If one of the more lightly raced animals is to prevail - and it isn't to be one of the Ballydoyle brace - then it might be Celestial Path. Sir Mark Prescott doesn't have that many Group performers these days, but this lad - by Footstepsinthesand out of a Hawk Wing mare - is bred for the grade.

He was a facile victor in a Listed contest last time, and has been well rested since. The form of his previous maiden has worked out well, and he might be an each way bet to nothing at around 5/1.

It's not really a betting race for me, but it will be sure to shape the top of the market for both the Guineas and the Derby of 2015.

Have a great weekend - I'm off to sort the boy out!

Matt

At the Natural History Museum, with young man...

At the Natural History Museum yesterday, with young man...

Sunday Supplement: 4000, BC (and Donny)

AP McCoy with Pipe and Johnson in the old days

AP McCoy with Pipe and Johnson in the good old days

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Not much happened in the past two weeks, just the Breeders’ Cup, AP McCoy’s 4,000th winner and the end of the 2013 Flat-race season at Doncaster on Saturday.

I suppose pride of place must go to AP, a man who until his 3,000th win or thereabouts would have qualified for Mr Grumpy, such was his unwavering ambition and drive above all else. But like so many driven characters, a happy marriage and two doted-on children have transformed him.

Where once there was apparent disdain, now there is an awareness of his role that almost single-handed has given racing a focal point. Much praise should also heap on Great British Racing, who helped orchestrate the final push to 4,000 and kept the press and TV fully informed and helped develop the public’s awareness.

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McCoy’s embracing of the event at Towcester, with family at the forefront before he painstakingly excused himself to weigh in – “I’ll be straight back” – and then the celebrations with JP McManus and Jonjo O’Neill, the pair who have accelerated the momentum for this unique character’s latter active years as a jockey.

Then it was off to the Outside Chance in Manton village, a pub I know better than almost any other since my Fleet Street days at any rate, where AP’s celebrants included Toby Balding, the man who brought him across from Ireland all those years ago from Jim Bolger’s yard; and Martin Pipe, the ideal collaborator in many of his championship seasons.

Pipe and his main patron, the late David Johnson, with McCoy were an irresistible trio for many years and it was a poignant moment on Saturday at Wincanton when David’s old colours were carried to victory by Standing Ovation, trained by David Pipe on a day when McCoy set off on his fifth thousand with yet another winner at the same track.

Johnson chose a reverse version of the late Robert Sangster’s colours and such was his success that they were more often visible than Sangster’s in the prime Pipe years. Strangely, McCoy, a non-drinker, is now a partner in the Outside Chance with Robert’s son Guy as well as Howard Spooner. The pub is just a five-minute drive from the Sangster family’s Manton estate.

Toby Balding’s health has not been brilliant, but as well as joining the McCoy celebrations, he was fit enough to make it to Doncaster where his Astral Hall ran in the Listed fillies’ race. It was an awful day and my choice to leave the sports jacket in the car and don the raincoat despite sunny conditions at midday, paid a big dividend.

The ground was desperate, but with winners like Jack Dexter and the William Haggas-trained Conduct, who ran away with the November Handicap as the trainer ended like Andrew Balding with his first century, it was quite a classy day.

There was quite a feel-good factor too. Doncaster’s big days bring out the locals who generally dress very well especially in the top enclosure and it was heaving with people. One thing for sure is that young females of this generation have much longer legs than their predecessors – ask trainer Ian Williams, who cast an approving eye on at least one set as I happened to be walking past.

The Breeders’ Cup was sensational. When I used to tag along with the Thoroughbred Corporation a decade and more ago, two of my regular comrades were Willie Carson, European racing manager to Prince Ahmed bin Salman and Gary Stevens, the stable jockey in the US.

Gary, who also spent time in England with Sir Michael Stoute and then in France, has had a long and involved career, but now aged 50, he has come back from seven years’ retirement, a brilliant acting role in Seabiscuit and a TV pundit’s career to win the Classic and the other big race - the Distaff - on Beholder on the Santa Anita card.

Willie was there too, winning with partners Christopher Wright and Ellie Asprey via the Charlie Hills-trained Chriselliam in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, with Richard Hughes in the saddle.

Ryan Moore had a fair couple of days too, especially with his riding of Magician in the Turf race. Of Britain’s four best-known current jockeys, only Frankie Dettori missed out following that freak injury at Nottingham which cost him big-race wins on Treve and Olympic Glory.

I don’t know whether Hughesie is too bothered about football, but I do know that AP, Ryan and Frankie will all be cheering in the same direction as me as Manchester United try to stave off the Arsenal juggernaut this afternoon. The worry for me is that United often get a penalty – a la Chelsea – and we have someone sent off, maybe Flamini? Can’t wait, whatever the outcome.

A Far From Flat End to the Season…

The St Leger, the last of the five Classics, is now a fading memory, and the vintage pecking order has been loosely formed. So that's that for the flat, right? Wrong!

During the next six weeks, as the National Hunt beasts shrug off their aestivation, we'll be treated to the very best end of season racing parties on the planet, courtesy of Longchamp's Arc weekend; Ascot's Champions Day; Santa Anita's Breeders Cup; and Victoria State's Melbourne Cup.

These jamborees may not be to everyone's tastes. After all, three of them are overseas and the other is a mere three years young this time around. So, for traditionalist turfists, there is but a handful of backend Newmarket juvenile Group contests, and the Racing Post Trophy, to await.

Pity them, for the treats in store for those who embrace the increasingly global nature of our sport are manifold.

Let's scan the menu for some sumptuous equine morsels.

Tilting at windmills?

Tilting at windmills?

Entrée

For the hungry, the starter is always the most satisfying course on the carte. Famished fellows delight, then, at the rich and wholesome fare from across La Manche on the first weekend of October in gay Parree.

Longchamp doesn't just plonk a single large terrine upon our punting plate. Oh no, those Gallic types are a good bit more sophisticated than that: they greet us with a veritable (pronounced vehr-ee-tah-bleu) assiette of compelling contests.

Saturday's under-rated card features four Group races, including the Prix Daniel Wildenstein, the Prix de Royallieu, and the Prix Dollar. The last named event - run over ten furlongs or thereabouts - has been won twice by the brilliant Cirrus des Aigles in the last three years. And he will bid to make it a Prix Dollar three Dollar on 5th October, most likely as a prep for Champions Day. More on that anon.

The second half of this top class Parisian tasting plate is loaded with delicacies. No fewer than seven Group 1 races are set to tantalise the taste buds on Sunday, with the Prix de l'Opera, the Cadran, the Marcel Boussac, the Jean-Luc Lagardere, the Foret and, of most interest to us Brits, the Abbaye and the Arc.

The Abbaye is a five furlong sprint and it has been something of a British benefit in recent times, with nine of the last eleven renewals bagged by les Rosbifs. Last year was a notable exception, when Robert Collet's Wizz Kid lived up to her name and took the fast-advancing British battalion by surprise. How well she did is highlighted by the fact that the next eight home were all British or Irish sprinters!

And then there's the Arc, arguably the most important race in the European calendar. Indeed, arguably the most important race in the global racing calendar. This is a truly international contest, over a mile and a half, and never won by a bad horse.

Solemia was a rarity last year, in that she had not previously won a Group 1 contest. She was nominated on geegeez as a value play in the race nevertheless, and at 33/1 - having been available at double those odds earlier in the weekend - she was a very popular winner around these parts!

It is interesting to note that three of the last five Arc winners were fillies and, going back as far as another brilliant mare in Urban Sea in 1993 (mummy to both Galileo and Sea The Stars, himself a superb Arc winner; as well as Black Sam Bellamy; All Too Beautiful; 1.8 million guineas yearling, My Typhoon - won a Grade 1 in America; and, Born To Sea, second in the Irish Derby), fifteen of the last twenty winners of the race were three years old.

That's potentially good news for the likes of Treve (French Oaks winner, so a filly too); Kizuna (Japanese Derby winner); Ruler Of The World (Epsom Derby winner); and Flintshire (Grand Prix de Paris - unofficial French Derby - winner)... and perhaps bad news for older horses such as Orfevre, so cruelly denied by his own kinky personality last year; and Novellist, a crack German with no such character defects.

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And that, both literally and in this somewhat laboured metaphor, is just for starters.

Amuse Bouche

With barely time to digest that fulsome first course, it's fortunate that there's something to cleanse the palate before the long haul that is the main course.

Ascot's new Champions Day meeting sits - mercifully for racing fans - like an antacid tablet 'twixt Arc and Breeders weekends. Its purpose is to reset our punting taste buds and ready us for the gorgefest to follow.

The Champion Stakes itself, moved from Newmarket just three years ago (to much huff and puff from those traditionalist turfists), provides a pure test of speed and stamina. It was the perfect race for Frankel to bow out, and he did that - unbeaten - on unfavoured soft ground over an (arguably) unfavoured distance.

The closest challenger there was the inaugural Ascot winner, Cirrus des Aigles and, all being well after the Prix (three) Dollar, CdA will return with no Frankel to trouble him. His current odds of 12/1 with Coral are surely too big, despite a listless campaign prior to his recent first win. He'll be rock hard fit on October 19th, and will surely make the frame at least, with an Autumn programme always having been on the agenda.

Main Course

Santa Anita: a beautiful setting

Santa Anita: a beautiful setting

Many racing fans will be full by this point, and will choose to leave the table prior to the horses leaving the parade ring for the first of the late season Festivals held outside Europe. But what a pity for those small-bellied purists, as Santa Anita is a filthy burger of a main course with cordon bleu trimmings.

As Samuel L Jackson might say, "This is some serious gourmet shit!"

True, they've re-layed the old dirt track after the Euro's ran riot on the synthetic tapeta during its short tenure on the West Coast (completely unrelated, of course. Ahem). And true - and much worse - the So Cal horsemen have reneged on their promises to rid their sport of raceday medication, a move The Guardian's excellent Greg Wood described as a "spineless retreat" in this piece.

At least the juvies will be sans médicaments for the second time in 2013. And that will again give the Euros the best hand, especially in the turf races.

But if you can suspend your distaste for the means, the end may justify your faith. Although the flagship race, the Breeders Cup Classic, has lost a bit of its lustre in the last couple of years, it remains a race of deep fascination and complexity.

Declaration Of War, should he run in the Classic rather than the Champion Stakes, would be an extremely solid contender, with both tactical speed and stamina assured. He has a full on US dirt pedigree, too.

Across the two days, there will be many heroes and villains, and Europe - though not necessarily Britain - will enjoy its moments in the Californian sun.

I can't help myself. As much as I love the French nouvelle cuisine of Arc weekend - and the new English gastro-gaff that is Champions Day - there's just something tremendously titillating about this gourmet filthburger known more commonly as the Breeders Cup, and I am an unashamed fan of the meet(ing).

I do seriously wish they'd sort the race day medication issue, though. That's a poor show. And perhaps move it somewhere other than Santa Anita for a change. Gulfstream Park, maybe? (NB I know there are logistical issues with that, but I still wish it would happen).

Pudding

If you're not stuffed by now, fair play/shame on you*. [*delete as applicable]

And fear not, for those with a truly hearty appetite have one last dish with which to sate their slavering jowels. It's a tough race for us Northern Hemisphere chaps to accept as part of the late season menu, mainly because it sets off at about four in the morning, when most sane Europeans are in their pits deep in slumber.

But if you set the alarm clock - or, more sensibly, the video or Sky+ - it's a cracking contest, with plenty of British and Irish interest... though normally in a 'kick the dog' sort of way.

It's Australia's race. "The race that stops a nation", they call it. And fair enough.

Britain and Ireland are generally very well represented - last year, 'we' ran six. And the French ran two. And 'we' normally under-achieve. While the French have won twice in the last three years, Ireland hasn't won since Dermot Weld grabbed the second of his pair in 2002. And Britain has yet to win the race. Ever!

It's a proper pudding race too. It's typically run as though the horses have been through the same series of plates (Cox Plate notwithstanding) as we fans: they spoon rapidly through the first quarter, before settling down to a bloated crawl, and finally make a desperate sprint to the bottom of the bowl - or the jam stick if you prefer.

This style of racing is well suited to French racing, and to some degree Irish racing too. It is generally unsuited to British racing and probably helps to explain the lack of success the home squad has had. Probably.

It never fails to allow the home press to indulge in a spot of dog-kicking, or pom bashing as they like to call it.

In any case, French form should be marked up, and the home guard is always the strongest. If you've still got room for pud - I generally haven't, with a nasty bout of wagering indigestion setting in after the Breeders' Cup - then this will fill you up all right.

**

So yes, a far from flat end to the season. Different challenges abound at this international all-you-can-eat buffet. And the sheer variety and depth of quality is something to behold, wherever you reside on the traditionalist/internationalist continuum.

It's time to build up an appetite.

Enjoy the feast!

Matt

 

Flat Season End of Term Report – Part Three (final)

Dream Ahead - my second best horse of the year

Dream Ahead - my second best horse of the year

And so to part three, the final instalment of my end of term flat season report. In this post, I'll look at the big late season race meetings, the big late season racing debate, and I might even award a notional gong or three.

So, where were we? Ah yes, seeing out a surprisingly sizzling September, and ushering in the fin de saison events here, and across the big and small watery divides, beginning with...

October 2nd, 2011

Arc day down Paris way, and after the France Galop beaks decided to move all non-Group 1 races to the Saturday, flat racing purists were treated to a veritable gourmet gorge-fest, with fully seven top grade contests. And I was lucky enough to be among them for the whole weekend jamboree.

Space constraints dictate that I can't mention all of those G1 winners, but special mentions are fitting for some...

...such as old boy, Kasbah Bliss, who defied me and cheered the vast army of rosbifs who backed the only horse in the race they'd heard of and were rewarded for their ignorance (harsh? moi?) as the venerable veteran quickened past even slower beasts, in the manner that a shop mobility vehicle passes a pedestrian with a zimmer frame. [Apologies to the mobility impaired]

...and Tangerine Trees, who showed what a punters pal he's been, when winning the Abbaye at odds of around 20/1 on the pari-mutuel. This chap has been constantly underrated by the market, which is fantastic for connections who will have collected at odds of 33/1, 9/1, 18/1 and 10/1 in the thirteen months prior to the Abbaye win. Lucky beggars!

...then there was Elusive Kate, who gave Johnny G fans much to cheer as she was able to traverse the entire width of the Longchamp home straight from right to left and still fend off the pick of the French and Irish two year old fillies.

...and what about that man Frankie Dettori's ultra-fortuitous ride aboard the hitherto unbeaten cold, Dabirsim? How the equine seas parted for his seemingly doomed tardy rally up the far rail, to present the cheeky, whip-happy Italian with his 500th Group race success. Think I'm being harsh? Check this extremely amateur video compilation out - Frankie's fortune is at the 2:12 mark.

...not forgetting of course, Dream Ahead being the second of my 'can't possibly win' horses to spit in my eye on the day, finishing well to earn a first win of any description beyond six furlongs. It just happened to be against Goldikova in a Group 1!

...before Nahrain completed a memorable day for the Brits as she extended her unbeaten career streak to four with a first Group 1 victory.

But naturally enough, the main event was the 2011 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe itself, and a strong field of sixteen had assembled, led by the likes of Sarafina, So You Think, last year's winner Workforce, St Nicholas Abbey and the rest.

In the end, it was a hugely progressive and previously underrated German filly, Danedream, who caused a mild upset when skipping away in the manner of a very fine sort to win by five lengths in a new course record. It's impossible to crab that sort of a performance, and honourable mentions go to So You Think and Snow Fairy for getting close to being second at least, from car park draws.

Danedream is likely to have one more run, probably in the Japan Cup, prior to heading off for some 'cheeky cheeky' in the barns.

Incidentally, although I'm not an expert on such things, I'm reliably informed that Herr Starke may have been using his whip against sensitive parts of Danedream's body - the equivalent of her armpit, in fact - which has to be considered pretty distasteful a) in the context of a facile victory anyway, and b) in the wider context of the whip debate in which British racing has drowned itself. But then you can buy cheval in the supermarket meat counters over in Paris...

10th October, High Holborn

Two weeks on from the vast display of equine 'bling' at Longchamp, and the British Horseracing Authority decide that we Brits should take still more of a lead in the field of horse welfare, by repealing our already 'best of breed' whip rules.

Amidst much media hype, and celebrity jockey sound bites, the revised 'count the number, and don't miscount or you'll be taking time off' rules came into play.

Let's be absolutely crystal clear about something here: these rules were introduced in a fumbling attempt to address a non-existent problem, that of the perception of non-racegoers to the sport of horse racing. If not, why the big media parade? Why get Question of Sport's own Frankie Dettori, and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, AP McCoy, to endorse?

As shooting oneself in the foot goes, this has been more a case of stepping on a landmine by the BHA. [With apologies to amputees for the crude analogy]

Four days of wailing and of gnashing of teeth passed before...

15th October, Ascot

Yes, just five days after the edict was introduced, Ascot heralded the inaugural Champions Day at its new home. And, blow me, if it wasn't an absolute bobby dazzler. The weather was glorious, and the races enjoyed both quality and quantity (with the exception of the closing apprentice handicap that had exponentially more quantity than quality - and yet Tom Segal of Pricewise fame still nailed the winner. Chapeau!)

Again, I was fortunate enough to have my face pressed against the window of a London-Berkshire rattler for ninety minutes en route to the action. No matter, for it was well worth it.

The opener saw a welcome return to form from Ascot Gold Cup winner, Fame And Glory, under an inspired ride from Jamie Spencer (for once, we'll let him off the usual 'Frank' nickname). Sensing the soft fractions and knowing both that they were the most likely cause of his undoing the last twice, and that a stronger pace would suit his hoss, Spencer kicked on, surged clear and held on from the rallying Opinion Poll and Colour Vision.

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Then my nap of the day, the fast improving Deacon Blues, laughed at his opposition in the sprint race before Dancing Rain reprised her mid-season Oaks win with another canny front-running ride from 'Group 1 Johnny' Murtagh.

Next up, though not the best race of the day, was the best horse of the day. Of the season indeed. And, Sea The Stars notwithstanding, many people's idea of the best horse of the 21st century.

Yes, it was our old mate Frankel's turn to strut his stuff. One mile and seven rivals were between him and a ninth straight win. As it turned out, the bullet settled beautifully, and quickened takingly off a slow enough pace, to win by the same four lengths from the same opponent - Excelebration - that he had done on his first start of the season in the Greenham.

This was more a lap of honour than a race, and the adoring crowds lapped it up. Matt Chapman, always enthusiastic and good value, was on this occasion in a state of acute hysteria as he welcomed Sir Henry, Mr Q(ueally), and the bullet into the winner's enclosure. Calm down, Chappers, you'll give yourself a coronary!

And then came that race. Yes, the one that showed the whip revisions to be somewhere between ill-advised and utterly careless on the preposterosity continuum.

As Cirrus Des Aigles gamely saw off the challenges of both So You Think and Snow Fairy inside the last furlong, his pilot, Christophe Soumillon, used his whip with excessive frequency, according to the rules. In point of fact, he struck his mount once too often inside the final eighth: that once being about five yards inside.

For this gross negligence - ahem - a punishment to fit the crime. Take a five day holiday (despite being in a battle for the French jockeys' championship) and concede the £52,000 segment of the prize fund due to the winning rider.

No wonder the most famous Belgian since Hercule Poirot was aggrieved. Soumillon ranted disarmingly languidly about the lunacy of the situation, before Paul Roy, the buffoonerous beak atop the BHA perch, offered defence of the lemons in his squad that decided on these arbitrary rules and their absolute implementation.

Mr Roy, with the greatest of respect, it is clearly and unequivocally time for you to stand down. If you insist on carrying the can - itself a noble enough act - then you must do so with the conditions applied to such accountability. I actually feel very strongly that British racing has now made itself a subject of global lampoonery and that it cannot regain its credibility with Roy steering the pleasure cruiser (not quite a ship, eh chaps?)

Post script: in the days that followed this PR disaster, the rules were revised marginally, and those found in contravention of the initial revisions were reinstated and refunded. An all too brief and limited concession, alas, as the debate rumbles on with a Racing Post poll showing that 75% of punters are now betting less as a consequence of the new rules. I am in the majority there. Good for racing? Come on!

Enough - back to the sport.

November 4th, Louisville

Ah, the Bluegrass state in November. Cold and wet, sloppy main track, and a sub-standard looking raiding party from Europe for the Breeders Cup 2011. For only the second time in a decade I was not in attendance at the big US racing regatta, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I wished I was.

Punting from home was a different discipline and afforded more opportunity to pick winners. As a consequence - which may or may not be related - I did manage to pick more winners. Alas for me, my staking strategy was woeful and for the most part I wasn't compensated for my calculations.

The exception was the Ladies' Classic, formerly known as the Distaff, where my exacta-trifecta-superfecta brilliance (well, every dog has his day) saw me catch about two thousand dollars and swerve the attentions of the IRS (US inland revenue) man, who is omnipresent for decent-sized ticket cashers at the track itself.

November 5th, Doncaster and Louisville

More good winners on the Saturday, both at home and away. Well, I say 'winners'. At Donny, while I was attempting to play football (still grinding these forty-year-old bones!), Classic Vintage - himself nearly as old as me at seven - stayed on well for fifth place. Ah, how I love a bookie who pays five places in the big handicaps.

Ah, how I love bet365. I'm sure they'll shut me down soon enough!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or Churchill Downs to be precise, it was time for the remaining NINE Breeders Cup races.

The Marathon is fast becoming unwinnable for Euro horses, and we were well off the pace here despite having Group runners lining up against moderate plodding handicappers.

Afleet Again followed the previous night's Perfect Shirl as an impossible longshot to win, and they'd be joined by the second most impossible longshot in Breeders Cup history later in the evening.

Despite those setbacks, other races were much kinder to me (and readers of the free tipsheet I offered up), as first Aidan O'Brien's Wrote bagged the Juvenile Turf, then Amazombie cashed in a big ticket for me in the Sprint.

Regally Ready was an obvious favourite, and a very good winner, of the Turf Sprint, a race which often confuddles. Not this time. But then I missed Caleb's Posse in the Dirt Mile and that was an expensive mistake as my Pick3's and Pick4's - which amounted to a LOT of dollars - went west.

Worse was to follow as I failed to back St Nicholas Abbey, preferring Await The Dawn, the same stable's other runner. St Nick gave the O'Brien team a double on the night and a family love in as son Joseph gave the horse formerly known as Pegasus a tremendous ride to gun down his rivals in the lane.

It all seemed a world away from watching St Nick labour to a well beaten third in the geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes at the Curragh back in April, but he's pretty bloody good this one, on his day.

Then double disaster in the closing two races.

First, the most ridiculous result in Breeders Cup history. Yes, Arcangues was a longer shot when winning the Breeders Cup Classic at 134/1 back in 1993. But that was because they disregarded European form. Arcangues had won a strong Group 1 in France just three starts previously, and offered enormous value in the context of that race.

But Court Vision in the Mile? No. Never. Not in a million years. 64/1 was not even remotely generous. Goldikova barged her way illegally to third and the spineless Churchill stewards didn't take her down. She should have been disqualified and placed last and, on any other day, she would have. I love Goldi, but the rules is the rules. If you backed Gio Ponti each way, you can consider yourself extremely hard done to.

And with that freak result, my wagering night was over. Or very nearly.

The final nails in my coffin were to be hammered home in the Classic. Whereas there's no way I could have made a case for Court Vision, I knew the Classic would set up for Drosselmeyer. Basically, this race is a bit like the Derby. There are a lot of non-stayers in the field and a lot of early paced types who just fade and die.

The line up here - Uncle Mo and Game On Dude amongst others - meant it had to shape up as a speed duel up front. When this happens, especially when there are doubtful stayers in the field, there's generally only one outcome. The plodders prevail.

Witness Zenyatta in 2009, and almost again in 2010. While the speed horses run as fast as they can for as long as they can, and then try to 'hang tough', Zenyatta lollops out of the gate and continues lolloping until they all come back to her. All except Blame that is, who was on his very last leg.

This time, it was Game On Dude under Chantal Sutherland, who was just vanquished. It was a game - and excellent - effort from both horse and jockey, but the Dross (appropriate name for a very poor renewal) was just too strong at the finish.

No use to me, even though I could and should have backed the horse. Bollocks, as they say, down my way.

And that, dear friends, was that. The 2011 turf flat season, with a bit of filth and bondage thrown in. Well, dirt racing and whip debate anyway. We're not that sort of a website! 😉

Finally, if I may, a few prizes...

Jockey of the Year

Runner Up is Paul Hanagan who showed real hunger to retain the title. He rode our own Khajaaly a couple of weeks ago at Wolverhampton and, although he didn't win nor even have a winner to that point that night, he was most instructive afterwards, taking time to suggest a couple of things to try with our boy in future. Well done, sir.

But the winner is Silvestre de Sousa - this time last year, you'd have been forgiven for asking, 'Who?!' But the silver medallist in this year's jockey's championship gets the golden gong here for making a phenomenal scrap of it, and being the ultimate gent in defeat. The Brazilian is a man to follow - excellent judge of pace too, which is rare in this country.

Trainer of the Year

In third place, Sir Henry Cecil has had an excellent year, obviously embellished by the exploits of that bullet, Frankel. But the way he has managed the horse, from feisty testosterone-fuelled teenager to charming young man, and the way he's comported himself in that typical Sir Henry 'dandy fop' manner has been a joy for sentimental types such as me.

And the fact that he was finally knighted this year meant that I was able to drop the 'Sir' nickname he's always had on geegeez and replace it with just 'plain old' Sir. Not before time!

Runner up, in his first season as a trainer, is Roger Varian. Recording a level stakes profit of £67.54 on the grass this year, and striking at 21% means Roger is a pal to punters. He's clearly learnt well from his former guv'nor, Michael Jarvis, and he will be a chap to keep very much on the right side next term.

But the winner has to be Godolphin's 'second team' trainer (haha), Mahmood al Zarooni. This chap, about whom I know nothing, is just brilliant. This was his second season training, and he's achieved a 21% strike rate as well, but a profit for us backers of over a hundred and fifty quid for every pound we've put down. He won over a million pounds more in prize money than his counterpart, Saeed bin Suroor, and the writing is surely on the wall there.

Whether he'll be as profitable to follow next season is another question, as the cat is well and truly out of the bag. But... don't be betting against it!

Horse of the Year

A bit pointless this one perhaps, but it does afford recognition to one beast underneath, and further embroider the reputation of an already very well decorated quadruped.

Runner up then is the speed machine, Dream Ahead. Late on the scene this year, he was spanked - or maybe Franked - by Frankel in the St James' Palace in June. Over a shorter trip in July, he waltzed away with the July Cup. In three further runs this term, he managed to notch a further Group 1 double and those three Group 1's - all hard fought and against top drawer opposition - give him the silver prize here. He's off to do naughty things to unsuspecting young ladies now. Lucky boy.

The winner, of course, is So You Think... only joking! It's Frankel. There's not much I can add to what I've already said in this three part series and throughout the year in various blog posts. The horse is a machine and if he settles, he might yet be able to get ten furlongs. That ushers forth the mouth-watering prospect of a Santa Anita Breeders Cup Classic tilt. Sweet dreams indeed!

Five runs, the last four in Group 1 company, and five wins. An aggregate winning margin this year of 19 3/4 lengths, and healthy kickings dished out to all and sundry. If that doesn't give us something to look forward to next term, nothing will. Roll on 2012!

So, what was your performance of the flat year? Best jock? Best horse other than Frankel? Trainer of note? Leave a comment and give us one (or two or three) to follow.

Matt