It was a case of ‘like father like son’, as Cracksman provided the show-stopping performance of Champions Day 2017, to capture the Champion Stakes.
So often during his illustrious career we witnessed Frankel powering clear of the opposition, winning his races by a country-mile. And so, what a thrill to see Cracksman mimic his ‘old man’ at Ascot yesterday. It wasn’t always that way for Gosden’s talented colt, but this late season version has packed on the power and is able to maintain a relentless gallop despite testing conditions.
The question is whether he possesses the gears to be as effective on a sounder surface, but there’s no doubting that he is a machine in the mud.
Frankie Dettori had him tucked in behind the leaders in the early stages yesterday, but on turning for home the jockey struck-out for glory. Cracksman immediately put lengths between himself and the field, and with stamina aplenty powered clear in devastating fashion. He hit the line a yawning seven lengths clear of Poet’s Word, with Highland Reel third.
“He’s improved through the year and grown up a lot,” said a thrilled John Gosden. “If he was a middleweight earlier in the season, he is a light heavyweight now. He's really progressed and to do this against older horses, he's a fast-improving horse.”
Dettori was completing a stunning Champions Day double, and said of Cracksman: “I’m thrilled for everyone. It’s Frankel’s first Group One [in Europe], my first Champion Stakes, a lot of firsts and a great performance. The Champion Stakes is a colossal race, my father came close, I came close a couple of times, it’s been bugging me a long time to put it to bed with a great performance.”
He went on: “I didn’t expect Persuasive to win, I didn’t sleep very well because of Cracksman, I really felt the horse was in tip-top shape. When the rain came I was delighted because I knew it would make it a test of stamina, the headwind helped because it makes it even harder to get to the end, it stacked up towards my side, but the horse still had to deliver, and he did. I’m made up.”
When asked of next season’s selection dilemma, Dettori added: “To have Enable and Cracksman in the same year, well done John Gosden, he’s a genius. We’ll tackle the bridge next year. It’s Cracksman’s day today, let him have the glory!”
It proved to be a sensational day for Gosden and Dettori. They caused something of an upset earlier in the day, when Persuasive swooped late to take the QEII. Ribchester had looked the likely winner at the two-furlong pole, when moving stylishly to the front. But he began to flounder in the testing ground and approaching the furlong mark Dettori launched an attack aboard the grey filly. She handled conditions better than the rest for a huge victory, with Ribchester and Churchill chasing her home.
Thrilled, though clearly surprised to have won, Dettori said: “To be honest, looking at the line-up I thought God, she'll have to run well as there were Group One winners all over the place. But the key thing was that she had got the ground.”
Gosden said of the winning filly: “He (Frankie) was saving and saving, trying to keep her together. He went for a run on the inside and got blocked, so had to take her back and swing out. She'd have been an unlucky loser. When she got out she flew down the middle of the track.”
Richard Fahey, trainer of runner-up Ribchester, cursed the ground for the defeat: “It's deja vu, the ground has beaten him again. He's a horse that's won on soft ground, but he's such a good moving horse. William (Buick) felt he came there to win and win well and he just gets blunted in the dead ground. He just doesn't put it to bed and the winner coped with the conditions better. That's twice he's been beaten in desperate conditions.”
A successful Champions Day is the icing on the cake for Gosden, having had a glorious 2017 campaign. The firepower at his disposal can only be surpassed by one other trainer. And many Flat racing fans had arrived at Ascot in the hope of seeing Aidan O’Brien break Bobby Frankel’s Group One winning tally. Team Ballydoyle have yet again set the standard for others to follow, and though Caravaggio and Churchill came mighty close, it was another outstanding filly that gave them the Group One success they so desperately sought.
Hydrangea, like Cracksman, is another talented racehorse from a Pivotal mare, and as such had no problem coping with the testing ground. The issue was whether she would see-out the trip, having never previously attempted the mile and a half. When French filly Bateel loomed large at the furlong pole, Hydrangea’s stamina was put to the test, and she responded admirably to Ryan Moore’s urgings. Pulling out plenty for pressure, she battled on bravely to win by two-lengths.
On drawing level with the record, O'Brien said: “It's incredible for everyone, they all put in so much hard work, day in day out. We're a small link in a big chain and I'm delighted for everyone, it's a magic, special day. She's by Galileo and they will not stop, their will to win is incredible. She pulled out more and it was Ryan's idea to run her as he thought there was a chance she'd get the trip. We weren't sure, but she did.”
Moore echoed the thoughts of his trainer, when saying: “What Aidan O'Brien has done this year is remarkable and it is a massive team effort. Everyone who looks after these horses, they put in so much time. The filly has been on the go all year and has got better and better. I thought she had a good chance. I'm delighted for Aidan.”
O’Brien also landed the opener, when Order Of St George produced a battling performance to take the Long Distance Cup. He needed every yard of the straight to get his nose ahead of Jess Harrington’s Torcedor. John Gosden’s well-fancied three-year-old Stradivarius, produced another performance full of promise in finishing strongly to take third. He remains a young horse with a huge future.
Harry Angel’s Ascot hoodoo continued when he made it 0-4 at the track in the Champions Sprint Stakes. He’d travelled wonderfully well through the race, but possibly struck for home a little early at the two-pole. The writing was on the wall as he entered the final furlong, with Tasleet attacking to his right and Librisa Breeze to his left. As Harry crumbled it was Dean Ivory’s grey Librisa, that found plenty for pressure, pulling a length clear of Tasleet at the post. Caravaggio got going too late, but managed to pip Harry A for third.
Winning jockey Robert Winston told ITV Racing: “It means a hell of a lot. My career was finished, only for this horse, and that's being honest. I was packing up last year, I gave my notice to Dean, but this horse and Mr Bloom have kept me going. Dean is a great man to ride for, he has great staff and brilliant owners, including Mr Bloom.” Of the winner, Winston added: “He'd get a mile-plus, but has so much natural speed and is so genuine. I know I have been criticised a couple of times this year when he should have won, but that's the way you have to ride him.”
For Ivory, a winner on Champions Day was clearly a huge thrill: “I could not believe it. The ground and everything went right for us. He has been off a long time, seven weeks, and he has been so unlucky this year. We have got the luck when it mattered. That was the hardest field in the last 10 years and to come out and do it like that, I'm thrilled. He is a horse that has never had a clean run. This year is his year and I've seen him grow into a proper horse. Robert Winston believes in the horse as much as we do.”
The final race of the day went to yet another grey, when Lord Glitters came with a thrilling late rattle to nab Europe’s most valuable handicap, the Balmoral. Stuck out the back with nowhere to go, Daniel Tudhope switched the David O’Meara trained four-year-old to the wide outside with just a furlong remaining. In the clear, he thundered home, hitting the line a neck ahead of yet another Gosden runner, Gm Hopkins.
It was a suitably thrilling finale to an exhilarating Champions Day.