Blues bids for victorious swansong in Breeders’ Cup Mile

Space Blues bids to add his name to an illustrious list of European-trained winners of the Breeders’ Cup Mile when he leads a two-pronged attack from Charlie Appleby on the Del Mar showpiece.

The Prix de la Foret victor is joined by stablemate Master Of The Seas, who was runner-up to Poetic Flare in the 2000 Guineas but has been restricted to just two outings since that effort on the Rowley Mile.

Having won his maiden over a mile as a two-year-old, Saturday’s distance is not quite an unknown for Space Blues – but he has not run over it since his third career start, and has made his name as a crack six and seven-furlong performer.

Appleby said: “We’ve been delighted with his last two starts when winning both the (City Of) York Stakes and then the Foret. This will be the last run of his career; I’d imagine we’ll be retiring him after this. He’s done us proud.

“I feel a sharp mile round Del Mar will suit him. As we’ve all seen, he’s a great traveller. It’ll be quicker ground than he’s run on in his last two starts, but it doesn’t worry me becaue he won in Saudi Arabia on quick ground, and at Deauville. He’s a very versatile horse.

“He’ll travel for fun around there – and if the gaps appear he’s got the acceleration.”

Master Of The Seas returned to action with a creditable third place in the Joel Stakes at Newmarket in September, before finishing seventh in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot – where the ground was not in his favour.

With William Buick aboard Space Blues, James Doyle takes the mount on Master Of The Seas.

Appleby said: “We probably saw him at his best when he was just touched off in the Guineas on quick ground. He won the Craven Stakes before that Guineas second, then met with a setback.

“I was delighted with his comeback run in the Joel Stakes. He’s most definitely come forward from it fitness-wise. On Champions Day the ground was just too soft for him. I was keen, though, to get another run into him because he’d missed a large chunk of the summer.

“He’s come out of that race well, and I think back at a mile on quick ground will suit him.”

Aidan O’Brien won the race for the first time last year, when Order Of Australia led home a one-two-three for Ballydoyle.

His representative this time is 1000 Guineas heroine Mother Earth, a filly who has barely put a foot wrong but has not always enjoyed the best of luck – as witnessed by the trouble in running she suffered in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.

Frankie Dettori celebrates winning the 1000 Guineas with Mother Earth
Frankie Dettori celebrates winning the 1000 Guineas with Mother Earth (Mike Egerton/PA)

O’Brien said: “She’s been unlucky probably her last twice. The horses who beat her at Leopardstown she beat four or five lengths the next time, but when that happens (trouble in running) you lose Group Ones – and you never like that.

“I thought her last run at Ascot (fifth in the QEII) could be her best, because she clocked the final two furlongs better than any other horse’s time in the race.

“She seems well so far, and we’re looking forward to seeing her run. If there is a decent pace, she will run well.”

O’Brien added of the Breeders’ Cup in general: “It’s a special event at the end of our season. It’s great that the horses can come together and be compared across the world, at various distances and ages.

“It’s great prize-money; the racing is competitive, and everybody is looked after very well. I think at this time of year it’s where everybody likes to be with a horse good enough to compete in those championship races.”

The Paddy Twomey-trained Pearls Galore is another contender for Europe with strong credentials, after finishing second in the Matron and occupying the same spot in the Foret.

Dangers abound among the home squad, notably Mo Forza (Peter Miller/Flavien Prat), Smooth Like Strait (Mike McCarthy/Umberto Rispoli) and In Love (Paulo Lobo/Alexis Achard).

Of Smooth Like Strait, Rispoli said in his blog for XB Net: “Although his front-running style will always leave him potentially vulnerable to a fast finisher, a win in this super competitive heat will make up for a season where he’s only been a whisker shy of greatness.

“His work sectionals have been sharp, and this race has been the plan all year. Hopefully, we can pull it off together from the front end. It will take a Herculean effort against the likes of Space Blues and In Love, but I couldn’t ask for a more willing or talented partner.”

Order Of Australia ruled out of Breeders’ Cup defence

Order Of Australia will be unable to defend his crown in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile after suffering a career-ending injury.

The four-year-old sustained a small fracture that required an operation on Wednesday morning, trainer Aidan O’Brien revealed at a Breeders’ Cup pre-entry media teleconference.

Order Of Australia sprang a 40-1 surprise in the race run at Keeneland last year, when he had stable companions Circus Maximus and Lope Y Fernandez in second and third places.

He added to his tally in a Group Two at the Curragh, but was beaten back at Keeneland earlier this month in what has turned out to be his last race as he now goes to stud.

“He ran some very good races this year. At Keeneland he was a bit slowly away and it didn’t work for him, but he’s had a bit of a setback,” said O’Brien.

“He won’t get to race again. He had a small fracture and had a pin put in it this morning, but the operation and everything went well. He will go off to stud now.”

O’Brien will still be represented in the Mile by Mother Earth, winner of the 1000 Guineas and the Prix Rothschild.

As it stands Love is O’Brien’s only definite runner in the Breeders’ Cup Turf – but he may switch her to the Filly & Mare Turf to allow first reserve Japan to get in the race. He also has Broome, Bolshoi Ballet and Mogul as reserves for the Turf.

“It is very possible that could happen. I think the American handicap system is a little bit different to ours,” said the Ballydoyle trainer.

Love could switch to the Filly & Mare Turf at the Breeders' Cup
Love could switch to the Filly & Mare Turf at the Breeders’ Cup (David Davies/PA)

“It wasn’t on ratings horses were getting in. We have four Group One winners who are all reserves so it is possible we might have to take Love out of it and run her in the Filly & Mares to give the other horses a chance to get into the Turf.

“The horses are due to fly on Saturday. We’ll have an idea by then what chance they have of getting in or not.”

O’Brien also has Glounthaune in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He has recovered from the slight setback that prevented him from running in France last weekend.

“He steps up to a mile for the first time, but we always thought that was within his compass of distances” he added of the Dewhurst sixth.

Mother Earth handed American mission after Santa Barbara setback

Aidan O’Brien has been forced to juggle plans for Mother Earth after Santa Barbara met with a setback.

The 1000 Guineas winner was due to head to Australia to take in the valuable Golden Eagle next month, however, she is now set run in America instead.

Santa Barbara had won two Grade Ones on her last two outings in the States, the Belmont Oaks and the Beverly D Stakes, and would have been a strong fancy for many at the Breeders’ Cup.

Now it seems Mother Earth, who has also won the Prix Rothschild this season and was unlucky in the Matron Stakes last time out, could take her place. Mother Earth is also still a possible for the Sun Chariot at Newmarket before heading off on her travels.

“Unfortunately Santa Barbara has had a setback,” said O’Brien.

“It doesn’t look at the moment as if she’s going to make the Breeders’ Cup.

“We’ve now rerouted Mother Earth. She was going to go to Australia, but we’re thinking she’ll be going to America to take in some of the races that Santa Barbara could have run in.

“It’s a shame for Santa Barbara, she’d been going really well of late.”

Matron mission for Mother Earth

Aidan O’Brien’s Classic heroine Mother Earth is primed to bid for her third Group One of the year in the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes.

Mother Earth, who has already put the 1000 Guineas and Prix Rothschild titles in the Ballydoyle cabinet this year, will be joined in a 13-strong field by O’Brien’s Empress Josephine – an Irish Guineas winner in May – and a third stablemate, Friendly.

Strong opposition for them at Leopardstown on Saturday includes Paddy Twomey’s dual Group Three winner Pearls Galore, Ger Lyons’ Acanella and Willie McCreery’s Epona Plays.

Another out to make her seniority count is Ed Walker’s four-year-old Dreamloper, who crosses the Irish Sea from Lambourn after managing only fourth in Newbury’s Hungerford Stakes last time but as an emphatic Group Three winner at Ascot before then.

Last year’s winner Champers Elysees has run well in defeat several times for Johnny Murtagh this summer – while old rivals Shale and Pretty Gorgeous, for brothers Donnacha and Joseph O’Brien respectively, are also very much in the reckoning.

Mother Earth is nonetheless clear favourite to augment her already successful campaign, under Ryan Moore.

O’Brien said: “She is a lovely filly who probably doesn’t want to be in front too long.

“She’s a great traveller and very enthusiastic and usually very consistent.”

As well as her two triumphs this summer, Mother Earth has performed with significant credit in three defeats – at the top level throughout.

Empress Josephine has twice failed to reach the frame in Group One company since her Classic win at the Curragh – including when upped to 10 furlongs last time in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood.

O’Brien said: “Empress Josephine went a mile and a quarter the last day, and it just didn’t work for her – they didn’t go fast enough for her.

“We’re going back to a mile with her and will ride her a bit patiently this time.”

Dreamloper has established her niche at a mile or seven furlongs – but will not appreciate any easing of the ground from the current good.

“She wants any rain to stay away,” said Walker.

“She’s really got her act together this year and was brilliant in the Valiant (at Ascot).

“The race unfolded the wrong way for her at Newbury, but still she did not disgrace herself.

“Back to a mile, hopefully there will be a good pace and she can switch off – then I think she’ll run a big race. It’s very exciting.”

Mother Earth strikes in Rothschild thriller

Mother Earth displayed her class once again to take the Group One Prix Rothschild at Deauville.

The filly started as the 19-10 favourite under Ryan Moore and travelled towards the rear of the group for much of the race before being guided through a gap in the field with just over two furlongs remaining.

Having taken up the lead, Mother Earth was challenged by a trio of rivals in the closing stages of the contest, with Sagamiyra, Speak Of The Devil and Rougir all closing.

Aidan O’Brien’s runner prevailed, crossing the line a head in front of Sagamiyra, with Speak Of The Devil a further short head behind and Rougir the same distance away in fourth.

“Ryan gave her a brilliant ride,” O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing.

“She’s a very professional filly, she settles very well, relaxes and then quickens.

“She doesn’t do that much then gets to the front, she loves that distance.

“When she gets to the front, she waits a little bit, but that’s not a bad trait.

“I think we’ll probably stay at a mile, she’s professional at a mile and she likes the pace that the milers go.”

Aidan O'Brien was full of praise for Ryan Moore
Aidan O’Brien was full of praise for Ryan Moore (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

A quick turnaround for the Prix Jacques le Marois on August 15 may be next on the agenda, another Group One contest run over a mile but this time with colts eligible to enter.

“I’d say that’s definitely a possibility because she is so professional, but we’ll see how she comes out of it and see what the lads want to do.

“All those races are open to her, she was in the Breeders’ Cup last year and she ran a big race and was finishing well that day.”

Falmouth thriller in prospect as Group One rivals square up again

Alcohol Free and Mother Earth will meet for the third time this season in the Tattersalls Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket –  with the score delicately poised at one win each so far.

Aidan O’Brien’s Mother Earth came out on top when winning the 1000 Guineas, but Andrew Balding’s Alcohol Free levelled up in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Mother Earth was third that day, and splitting the pair was Richard Hannon’s Snow Lantern – who will also face the Group One winners again on Friday.

Ed Walker’s Primo Bacio was a late absentee from the Ascot race because of the softening ground but had earlier looked top class when winning at York.

Before that, she was not far behind Alcohol Free in the Fred Darling at Newbury.

“I’m massively excited about this step up in class – and more so after Ascot when the form was franked so much,” said Walker.

“The second at York (Creative Flair) has gone on to win a Listed race, and the third (Snow Lantern) has gone on to finish second in a Group One, so I can’t wait to see where this filly will end up.”

Another form line from Ascot is the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, which saw Indie Angel beat Lady Bowthorpe, and that pair also clash again.

Indie Angel was impressive at Royal Ascot
Indie Angel was impressive at Royal Ascot (Steven Paston/PA)

John and Thady Gosden’s Indie Angel needed to be supplemented by her owners Cheveley Park Stud.

“We think it worth the supplementary entry,” said Cheveley’s Chris Richardson.

“My only concern would be the ground. It was rock hard on the Wednesday (at Royal Ascot), and we think she bounces off the ground, so hopefully it is no worse than good.”

Saffron Beach is back at a mile, ridden by David Egan with Adam Kirby unable to do 8st 12lb. Johnny Murtagh runs Champers Elysees – with Joseph O’Brien also sending Pretty Gorgeous, last year’s Fillies’ Mile winner.

Queen Power, Lavender’s Blue, Illykato and Just Beautiful complete the field.

Sandrine relished the mud at Ascot
Sandrine relished the mud at Ascot (David Davies/PA)

Elsewhere on the card, nine will line up in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes – headed by Albany Stakes one-two Sandrine and Hello You.

Balding’s Sandrine appeared to relish the testing ground at Ascot, winning by a length and a half, while Hello You had really impressed on her debut with a six-and-a-half-length victory on the all-weather.

Nick Bradley Racing have three fillies sporting their colours – Oscula, Honey Sweet and Shouldavbeenmore.

Simon and Ed Crisford’s Flotus, well fancied for the Albany but a big disappointment, and Stuart Williams’ Desert Dreamer also line up.

Classic pair Mother Earth and Empress Josephine set for Coronation clash

Classic winners Mother Earth and Empress Josephine head 13 contenders for the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

The pair are both trained by Aidan O’Brien, with Mother Earth having lifted the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket at the beginning of May – before finishing second when trying to double up in the French equivalent later in the month.

Empress Josephine landed the Irish 1,000 Guineas for the Ballydoyle team, despite not making her racecourse debut until March this year.

O’Brien’s sons Joseph and Donnacha will be in opposition on Friday – respectively with Pretty Gorgeous, a Group One winner as a juvenile but only seventh in the Irish 1,000 Guineas on her seasonal bow, and Shale, also a top-class two-year-old who finished fifth in a Guineas trial in April.

The home defence is headed by Primo Bacio – bidding to continue her swift rise through the ranks for Ed Walker, having won a York Listed heat by a cosy three lengths last time after finishing a close-up fourth in the Fred Darling as a 100-1 shot.

Fred Darling winner Alcohol Free will re-oppose, but she has two lengths to find with Mother Earth from Newmarket – where she finished fifth in the Guineas.

Newmarket third Fev Rover will try her luck again – with Potapova, an unbeaten eight-length Redcar novice winner, a fascinating entry for Sir Michael Stoute.

Jessica Harrington’s Oodnadatta and the Henry de Bromhead-trained Flirting Bridge further enhance the Irish challenge, while German 1000 Guineas winner Novemba adds an extra international element.

Richard Hannon’s Snow Lantern and Lullaby Moon, from Ralph Beckett’s yard, complete the line up.

Empress Josephine joins Coronation Stakes contenders

Aidan O’Brien’s Guineas winners Mother Earth and the supplemented Empress Josephine head the 15 remaining fillies in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Mother Earth beat Saffron Beach at Newmarket, and then put up a bold display in the French equivalent when beaten just over a length by surprise winner Coeursamba.

Empress Josephine was supplemented for Friday’s Group One following her last-gasp win at the Curragh over stablemate Joan Of Arc – who has been taken out at the six-day stage. O’Brien has also left in Friendly.

His two sons Joseph and Donnacha both have live chances too.

Joseph’s Pretty Gorgeous and Donnacha’s Shale met several times last season with both enjoying a degree of success – but they also need to put disappointing runs on their reappearances behind them.

Henry de Bromhead has supplemented Flirting Bridge, second to Joan Of Arc in a 1,000 Guineas Trial, while Peter Schiergen has also added Novemba to the possible field.

Sir Michael Stoute has left in the unbeaten Potapova, impressive in her two starts to date but set for a massive leap in class.

Alcohol Free could represent Andrew Balding – having won the Fred Darling and finished fifth in the Guineas – while Ed Walker’s Primo Bacio, so impressive at York last time out, is another lively contender.

Richard Hannon’s beautifully bred Snow Lantern, Richard Fahey’s Fev Rover, third at Newmarket but bogged down in heavy ground at the Curragh, My Generation, Lullaby Moon and Oodnadatta complete the list.

Outsider Coeursamba shocks French Guineas rivals

Coeursamba denied Mother Earth a Classic double with a shock victory in the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Pouliches at ParisLongchamp.

Having swooped to victory in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket a fortnight ago, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Mother Earth was the 6-4 favourite to follow up in the French equivalent, with Christophe Soumillon coming in for the ride.

The Zoffany filly travelled strongly for much of the one-mile contest and briefly looked set to prevail after picking up well inside the final two furlongs.

However, she did not pick up as well as Jean-Claude Rouget’s Coeursamba, who was a 66-1 shot under Cristian Demuro but won with something to spare.

The three-year-old had won just one of her seven previous starts, most recently finishing third in the Prix du Louvre over the course and distance last month.

Rouget said: “The filly was in great shape. We gave her the entire winter off and sent her to the stud. We couldn’t get her back in very early, but that didn’t worry me too much as she ran quite a lot as a two-year-old.

“I picked the Prix du Louvre for her seasonal comeback, with orders to give her a gentle race. Everything went well for her today – a good draw, in good physical condition. She has experience, and that matters in these kinds of races.

“We are very happy. It was somewhat unknown territory coming into the race, as it was a very open competition. Before the race I said to Paul Basquin (racing manager for owner Abdullah bin Fahad Al Attiyah) that we could be first or second, or quickly find ourselves seventh or eighth!

“We are very pleasantly surprised. I was surprised by the acceleration that she showed – twice. She showed double the acceleration of some very good fillies.

Coeursamba appears unlikely to bid for further Classic glory in the French Oaks, with Rouget keen to stick to a shorter distance – potentially in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

He added: “It’s interesting for the rest of the season to come. I didn’t enter her in the Coronation Stakes, due to the complications caused by Covid. We will see what the next step is after a discussion with her connections.

“I don’t think that she will run in the Prix de Diane as she has limited stamina, but Ascot is a possibility.”

Demuro added: “Today was just a dream. I think it’s Jean-Claude Rouget that makes the difference.

“She stepped up to the distance really well. She accelerated brilliantly and the low draw was a definite advantage. The open stretch helped her too.”

Mother Earth aiming to back up Newmarket victory in France

Mother Earth must see off a strong challenge from both the home contingent and fellow travellers as she bids for a Classic double in the Emirates Poule d’Essai des Pouliches at ParisLongchamp.

Aidan O’Brien’s 1000 Guineas heroine will seek to add the French equivalent to her expanding CV on Sunday – and her trainer anticipates that, whether she follows up on not, her performance will also provide clues to future assignments.

Among Mother Earth’s most prominent rivals this weekend are Andre Fabre’s unbeaten filly Philomene, Kildare trainer Ken Condon’s returning Group Two winner Miss Amulet and Lullaby Moon for Ralph Beckett.

Francis-Henri Graffard’s Sweet Lady is also  a major contender, having managed only a close fourth as an odds-on favourite but stayed on very well from an unpromising position over course and distance at Group Three level last month.

Aidan O'Brien and Frankie Dettori with Mother Earth at Newmarket
Aidan O’Brien and Frankie Dettori with Mother Earth at Newmarket (Mike Egerton/PA)

Mother Earth was a convincing winner at Newmarket two weeks ago, and O’Brien said: “We’re really looking forward to seeing her run again.

“Obviously she hasn’t done much since she won at Newmarket – she’s just had an easy time.

“I’m not sure yet if she’ll get further than a mile as the year goes on.

“She’s from a fast pedigree, but Frankie (Dettori, winning jockey at Newmarket) felt she might get a little bit further the last time he rode her.”

Coronavirus travel restrictions mean Christophe Soumillon takes over in Paris – while Condon has recruited Ioritz Mendizabal to partner Miss Amulet.

Miss Amulet (right) gave Alcohol Free a run for her money in the Cheveley Park
Miss Amulet (right) gave Alcohol Free a run for her money in the Cheveley Park (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

It is by design that last year’s Lowther Stakes winner begins her three-year-old campaign here, having had a busy and fruitful juvenile season which culminated in a fine third over this trip at the Breeders’ Cup.

Condon said: “She accumulated plenty of experience as a juvenile – eight runs, been abroad and obviously finished her year in the Breeders’ Cup.

“So she’s not lacking in that department. It was something I discussed with (owner’s husband) Michael Tabor, and everyone was happy to just aim for this race.

“She does like nice ground too, so I didn’t think the likelihood of nice ground in the trials in the spring was probably realistic – so we were happy to go straight there.”

Condon hopes Miss Amulet will have the necessary stamina – but admits he does not know for certain yet.

“You’d need to see more evidence, I suppose, before you could be categorical about the trip,” he said.

“But to my eyes, she ran on well and was strong going to the line (over a mile at Keeneland).”

He is confident about her readiness, adding: “She’s in very good condition.

“We’ve had an uninterrupted prep. She’s fit and looks a picture, all is well with her.

“She’s not a flamboyant worker, or anything like that, but she’s done everything we’ve wanted. She’s been on the grass with all the fillies here at the Curragh, and she won’t lack for fitness anyway.

“She’s drawn 13, which will be difficult out there. But I’ll speak with Ioritz Mendizabal and Michael, and we’ll try to formulate a plan.”

Lullaby Moon (right) in winning action at Goodwood
Lullaby Moon (right) in winning action at Goodwood (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Beckett is happy with Lullaby Moon – but will be even more pleased if the ground eases from its forecast good to soft for his filly’s first start of the year, after she concluded her two-year-old career with a Group Three win in heavy at Chantilly.

“Lullaby Moon has worked well this spring and is ready for this task,” said the Hampshire trainer.

“Every drop of rain that falls up to post time will help.”

A daughter of Dubawi, Philomene most recently won the Group Three Prix Penelope over an extended 10 furlongs at Saint-Cloud.

Lisa-Jane Graffard of Godolphin told “Philomene is a very straightforward filly, who has enjoyed an uninterrupted preparation. Dropping her back in trip came under discussion very quickly after the Prix Penelope and Andre Fabre felt this race worked best for her timing-wise.

“She is a filly with a lot of class and Andre has very few worries about the trip. It’s obviously unusual to drop back in distance from a prep race to the Pouliches, but it has been done before and he felt that it was the right thing to do.

“This is very much a springboard for the Prix de Diane, but we are hopeful that she can run very well.”

Like Beckett, Sweet Lady’s handler would also like to see rain, as she is already twice a winner in heavy ground.

“Sweet Lady is in great shape and, the more rain there is, the happier I will be,” Graffard said.

“She ran well in the Prix de la Grotte, which was a bit of a strange race, with little pace.

“Christophe Soumillon looked after her that day. She has improved a lot for the run and looks in very good order to me. We are following the tried-and-tested route.”

Group One-winning juvenile Tiger Tanaka is likely to be running her final race before retirement – and trainer Charley Rossi knows he has huge reason to be thankful to his Prix Marcel Boussac heroine.

Tiger Tanaka won that prize over this course and distance in October, and will again be ridden by Rossi’s wife Jessica Marcialis.

He said: “We are calm. Tiger Tanaka is doing well – she showed us that she was in very good order during her work on Wednesday.

“I think this will be her last race. She has had some health issues in the past, and we want to do what is right by her.

“It is a great privilege to train such a filly. It is thanks to her that my wife, Jessica Marcialis, made racing history. Tiger Tanaka certainly has captured the imagination.”

Newmarket winners head French Guineas fields

Poetic Flare and Mother Earth are set to bid for Classic doubles in their respective French Guineas assignments at ParisLongchamp this weekend.

Jim Bolger’s Poetic Flare, a tenacious winner of this month’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, is one of 12 set to do battle on Sunday following final declarations.

Aidan O’Brien’s Newmarket heroine Mother Earth is one of a field of 14 for the French 1000 Guineas on the same card.

Poetic Flare forms part of a twin Irish challenge in the 2000 Guineas, alongside O’Brien’s Dewhurst winner St Mark’s Basilica, while Lambourn trainer Archie Watson sends his Greenham Stakes runner-up Mehmento to take on the home contingent.

Frederic Rossi’s Sealiway, winner of the Group One Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at the same course last October, will carry many of France’s hopes – and Andre Fabre, who has won the last two editions of this colts’ Classic, is represented by Parchemin.

Mother Earth will be joined in the 1000 Guineas by a fellow Irish filly in Ken Condon’s Miss Amulet – making her seasonal reappearance after a successful two-year-old campaign, which included Lowther Stakes victory at York and and an admirable third at the Breeders’ Cup.

Ralph Beckett flies the flag for Britain with his Listed and Group Three winner Lullaby Moon – also making her first start of the season – while Philomene, unbeaten in two starts for Fabre, and Francis-Henri Graffard’s Sweet Lady lead home hopes.

Monday Musings: Irish Domination

Where once there was meaningful rivalry, now there is renewed omnipotence. A picture spread through social media early this year of a grinning trainer talking on a mobile phone atop a dead horse has had even more effect than its horrified recipients throughout the horse world could have imagined, writes Tony Stafford.

Up until Cheltenham, the remnants of the Gordon Elliott stables, which had run 321 horses from the time jump racing resumed after the initial stopping through Covid19, was still punching most of its weight under the name if not the supreme control of Mrs Denise Foster.

Traditionally though, every late April/early May the Punchestown Festival has ended any wistful hope that the brash Elliott with his legion of major owners, most notably the O’Leary family’s Gigginstown House Stud, might finally gain a first Irish NH trainers’ championship.

Last week, respectable second place seemed a long way off, that eminence supplanted by the exploits of Henry De Bromhead, he of the surreal Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Grand National hat-trick over the previous six weeks.

But now we were in Willie Mullins territory and the week was just perfectly situated to welcome back the trainer’s previously stricken stable jockey. Paul Townend had seen his advantage over the challenging and seemingly unstoppable Rachael Blackmore slip to less than a handful of winners with seven days to go.

Mullins doesn’t do Cross-Country races, of which there are four over the five days of Punchestown, but he does do everything else. And how!

Eight races are staged each day, leaving 36 to go for. Mullins, with five on the opening day and never fewer than three on the four succeeding instalments, put together the unbelievable tally of 19 wins from the available 36 – so more than 50%. He did have 87 runners, very often multiple chances, then, and another 21 of his horses made the first four, that’s 40 win or placed. Place money at the meeting goes down to sixth and he had another ten of those, so altogether 50 in the money.

In all, Mullins’ runners brought back a total haul over the week of €1,470,950. For the season his 182 winners brought almost €5.5 million.

Elliott’s monetary reward for his 155 wins was €2,863,875 at the time of his suspension. Add to that Mrs Foster’s 16 victories in 205 runs from 135 of the Elliott horses was another €412,860.

But the magic which initially lingered after the paper – if not actual – change of control all but died last week. Mrs Foster’s 36 runners at Punchestown brought no wins, three second places, two thirds and a single fourth and a mere total of €52k. Nineteen of her runners either finished outside the first ten or failed to finish.

You would think that everyone associated with the Closutton steamroller would have been delighted, but what was probably the most spectacular of his victories, in terms of style of performance and the circumstances behind it, was a cause of regret for that horse’s connections.

When Mark Smith first moved to his present house in Essex 40 years ago the one-time Foreign Exchange trader met a neighbour who was soon to become his best friend. Mark owned Balasani, a horse that won the Stayers’ Hurdle for Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival, and soon he and his friend, John Coleman, regularly went racing together.

Then a few years back John became gravely ill with cancer by which time he had bought Klassical Dream. Sadly he was never able to see the horse on the track – it raced in the name of his widow Joanne but was a family horse with his two sons and a nephew taking shares. They insisted that Mark should also accept a share.

It was bitter-sweet for the team when Klassical Dream won his maiden hurdle first time up at Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day fixture in 2018 and he duly went on to take three Grade 1 prizes, at Leopardstown in February, Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice, and Punchestown’s Champion Novice Hurdle.

The 2019/20 season proved a massive anti-climax, the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite racing only twice and beaten at odds-on behind less talented stable companions. Cheltenham 2021 was originally on the agenda but that came and went without him, after which the plan was laid for Thursday’s big stayers’ hurdle over three miles. Klassical Dream had never raced over much further than two miles and would have a 487-day absence to overcome.

Mark spoke to Willie a few days before the race and on Thursday morning before leaving home for a funeral of another good friend he tried unsuccessfully to reach the trainer. Mullins left a recorded message when he could and Mark says it was very similar to the previous one.

I’ve heard it and in it Willie says he would be happy if the horse finished in the first six but above all the priority is that he comes home sound. Mark interpreted this to mean the trainer wasn’t sure he would make the first six.

Mark relayed the news to the other owners, and before leaving had what he calls a “suicide throwaway 50 quid” at around 17-1 when he first noticed the price was dropping. He had expected to be home in time to watch the race, but was still at the reception at the off, so watched it on his phone.

In what was described as the biggest gamble of the week, 20-1 down to 5-1, Klassical Dream under Patrick Mullins, and one of four stable-mates in the race, cantered into the lead going to the last hurdle and drew easily clear of Mullins’ James Du Berlais for a nine-length victory.

There was more than a degree of consolation that the horse had come back with such a bang, and not least for winning the €147,500 winner’s prize, but also some irritation that the message might have been a little more accurate.

These words will be written before Mark and the trainer have their next conversation. “I knew I shouldn’t talk to Willie, who has always been so helpful in all our dealings, as I would probably have lost my temper. None of the other owners are racing people in the way John was and of course I am, and their delight at their horse coming back in such a dramatic manner easily outweighs for them any irritation that they might have had a bigger bet if they knew a bit more beforehand”.

The Irish dominated Cheltenham and Aintree and it was the Flat trainers from that side of the wet divide who collected the first two Classics of the season at Newmarket.

First Jim Bolger, 79, and jockey and son-in-law Kevin Manning, 54, took the 2,000 Guineas with brave home-bred Poetic Flare, 16-1 and a son of Dawn Approach, also a Bolger home-bred and winner of the same Classic.

Then yesterday, Aidan O’Brien, a pupil and amateur rider for Bolger before embarking on his own stellar training career, made it seven wins in the 1,000 Guineas. His second string 10-1 shot Mother Earth, ridden by 50-year-old Frankie Dettori, made use of her greater experience to run past long-time race favourite and stable-companion Santa Barbara.

Like Love last year, who came to the “1,000” with three wins from seven juvenile appearances, Mother Earth put in plenty of creditable runs at two but in her case for just one win, although second at the Breeders’ Cup was hardly a negligible effort.

Unlike Love, though, who went on to Epsom and then York for two more emphatic wide-margin Group 1 victories, Mother Earth is being pencilled in for the Irish 1,000. Santa Barbara, who understandably showed signs of greenness - she raced only in one maiden as a two-year-old – goes straight to Epsom.

It was quite a weekend for big numbers and veterans. Bob Baffert, now 68 years old, made it a seventh Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit, at just over 12-1, made all under John Velazquez, who is in his 50th year. The colt had won only once previously too, so it was stretching credibility after three defeats that he could win the most important three-year-old race of the year in the USA.

But it was even more amazing given that two runs back, in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Medina Spirit had been crushed by eight lengths by another Baffert colt, Life Is Good, who was unable through injury to get to Churchill Downs.

The old prototype for winning the “Run For The Roses” was plenty of race-conditioning as a two-year-old, but Medina Spirit didn’t appear until January this year. That was also the starting-point for Life Is Good. That day, Medina Spirit came up short by only three-quarters of a length and he must have been energised when he noticed that his nemesis was not in the field.

Still pictures of the race finish show the Churchill Downs grandstands were packed. I just can’t wait for that to happen here - sooner rather than later I trust!

Evergreen Dettori ‘getting the knack’ of Classic success

Frankie Dettori could not contain his excitement after Mother Earth provided the popular Italian with his 20th British Classic success with victory in the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket.

It is 27 years since Dettori broke his Classic duck in the UK aboard Balanchine in the Oaks – the first of his five wins in the race.

Dettori, who celebrated his 50th birthday in December, has also won the Derby twice, the 2000 Guineas three times, six St Legers and now added a fourth 1000 Guineas victory to his glittering CV, following a dominant display by Mother Earth over the Rowley Mile.

Dettori, whose shrieks of delight continued from the track to the winner’s enclosure and into the weighing room, said: “I’m super excited.

“It’s a 20th Classic for me at 50 years old. I’m only 10 behind Lester (Piggott) – I’ve got plenty of time!

“Lester was 56 (when winning his 30th Classic), so I’ve got six years left, and Kevin (Manning, 54) won yesterday (2000 Guineas) – come on the oldies!”

“It’s great to do it at Newmarket. I’m extremely happy.

“I’m getting the knack of this now – it took me 30 years to realise what to do!”

While Mother Earth brought strong form to the table, having been placed in the Fillies’ Mile and at the Breeders’ Cup at the end of her juvenile campaign, she was the second string of two runners for Aidan O’Brien behind the much-talked-about Santa Barbara.

Frankie Dettori celebrates on Mother Earth after winning the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket
Frankie Dettori celebrates on Mother Earth after winning the Qipco 1000 Guineas at Newmarket (Mike Egerton/PA)

The latter was the 5-2 joint-favourite off the back of a solitary run amid reports of “exceptional” work on the Ballydoyle gallops – but she had to make do with an honourable fourth as Mother Earth and Dettori stole the show.

“I didn’t have the pressure to ride the favourite and I had a very willing partner in a filly that I knew was going to give me everything,” Dettori added.

“Aidan gave me a lot of confidence this morning. He told me to forget about Santa Barbara and ride your own race.

“I followed her as she was the favourite, but when I got to the top of the hill I thought ‘I can’t wait for her all my life, I have to go’. It proved the right move.

“He told me to make sure I got cover, which I did. I kicked at the top of the hill, as Aidan said she’d stay very well, and I won – it’s as simple as that!”

Mother Earth strikes for O’Brien and Dettori in 1000 Guineas

Mother Earth gave trainer Aidan O’Brien a third successive victory in the Qipco 1000 Guineas as she claimed the fillies’ Classic in the hands of Frankie Dettori.

All eyes had been on O’Brien’s other runner, Santa Barbara – but it was the bigger-priced filly who grabbed the glory at Newmarket, taking the Ballydoyle trainer’s tally in the race to seven, with five of those victories in the last six years.

Sent off at 10-1, Mother Earth was given a vintage ride from Dettori, who was registering his fourth win in the race.

The 50-year-old had her in mid-pack, behind Ryan Moore on Santa Barbara in the early stages, as Statement and Fev Rover made the running.

When Dettori asked Mother Earth to make his move, the daughter of Zoffany responded with a decisive turn of foot that took her into the lead.

They maintained the gallop and went on to score by a length from Saffron Beach, with Fev Rover a neck away in third and Santa Barbara (5-2 joint-favourite) just a nose further back in fourth.

Alcohol Free, the other joint-favourite, was just behind Santa Barbara in fifth.

O’Brien said: “Mother Earth is a very good filly, always was.

“It was unfair to Santa Barbara to come (after one run), but we had to come. With a view to coming back for the Oaks, she had to run.

Celebration time for Frankie
Celebration time for Frankie (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Ryan said he would have liked to have waited longer, but he saw Frankie coming on his outside and he had to go.

“Santa Barbara was just green in the dip, but after having one easy run, it was a great run.

“We kind of felt coming here that she was going to learn as much as she would having three runs, but there was a risk doing it that she was going to get beaten.

“She’s classy and would have learnt a lot for it. She has plenty of time now to get over it before the next day, hopefully.

“We never took her off the bridle at home – today was her first time. Hopefully she’ll come out of it OK and it will do her good.

Aidan O'Brien with Frankie Dettori
Aidan O’Brien with Frankie Dettori (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Frankie’s filly is a very consistent filly. She had a great run in America on her last run last year and she’s very professional and did everything really well, so we’re delighted.

“Santa Barbara was always going to go to the Oaks and Mother Earth was always going to come back to the Irish Guineas. That was the plan.”

He added: “It’s great to have Frankie, what can you say – he’s an unbelievable rider.”