Until Wednesday evening in Paris it was all plain sailing for Aidan O’Brien, writes Tony Stafford. He could pick his Group 1 spots for the rest of the year with his team of Classic colts and more plentiful top fillies and wait to see what presumably ineffectual opposition Europe’s other major stables would be able to throw at them.
But then along came Hurricane Lane, only third to lesser-fancied stable-companion Adayar in the Derby at Epsom but subsequently a workmanlike winner in the face of a good late challenge by English-trained Lone Eagle (Martin Meade) in the Irish Derby at The Curragh.
Neither run could have prepared us for the Frankel colt’s storming performance on Bastille Day (14 July) as he ripped away the home team’s barricades <couldn’t help myself> beating the Prix du Jockey Club also-rans with possibly more ease than St Mark’s Basilica had managed a month earlier.
Die-hard traditionalists have already been put in their place in France. In the old days the Jockey Club was 2400 metres (12 furlongs) in line with Epsom and The Curragh and was reduced to its present distance of 2100 metres in 2005.
That move coincided with the moving up to a mile and a half of the great Fête Nationale celebration race on a movable feast of an evening card at Longchamp. The Grand Prix de Paris, until the arrival of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1920, had been the most prestigious and valuable race in France and was run over 3000 metres (15 furlongs), and even 3100 metres for a shorter intervening period.
In 1987, though, it was reduced significantly in distance to 2000 metres (1m2f) and it was at that trip that Saumarez won the 1990 race prior to his victory in the Arc that October. Previously trained to place in the Dee Stakes at Chester by Henry Cecil, Saumarez made Nicolas Clement, who had recently taken over the stable when his father Miguel died, the youngest-ever trainer to win France’s greatest race.
It works for France because, as Hurricane Lane showed so eloquently, a horse could run in and even win either or both the Epsom and Irish Derby, or indeed the Jockey Club, and there would still be time to prepare him for the Grand Prix.
That is just what Charlie Appleby did with such skill and the most notable element of it was how much he had in hand of the William Haggas colt Alenquer whose form with Adayer in the Sandown Classic Trial over ten furlongs in the spring appeared to give him a collateral edge on Hurricane Lane.
Alenquer not only beat Adayer on the Esher slopes but afterwards comfortably won the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. But he was put in his place as Hurricane Lane stormed <that verb again!> six lengths clear of Wordsworth, first home of the O’Brien trio. It looked at first appraisal a major improvement on The Curragh but closer inspection reveals that Wordsworth had been beaten slightly further in his home Classic.
So where does that leave Adayer? Well, according to a conversation Charlie Appleby had with a friend who visited his luxurious stables in Newmarket before racing on Saturday, Adayer is fancied to run a very strong race as he faces up to last year’s O’Brien Classic superstar, Love, in Saturday’s King George.
The filly has the edge in the market after her comeback win over an inadequate ten furlongs in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot but Appleby, mindful that the weight-for-age scale favours three-year-olds, is by all accounts confident he will do so. Love concedes 8lb to the Derby hero while William Muir and Chris Grassick’s Coronation Cup hero Pyledriver gives him 11lb. Ascot is also the probable target for Lone Eagle.
Like O’Brien, Appleby is a modest man who often deflects praise to the people around him. Indeed as my friend left, Charlie said, “If you couldn’t train horses from here, where could you?”
Guesses that maybe St Mark’s Basilica might step up in distance on Saturday have been scuppered by his trainer’s single-mindedly pointing him towards the Juddmonte International. Those three days in York next month will also feature the next step towards the stars of Snowfall, following in the footprints of Love from a year ago by taking in the Yorkshire Oaks.
By the way, Jim, get my room ready! I’ll see how my first day back racing on Saturday at Ascot goes and then I might take the liberty of giving you a call. Where have I been? Too busy with all this Covid lark, mate, but I have been thinking of you!
However short a price Love was on what was to prove her last run of 2020 after the easy wins in the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks, the latter by nine lengths, 4-9 will be looking a gift if that is available about Snowfall. Could be 1-5!
Many felt the exaggerated superiority, indeed a UK Classic record-winning margin of 16 lengths, could in part be ascribed to the very testing ground at Epsom. Just as many were predicting that on faster ground in Saturday’s Irish Oaks she might go for economy.
Leading two furlongs out under Ryan Moore, delighted to be riding her for only the second time – he was on board for the shock Musidora win at York on May 12 three weeks before Epsom and that Frankie Dettori benefit – she drew away by eight-and-a-half lengths in majestic style.
As we know, the Coolmore boys like all the boxes ticked and the opportunities covered, but I can categorically tell you that they did not expect her to win at York. Even when she did, the beaten horses’ connections were dreaming up reasons why you could not trust the result.
After all she was rated only a modest 90 on the back of her juvenile exploits, the most memorable apart from winning a small maiden race was the mix up when she wore the wrong colour hat when well behind in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket last autumn.
After the Epsom and Curragh regal processions there is only one place you would consider for a soft-ground loving but equally comfortable on quicker turf three-year-old filly of her status - the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It took me a while – having discarded my European Pattern Races 2021 book with hundreds of others in advance of a hoped-for downsizing move – to work out why she had not been one of the dozen O’Brien horses entered for the Arc.
Six older male horses – Mogul, Broome, Armory, Serpentine, Japan and Inisfree (where’s he been for 20 months?) – are supplemented by Love. The five three-year-olds are the colts St Mark’s Basilica, along with domestic Classic flops Bolshoi Ballet, High Definition and hard-working Van Gogh whose dance in four Classics (the UK and Irish Guineas, when third behind Mac Swiney, and French and Irish Derby) brought that one positive result.
That left room for one filly and, considering Santa Barbara took until last week to gain Grade 1 winning honours in the New York Oaks while four of her supposedly inferior female counterparts beat her to it, the evidence is there. They did indeed think she was far and away the best.
At least that was the case until 3.15 p.m. on the afternoon of May 12. The Arc closed at France Galop’s HQ around four-and-three-quarter hours earlier. Now they have to wait until September 27 to get her in and pay a heavy penalty to do so.
In all, 101 horses made it. I am sure that date is writ large on the Racing Office wall and, if she enjoys another exhibition round back at the Yorkshire track she first consented to tell her trainer and owners how good she is, the supplementary entry will be made. Chances to win the race do not come along very often.
For all his and his owners’ successes in big races around Europe and in the US, the Arc has proved elusive. Two victories, with four-year-olds Dylan Thomas in 2007 and the brilliant filly Found five years ago, leave him still with a blank to fill. No Ballydoyle three-year-old has won the race since the days of Vincent O’Brien, who took the first of his two Arcs with Alleged in 1977. His second win, doubling up for Lester Piggott the year after followed Ballymoss in 1958, showed once again just how tough a race it is to win.
As mentioned, two O’Brien fillies are entered, Love and Santa Barbara. The latter might continue to make up for her earlier limitations in the Nassau Stakes next week but, as we know, a trio of Classic-winning alternatives, Joan Of Arc, Mother Earth and Empress Josephine, are equally qualified to step in and possibly pick up the Goodwood fillies’ Group 1.
Meanwhile Kevin Ryan has been exploiting the early juvenile Group contests in France with Atomic Force. Beaten first time out and gelded before a win in a small race at Hamilton, Ryan took him to Longchamp last month and he won Group 3 Prix du Bois nicely.
Returning yesterday for the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin, he started 2-1 on and bolted up. He will probably return for the Prix Morny at Deauville next month. Having watched that win the Sky Sports Racing team suggested the Nunthorpe might be an option given how much weight juveniles get from their elders. This year though that could be a hot race if newcomers on the Group 1 sprinting scene like Ed Walker’s Starman and Tim Easterby’s flying filly Winter Power turn up.