Posts

Rouget pays tribute to retired Arc hero Sottsass

Jean-Claude Rouget believes the decision to retire Sottsass to stud so soon after his victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp is the right one.

The four-year-old colt ended the leading French trainer’s long wait to win the European middle-distance championship, 12 months on from his third placed finish behind Waldgeist and Enable.

He was able to better that on Sunday, emerging victorious from In Swoop and Persian King, with Enable back in sixth place.

Rouget admitted after the race he did not know if his star would be seen again and it emerged on Monday evening that the Siyouni colt – in whom Coolmore purchased a 50 per cent share in January – would not run at the Breeders’ Cup and had indeed been retired.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“He’s a good looking horse with a good temperament, a classy horse and goes to stud in the best way after a great win in the Arc,” said Rouget.

“The decision has been made now as they want to protect him for a stallion career and I think it was best not to go to the Breeders’ Cup as the track would have been too sharp for him.

“He is quite a big horse with a big action. It would have been a risk.”

Rouget’s training is based on a long-term approach and it paid huge dividends with Sottsass.

“I go slowly with my horses. He was promising after he had a bad trip first time out,” he said.

“He won his second race easily. He had a bad race first time out at three and, after he won his Listed race easily, he won the Prix du Jockey Club.

“The Arc was the target this year. It was not easy with Covid to do good planning, but we do it and we did well.

Jean-Claude Rouget did a tremendous job with Sottsass
Jean-Claude Rouget did a tremendous job with Sottsass (Niall Carson/PA)

“I am very happy for him not to run again. He was a very courageous horse.”

Sottsass won six of his 12 career outings, including last year’s French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club) and the Prix Ganay in June this year, with his three top-level wins all coming in the hands of Cristian Demuro.

He travelled to Ireland in September, where he stayed on well at the end of the mile and a quarter to take fourth place behind Magical in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Sottsass heading to stud after Arc success

Sottsass has been retired following his victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, according to reports in France.

The Jean-Claude Rouget-trained four-year-old was third in the European middle-distance championship 12 months ago and bettered that on Sunday, emerging victorious from In Swoop and Persian King, with Enable back in sixth place.

Rouget admitted after the race he did not know if his star would be seen again, and Jour de Galop reported on Twitter on Monday evening that the Siyouni colt – in whom Coolmore purchased a 50 per cent share in January – would not run at the Breeders’ Cup and had indeed been retired.

Rouget’s charge won six of his 12 career outings, including last year’s French Derby and the Prix Ganay in June this year, with his three top-level wins all coming in the hands of Cristian Demuro.

He travelled to Ireland in September, where he was fourth to Magical in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, ridden on that occasion by Colin Keane.

The departure of Sottsass after the Arc mirrors that of last year’s winner, Waldgeist.

Monday Musings: Joy and Pain in the Rain

One of the clichés of modern sport is No Pain No Gain, writes Tony Stafford. At Longchamp on Sunday, because of a batch of contaminated Gain horse feeds with the non-permitted ingredient Zilpaterol, there was plenty of pain (and rain) for the Ballydoyle contingent and all ante-post supporters.

First it was Love, sensibly withdrawn when the ground went from good to soft to truly heavy, in the first couple of days after last week’s offering in this place was rendered non-sensible by the Parisian deluges. Around the same time, Serpentine was supplemented into the race and I recall telling my pal Scott Ellis that it was a master-stroke – he’d be the only pace in the race and would have a similar solo from the front as he had at Epsom.

After all, had he not had the one atypical – in other words running in midfield – dress rehearsal in his course and distance comeback in stablemate Mogul’s Prix Niel after a 71-day gap following his all-the-way Derby victory?

That possible tactic would have probably altered the eventual time of 2 minutes, 39.30 seconds, which apart from Ivanjica, 0.10 sec slower in 1977, was the third slowest since 1941. Puissant Chef with a funereal 2min 44.00 in 1960 holds that dubious honour.

In the event Sottsass followed last year’s third to Waldgeist and Enable by winning the race for Jean-Claude Rouget. In Swoop in second, and the miler Persian King, who was allowed to set a slow pace, filled the places.  Enable, on what will likely be her final valiant try, was sixth of the 11, just ahead of fellow six-year-old and stable-companion Stradivarius in seventh. Meanwhile Japan, Mogul, Sovereign and Serpentine were left kicking their hooves while alternative feed supplies were organised and important autumn and winter schedules were urgently addressed.

Sottsass, a son of the crack French-based stallion Siyouni, is out of a Galileo mare who has also bred the top-class US racemare Sistercharlie, a seven-time Grade 1 winner, including at the Breeders’ Cup, for owner Peter Brant and trainer Chad Brown. Sottsass also runs in the colours of Brant’s White Birch Farm, and given the closeness of the New Yorker to the Coolmore partners, it is hardly a shock to find they negotiated a half-share at the beginning of the year with a future stud career in mind.

Friend Scott was initially tempted by the 14-1, but whether he got round to striking a bet I’m unsure as the 14’s proved elusive. Plenty will have got on however and I’m wondering whether any bookmaker will be kind enough to grant an amnesty over non-runners, especially those caused by what the horses had eaten rather than their ground preferences.

Love lives to fight another day, although with the amount of rain that fell on Ascot before Saturday – more than enough to wash out the important fixture on Arc eve at Her Majesty’s racecourse – whether they’ll want to go to the Champions Day card is another matter. The Breeders’ Cup seems the obvious choice.

I know the Editor dislikes my gravitating into areas of sport, but the almost overlapping 2019-20 and 2020-21 Premier League seasons have already shown enormous effects of Covid-19. For No Pain No Gain – replace it with No Cheer, No Fear. How else would Manchester United (third in the late-finishing previous season) be allowed to keep shipping goals to Tottenham at Old Trafford to the extent of a 6-1 record home loss? Or Liverpool allow a series of defensive mistakes to translate into a 7-2 loss to Aston Villa, one of two 100% teams along with Everton.

Your first 30 days for just £1

As recently as July 11, during the re-convened season interrupted after the weekend before Cheltenham, Aston Villa had 27 points and were 19th of the 20 teams. Bournemouth had 28 and Watford 31. Eight points from their final four matches to the end of July brought them to 35, ending a point above their two rivals who were relegated.

Meanwhile Liverpool ended the season on 99 points, clear of Manchester City and Manchester United. The three elite teams conceded a very similar total of respectively 33, 35 and 36 goals in their 38 matches. Already this season, Liverpool in four games have given away 11 goals, a third of last year’s tally; Man C, seven (so one-fifth of last time) in three and Man U 11, so just under a third of a season’s total, in three games!

Something’s up, be it the short gap between the two seasons, or be it psychological – none of the usual hero-worship but a magnification of the social media attention by fans unable to attend matches, is grinding players down. Three internationals for the elite players over the next two weeks could only magnify the weirdness.

Footballers are being shown to be only human and I marvel at the fact that clubs can routinely consider paying by all accounts up to £100 million to secure the transfer of a single player as Manchester United have been trying all through this latest transfer window.

To pay those sums for players while allowing lower league clubs to go out of business for less than a single player’s weekly salary exposes the immorality of the sport and its television paymasters. Of course, I and probably many of you who read these words are complicit just by paying the monthly subscription.

Xxxx

I had intended leaving mention of the Arc to others this week, but several attempts to track down my intended featured subject came to naught. Nobody answered the phone at Tony Mullins’ stables near Gowran yesterday and I have to suspect that his two-week isolation might have started with him and the owners being slightly tired and emotional.

The reason for his probably delicate condition was easy to understand. In a training career dating back 33 years, Tony Mullins has operated rather in the shadows of his brother Willie, but his skills as a trainer and identifier of a good horse are widely appreciated.

He was a brilliant jockey in his day, and a frequent partner of Dawn Run. The great mare was trained by his father Paddy and, while Tony enjoyed many winning days, the two biggest of her career in the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup were shared by Jonjo O’Neill.

Tony Mullins has never had massive strings, but knew how to develop a young horse, win a race with him and then pass him on. As the years went by the totals dropped but he still has the knack as his handling of the four-year-old hurdler Scalino this year shows. Scalino had run in six maiden hurdles without getting into the first three before turning up at Punchestown early last month in an 18-runner handicap.

Starting 20-1 he was closing up to the leaders when hampered by a loose horse, but soon challenged. He went to the front before two out, soon went clear and was eased on the run-in but still won by 13 lengths at 20-1.

Earlier in the year Mullins took charge of a German mare, a five-year-old who had raced regularly in the two previous seasons earning two wins and eight places from 15 appearances. Mullins had her ready for her Irish debut late in June and obviously thought her capable of a big run off the 64 handicap mark allotted by the Irish handicapper in collaboration with his German counterparts.

Backed to 4-1, she got within a length of the winner in a 16-runner handicap over 1m5f at Navan. That reverse was put right the following month when she won the 15-runner Ladies’ Derby at the Curragh off 70 by five easy lengths.

Three wins followed at Galway. The first two came at the big summer meeting, initially over 2m1f in a Premier handicap off 83 then comfortably a few days later with a 7lb penalty under claiming rider Joey Sheridan. The 18-year-old was again in the saddle when the mare, a daughter of Alan Spence’s tough horse Jukebox Jury, now a successful stallion in Germany, won the Listed Oyster Stakes. That day, back at 1m4f, she beat the mare Barrington Court and Oaks runner-up, Ennistymon.

Mullins didn’t hesitate, aiming at the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on the first day of the Arc meeting. After her run of success, she started the second favourite behind Call The Wind, winner of the race in 2018 and runner-up last year. Joey Sheridan, naturally unable to claim, sat in mid-field in the nine-horse marathon, while prolific winning stayer Alkuin was allowed a long lead. Coming to the straight Sheridan went in pursuit of the leader who still held a big advantage.

In the last furlong, though, the relentless mare cut into the deficit and caught the leader a few yards from the line with Call The Wind toiling 15 lengths back in third and the rest needing a telescope to find them.

Afterwards a jubilant Mullins said he would not hesitate to run Princess Zoe at a mile and a half and cheekily suggested next year’s Arc as a possible target. I wouldn’t put it past this modern-day alchemist to go where Enable couldn’t (not this year anyway!).

Tony Mullins has crossed my path a few times over the decades, usually to my rather than his benefit. There was the time I suggested he might want to land a gamble in the UK, and he earmarked Carla Adams, a mare who had been initially with Ginger McCain, to fit the bill. She had a couple of runs in low-grade hurdles for Wilf Storey, finishing third in the second of them. The day was set for Hexham but she disappointed. Wilf said he couldn’t work out why she never seemed to get any fitter and a few months later when the foal came, we had our answer.

It was more than a decade after that, crossing towards the conveniences at Cheltenham, when Tony stopped me, interrupting his own call saying, ”Wait, I need to talk to you.” As I’ve recorded here more than once he said I shouldn’t miss his one in the last.

I was with Raymond Tooth that day, watching Punjabi finish fourth in the Triumph Hurdle a few weeks after I’d first met him when the horse won at Kempton. Before Raymond left the track, I passed on Tony’s advice on Pedrobob, and the horse duly won the County Hurdle from 27 others under Paul Carberry at 12-1. On the Monday morning Raymond called and offered me the job as his racing advisor.

Until Saturday, Pedrobob was probably Tony’s most valued winner, but the £87k prize for the owners, a Group 1 win, and what more might be to come with Princess Zoe must be the supreme moment for this lovely man. I couldn’t have been happier. For Tony, over the years there’s been plenty of pain, so at last some real joy in the rain.

Enable beaten in Paris as Sottsass takes Arc glory

Enable could only finish sixth as Sottsass led home a clean sweep for French-trained runners in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp.

Third in the race 12 months ago, trainer Jean-Claude Rouget had stated that only one day mattered for the four-year-old this year and he proved trained to perfection.

For John Gosden’s Enable, chasing history with a third victory in the race, she was bogged down in the heavy ground and suffered interference when the pace quickened.

In contrast, Sottsass picked up smartly and stayed on well to beat In Swoop, with Persian King hanging on for third having made the running, just ahead of Gold Trip. Enable’s Gold Cup-winning stablemate Stradivarius was seventh.

As a result of the interference, a stewards’ inquiry was immediately called – but following a short deliberation, the placings remained unaltered.

While Enable did not manage to win a third Arc, she will still go down in history as one of the greatest racemares to have graced the sport.

Your first 30 days for just £1

As well as her two wins in the Arc, she won the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot three times, the English and Irish Oaks and at the Breeders’ Cup.

Sottsass won the French Derby last season, but had failed to set the world alight this year. However, Rouget had been making increasingly confident noises in recent days and his colt had been well-backed.

Cristian Demuro enjoyed a perfect run through the early stages, just tracking Persian King with Frankie Dettori just a length behind the eventual winner.

When the pace quickened in the straight Dettori had Enable in the perfect position to strike, with Stradivarius on her outside, but she when she needed to quicken, the heavy ground meant she was unable to use her raking stride and she was beginning to send out distress signals when squeezed up.

In Swoop, the German Derby winner, was predictably strong at the finish, but Sottsass was always doing enough and held on by around half a length.

Cristian Demuro with Jean-Claude Rouget
Cristian Demuro with Jean-Claude Rouget (Francois Mori/AP Photo)

Rouget said: “Just after the race last year we thought he was a horse made for this race.

“Between the Ganay (in June) it was a long time. When we ran in Deauville (in August) he was a bit fat and and Skalleti is a very good horse. He is a Group One horse on soft ground, but we had to run in that race instead of going to York (Juddmonte International).

“The choice to go to Leopardstown (Irish Champion Stakes) was tough, too, and not the Foy. We chose to run him over a shorter distance to give him speed. I think that was a good choice.

“All was made to have the horse 100 per cent today. The result is there.

“The fact the (Aidan) O’Brien horses were not there was easier to understand how the pace will be. I was not surprised to see Persian King in front, because for him it was the best way because he did not pull – he ran a magnificent race at this distance because it was not his trip or his ground.

“We had a good draw to stay behind him and our horse stays the distance better than him.

“John Gosden is a good trainer and if I was beaten I wanted it to be by Enable because she is a super filly, but there is only one winner in the race.”

He added: “Sottsass is owned in association with Coolmore. I do not know if he will run again, but it is not the question for today.

“Whether the horse retires is not my decision.”

Gosden ready for ‘slog’ as Enable bids for Arc history

John Gosden is anticipating “a bit of a slog” as Enable faces her date with destiny in Sunday’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp.

The six-year-old will be bidding to become the first three-time winner of the Group One feature, but the ground is expected to be testing after a very wet week in France.

Enable has already secured her place in the record books by becoming the only triple victor in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot back in July, but Gosden expects conditions to add another dimension to the mare’s challenge in Paris.

Enable following her Ascot win in July
Enable following her Ascot win in July (Steven Cargill/PA)

He said: “She travelled fine, and everything has been fine.

“It’s just a shame about the ground. She doesn’t much like that ground. She prefers the easy side of good, so she can show her class, but it is going to be a bit of a slog.

“It is drying up now and it is tacky, but you might get another shower or two. It is Longchamp, by the River Seine – it is deep.”

Enable came within a length and three-quarters of completing her Arc hat-trick last year, and Gosden lauded owner Prince Khalid Abdullah’s decision to give his homebred daughter of Nathaniel one more chance at an unprecedented feat in the hands of Frankie Dettori.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“I think Prince Khalid was brave in saying we’ll try again – it went a little wrong last year, but not far wrong, she ran a marvellous race.

“We’re here and we’re trying. We care about the filly in every way, she’s a gorgeous filly to be around and she’s been with us for five years, her presence every day – we just enjoy being with her and care for all of her needs.

“Let’s hope she gets a great run round – and if she wins, marvellous, if she doesn’t, she couldn’t have done more for racing. She reminds me of the Denman, Arkle, Desert Orchids – she’s that kind of feeling. These great racemares, they give everyone so much pleasure to see and race,” he told ITV Racing.

Stradivarius will be aiming to spoil the party for his stablemate
Stradivarius will be aiming to spoil the party for his stablemate (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Gosden also has a second string to his bow in triple Ascot Gold Cup hero Stradivarius, who narrowly missed out in his Prix Foy trial over the Arc course and 12-furlong distance.

He added: “Enable’s got a pal in there called Stradivarius – and he’s a similar, wonderful, consistent performer at Group One level. It’s a pleasure to have them both there.

“Again the owner-breeder Bjorn Nielsen has wanted to run in this race for two years, but I wouldn’t let him last year because he was going for the £1million (stayers) bonus and I said ‘this year, I can’t stop you’.

“If he handles the ground, he will run a big race. Frankie has called me and said it’s pretty desperate ground (after riding at the track on Saturday), so I’m going to go to the inside, but there’s three races before us.

“May the best horse win, whoever it is.”

Sottsass was impressive in last year's Prix du Jockey Club
Sottsass was impressive in last year’s Prix du Jockey Club (Scoopdyga)

Jean-Claude Rouget’s Sottsass was fourth last year – but momentum has been building behind his challenge this time.

“I’m of the opinion that Sottsass is on much better terms with himself at this stage of the season,” said Rouget.

“His race in Ireland did him a power of good (fourth to Magical). He should give a good account of himself on Sunday. As things stand, I have him in the same condition as last year, so I’m rediscovering the same horse as I did in the lead-up to the 2019 race.

“This year, I haven’t managed to get him in the same condition as now, owing to a racing calendar which has been perturbed by the pandemic. However, neither have I wished to go overboard, so as to ensure that that he’s a fresh horse come the Arc – which has always been his objective.

“I share the opinion that he hasn’t shown the required level of form to win the Arc this season, but I believe that he will run well and finish in the first three.”

Rouget also runs the filly Raabihah, for whom conditions are an unknown.

“Raabihah is similarly in peak condition,” he said.

“Our only question mark is the ground. This isn’t in the sense that she would be inconvenienced by a heavy track – we simply don’t know, because she has yet to tackle very soft conditions.”

Francis-Henri Grafford’s German Derby winner In Swoop has been well-backed in recent days, and is expected to enjoy the testing ground.

Graffard said: “The colt has yet to race on a surface as the one he is likely to encounter on Sunday. The ground was on the soft side when he raced at Lyon earlier in the season – and, clearly, that held no terrors for him. This was again the case when he did his final workout on Monday, when the ground was riding soft.

“He’s by nature a very calm horse, which can almost give the impression that he’s not engaged mentally in his race – as happened in the German Derby, because he was being scrubbed along in order to remain in touch, and he only really hit full stride in the final 200 metres of the race before going on to win.

“He has a lot of stamina and recovers well from his races. He’s constantly on the upgrade, and has come on for his last race – which was three weeks ago; on that occasion he wasn’t as fit as I would have liked, but that didn’t prevent him from surprising me in a very positive way.”

Peter Brant backing Sottsass to play leading role in Arc

Owner Peter Brant will look to Sottsass to realise his dream of winning the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp.

Triptych finished third in two Arcs for Brant back in the 1980s and it falls to the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Sottsass to carry his hopes again this year.

The four-year-old came close to victory when third last year, and American industrialist Brant – who is steeped in racing history as both an owner and breeder – remains just as eager as ever for glory in the 12-furlong Group One showpiece.

He told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast: “I can only say of any race in the world, I would most like to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, mostly because it’s kind of the European championship in many ways.

“It’s the classic distance of a mile and a half and it really involves three or four years of horses, which means that you’re really going through light years to heavy years on talent and it’s a much difficult kind of race to win.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Sottsass arguably had more obvious claims last term, having won the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Niel on his way to the big day, while this term he has won just one of his four outings, taking the Prix Ganay at Chantilly in June.

The Siyouni colt was last seen finishing two lengths behind Magical when fourth in the Irish Champion Stakes, but Brant – who has owned and bred Kentucky Derby winners and has engaged again with the sport in recent years – believes Rouget will have his runner primed for what has been the ultimate target.

He said: “I think he’s a really superior horse, no doubt. He won the French Derby impressively and won his race before that very impressively.

“He’s won on all different kinds of grounds – soft and firm. I think he broke the track record for the French Derby and he won impressively beating Persian King, who’s proven himself to be a very good horse.

“It’s a very good field and I think he’s an excellent horse.

“I think Jean-Claude Rouget has really pointed the horse to this race and as he does many times, he picks a spot that he’s going to run to.

“He’s a very sound horse, I don’t think he’s been overtrained or undertrained and I think he goes to the race well.”

France Galop reported at total of 14.4 millimetres of rain had fallen this week at ParisLongchamp up to Wednesday morning, leaving the ground very soft.

It was very soft when Sottsass was beaten by both Waldgeist and the reopposing Enable last year year, and Brant feels the ground offers an unknown factor.

He added: “This kind of ground, you never know who’s going to like it or not – it depends how much it rains. It could be good to soft which would be fine, or it could be really soft.

“Last year the grass was a bit new and it wasn’t a really good course to run on. I think Enable suffered running on that course, but there were great horses in the race and it was a great race.”