Record Breaking O’Brien is a Donny Dazzler

Doncaster played host to history in the making, as Aidan O’Brien broke Bobby Frankel’s record when landing the 26th Group One of the season in the Racing Post Trophy.

Saxon Warrior proved a worthy favourite when bravely fending off what had looked a race winning surge from the John Gosden-trained Roaring Lion. Ryan Moore had hit the front at the two-furlong mark, but looked set for the runner-up spot as Oisin Murphy swept past. As Gosden’s talented youngster wandered off a true line, it was Moore who galvanised his mount for a renewed effort, and as the line approached Saxon Warrior responded tenaciously.

O'Brien said of the winner: “He travelled very strong and Ryan gave him a brilliant ride. When John's horse went by him you thought he was beaten, but he found plenty and we're delighted. Ryan said he'd have no problem being a Guineas horse, so we could start off in that and go on, but there's plenty of stamina in his pedigree. I think he'll be comfortable at anything from a mile to a mile and a half. He's a very special horse, we think. He's done everything we've asked of him and he's only been a baby.”

Moore was also impressed, saying: “He's a beautiful horse and he gave me so much confidence the whole race. It wasn't going right, but he's very good and that's the difference - they're beautiful horses that are beautifully prepared. When the other horse came, I hadn't asked my lad a question.”

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Saxon Warrior’s performance was understandably overshadowed by the history making trainer. O’Brien was modest as ever, though clearly thrilled with the achievement, when saying: “It's incredible. I'm so delighted for everyone, I'm thrilled. You just don't expect it, all you can do is your best. I feel so proud for everyone. It's a privilege to be working with such special people. We're in a very lucky position and we're a small link in a big chain.

“It is so hard to win Group Ones that I never expect it. We've just got a great team, that's at the heart of it. The lads (Coolmore trio of John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor) do a great job breeding and buying the horses and it is our job not to damage them. It's been a funny year really. A lot of horses have progressed and progressed. There were so many horses like that, it was unusual. A lot of very well-bred horses just got better and better.”

The record had stood since 2003, and the master of Ballydoyle had come close on numerous occasions. But after a quick-fire opening to the 2017 campaign, O’Brien managed to maintain the momentum throughout, thanks to a stunning array of thoroughbred talent.

Churchill got the show on the road back in May when landing the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Just a day later it was the turn of Winter to prove herself the outstanding three-year-old filly at a mile, as she romped to victory in the 1000 Guineas. The pair went on to repeat the feat in Ireland at the end of May, ensuring that the race to 26 was well and truly on.

His Classic generation proved exceptional, especially the fillies. Along with the outstanding Winter, Roly Poly weighed in with vital Group One victories. And then came a late rattle from another dazzling duo in Rhododendron and Hydrangea.

But it is the dominance of the Juvenile division that truly sets O’Brien and the Ballydoyle Boys apart. In Clemmie and Happily they have a pair of Group One fillies with the potential to reign supreme at three. And then there’s the young colt’s U S Navy Flag and of course Saturday’s Racing Post Trophy winner Saxon Warrior.

Both past and present have been wonderfully glorious for all connected to the ‘Ballydoyle Bandwagon’. And with history now made, the future looks set to be just as triumphant.

Can Dynamic Duo carry O’Brien to Ascot Glory?

I may have been a little hasty in saying that it’s a matter of time before Aidan O’Brien matches Bobby Frankel’s Group One winners record.

Champions Day at Ascot would surely prove the ideal scene for such an achievement. But a closer look at the meeting, his options, and more interestingly his record at the event, shows that the Ballydoyle master still has plenty of work to do.

With four Group One’s up for grabs, you’d expect O’Brien to seize his share, especially the way the horses are running at present. Yet Fame And Glory, Minding and Excelebration are the only Ballydoyle winners at the meeting since its inception at Ascot in 2011, with the latter duo both taking the Group One QEII.

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Indeed, recent history suggests that the one-mile showpiece will be O’Brien’s best chance of Group One glory. With three victories in the past 10 renewals, he may decide to drop Churchill back in trip in the hope that the dual-Guineas winner can regain the winning thread. He’s lost his last three, including two at a mile-and-a-quarter. The three-year-old is entered in the Champion Stakes, though that appears the tougher assignment, with Cracksman, Barney Roy and Ulysses all set to take their chance. The mile race is no spot-kick, with Ribchester in opposition, but it does look winnable.

There’s also optimism over the chances of Caravaggio, currently second-favourite for the Champions Sprint, a race O’Brien hasn’t won since 1998 (then the Diadem Stakes). He has a rather formidable opponent to overcome in the Clive Cox trained Harry Angel. He has of course defeated Godolphin’s speedster once before at Ascot, when getting up late to take the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting in June. However, since that success his form has tailed off somewhat, whilst Harry has become a sprinting sensation. There is a glimmer of hope, with HA currently nought from three at the track.

Hydrangea looks likely to be O’Brien’s only representative in the Fillies and Mares, with both Rhododendron and Seventh Heaven waiting for the Breeders’ Cup. It will be her first attempt at a mile-and-a-half, and she’s far from certain to see out the trip. She looked a non-stayer in the Nassau at 10 furlongs, though came close to landing the Prix de l’Opera over the same distance at Chantilly. Her best performance came at a mile when winning the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. She’s no mug, but this looks a tough challenge.

Should Churchill revert to the mile, Ballydoyle’s hopes in the Champion Stakes will rest with Highland Reel and Cliffs Of Moher. The former would have a decent shout if the ground remained decent. The faster the better for HR, and it’s worth remembering that he won the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes over course and distance back in June, beating Ulysses in the process. He’s a player if the rain stays away.

Cliffs Of Moher is much harder to fancy. Twice hammered by Ulysses over the summer, he was then well beaten in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. He was a place ahead of Cracksman at Epsom, but has failed to improve, whilst Gosden’s colt looks hugely progressive. This is another race to have eluded O’Brien over the years.

It was a surprise to many when the name of Winter was missing from the Champions Day declarations. Failing to spark at home since her Arc run, her omission is a blow, and had she been entered in either the QEII or the Champions Stakes she would undoubtedly have been well-fancied.

Despite such a successful summer, and the wealth of talent at his disposal, O’Brien now appears dependant on a pair of colts that were the leading lights as juveniles a year ago. Plenty of water has passed under plenty of bridges, but if O’Brien is to surpass Bobby Frankel’s world record this weekend, he is likely to need Caravaggio and Churchill to return to their brilliant best.

Hard as Rock Roly can land a Ballydoyle Blitz

Saturday’s Sun Chariot Stakes is the feature race at Newmarket.

First run in 1966, it was originally open to three-year-old fillies and run over 10 furlongs. Older fillies and mares were invited in 1974, and the race was cut to its current distance of a mile in 2000. The race achieved Group 1 status in 2004.

The race regularly attracts the best milers from the UK, Ireland and France. The French have taken five of the last 10 renewals, thanks in the main to a stunning run of success from Sahpresa, who racked up a treble from 2009 to 2011.

Three-year-olds have a decent record, having won five of the last dozen, though only two of the last eight. Alice Springs took last year’s race, making it two from the last nine for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

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Roly Poly is possibly only third or fourth best of the Classic generation milers at Ballydoyle, but with others having run at the Arc meeting, she is his main contender for this. She has improved throughout the summer, chasing home the dual-Guineas heroine, Winter, on a couple of occasions, then landing the Falmouth and the Rothschild in July. She was below par in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, when probably asked to do a little too much up front. Ryan Moore will be back onboard tomorrow, and she looks sure to go close.

The French challenge is a powerful one, with a trio of fillies representing arguably the best three trainers in the country. Jean-Claude Rouget’s Qemah is without doubt a high-class miler. Twice a Group One winner, she was fourth to Roly Poly in the Rothschild, though incurred traffic problems and got going far too late. Slightly disappointing at Leopardstown last time, when keen early and again doing her best work too late, she does needs things to fall just right if she is to land a blow. Nevertheless, she has the talent and the gears to go close.

Andre Fabre took the race with Esoterique in 2015 and has a leading contender in the Godolphin owned Usherette. She’s proved slightly disappointing this term, if a little unfortunate when third to Qemah in the Duke Of Cambridge at Ascot. Ridden from the front in the Rothschild, the change of tactics failed to spark improvement as she faded to sixth late-on. She did win a listed event last time, but will need to step forward again if she is to win this. Rain would probably help her cause, though I fancy she’ll find a few in better form on the day.

The final French challenger is trained by Freddy Head. Siyoushake was fourth in last year’s race and has run consistently well this season without success. A close third to Roly Poly in the Rothschild (without looking likely to win), she then finished runner-up in a Group One over 10 furlongs. She’s a solid performer at this level, and is likely to be doing her best work late on.

Her trainer spoke earlier in the week: “Siyoushake is still in great condition and I have been very happy with her work. We tried her over a mile and a quarter last time but I think that a mile is her best trip. I think that she has improved since her fourth in this race last year. It’s been a very good season for her and she’s been placed in a couple of Group 1s.”

Persuasive leads the UK challenge, and Gosden’s filly currently heads the market. She was runner-up in last year’s Matron Stakes, and though only third this time round, possibly ran slightly better, when finishing with a real rattle in just failing to catch Ballydoyle’s Hydrangea and Winter. Her belated return to action this summer came in the Rothschild, when a strong finishing fifth behind Roly Poly, and there’s every chance she’ll be able to reverse that form. Favourites have a good recent record, and I fancy she’ll be flying at the finish.

Aljazzi is the other significant UK contender and trained locally by Marco Botti. Runner-up to Qemah in the Duke Of Cambridge at Royal Ascot when a 40/1 shot, she was very impressive last time when winning a Group Three at Sandown. Like Persuasive, she arrives here a relatively fresh filly and looks to be improving at a fair old rate. This is a hugely competitive renewal, but several of the leading players appear exposed, and the race may be open to an improving sort.

This is a tough race to call, and though I’m not convinced Roly Poly is as good as last year’s winner Alice Springs, she arrives here off the back of a very similar looking campaign. O’Brien clearly believes that she is hardy enough to take this on her eighth start of the season (identical number as Alice in 2016) and who am I to argue.

As O’Brien hunts down Bobby Frankel’s Group One winning record, I’ll take Roly Poly to land the Sun Chariot. Persuasive looks sure to go close, but still needs to prove she can win a Group One. She lacks gears for me, and though I see her finishing strongly she may find herself with a little too much ground to make up. Best of luck to those having a punt.

Enable – Queen of Chantilly

She’s proved peerless throughout the summer, and now John Gosden’s Enable heads to France to be crowned Queen of Chantilly.

A short-priced favourite for Sunday’s Arc, the dual-Oaks heroine has won her last five starts, including four at Group One level. She’s dished out punishing defeats to those of her own sex, and at Ascot in July proved devastating in defeating the boys in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes. That victory came in testing conditions, though this stylish mover had arguably looked more impressive at the Curragh, when winning the Irish Oaks on quick ground.

She’s won going left-handed and she’s won going right. She’s been destructive on galloping tracks, stiff tracks and those that were tight. She’s been ridden prominently throughout the campaign, possessing a high cruising speed, but then when asked for her effort has shown an abundance of stamina in pulling clear of all opposition. I would envisage Frankie Dettori keeping things as simple as possible. He’ll likely settle the filly in behind the leader, before making his move with around three-furlongs to go. She’ll take some catching.

Ulysses is likely to be the one giving chase. Sir Michael Stoute’s progressive four-year-old was unable to live with the filly at Ascot, though he’s 3lbs better off, and the ground may well be less testing on Sunday. He’s a powerful traveller, and there’s likely to be a point in the straight when an upset appears on the cards. Jim Crowley rode him beautifully in the Juddmonte International at York, when waiting as long as possible before asking for maximum effort. The question is whether Ulysses can ‘creep’ close enough to Enable, to allow him to land a serious blow. There also remains a doubt over his ability to see-out this trip effectively.

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Chances are that Aidan O’Brien’s battalion will be doing their utmost to unsettle the favourite. His three colts have an abundance of stamina, and will need a thorough end to end gallop if they are to have any chance of success. Order Of St George may be the one to take it on from the front, though Idaho could also force the issue. Despite both being high-class thoroughbreds, I’m struggling to envisage either having the ability to trouble the favourite. Quite simply, they both lack the speed to get Enable out of her comfort zone.

Ryan Moore surprised many by opting to ride dual-Guineas winner Winter. Clearly he believes she’s the only Ballydoyle entrant capable of beating Gosden’s filly. Though a four-time Group One winner, the worry for Winter fans, is whether she’ll see-out this extended trip. Her victory in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood will give hope, and she’s given the impression throughout the campaign of being a ‘tough as teak’ sort. You have to go back to 1990 to find a winner of the Arc who was attempting the trip for the first time. There’s no doubting the magnitude of the task, but she’s hugely talented.

Though France has captured the lion’s share of Arcs, their recent record is no more than mediocre. They have four wins from the past 10 renewals, with Treve accounting for two of those.

French Derby winner Brametot is arguably their best hope this time, though he has to overcome a poor last run, when trailing home fifth in a Group Two at Deauville. Jean Claude-Rouget appears confident that the colt is back on track, and he certainly looked a classy sort earlier in the campaign. He defeated Waldgeist at Chantilly, though the form took a knock when Andre Fabre’s colt could only manage fourth in the Irish Derby. Brametot is a horse with gears, and without doubt a contender. He’s also two from two at the track.

If the French are to be successful, I rather fancy that Alain de Royer-Dupre will be heavily involved. Twice the winning trainer with Aga Khan inmates, he runs four-year-old Zarak, a son of 2008 winner Zarkava. Runner-up to Almanzor in last year’s French Derby, it was a little surprising that he wasn’t then aimed at the Arc. He stayed-on well to win the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time, and at around 16/1 he looks a decent each-way proposition.

Danedream won the Arc for Germany in 2011, and they have a leading contender this time in the four-year-old colt Dschingis Secret. His form at three was ordinary at best, but he’s improved a ton this year. He defeated Hawkbill in a Group One in Germany, and earlier this month looked good in winning the Prix Foy at Chantilly. He has to be on the shortlist for a place finish.

Finally, I feel that I have to mention Aidan O’Brien’s Seventh Heaven. I’m a huge fan of the filly, though her preparation for the Arc has been a disaster. Off the track since a stunning success in May, I was looking forward to her return at the Curragh three weeks ago, but she ran an absolute stinker. Practically tailed-off throughout the Group Two Blandford Stakes, it could be argued that her odds of 33/1 are actually a little skinny. Nevertheless, O’Brien has decided to send her over, and I could not resist a few quid each-way.

Fillies have a terrific recent record in the Arc, as do three-year-olds. The British and Irish have won five of the last 10, and though favourites haven’t got the best of records, I cannot see any other than Enable winning on Sunday. I would love to see her put in a stunning performance, and believe she will. Winter and Brametot are potential dangers, and I also expect Ulysses to go close. I’ve already backed Zarak and Seventh Heaven each-way, but if pushed would have Enable, Ulysses and Zarak as my one-two-three.

Best of luck to all of those having a punt. Let’s hope the filly does the business.

High-Class Entrants for Champions Day

Almanzor, Found, Minding and Ribchester, are just some of the stars that appeared on the card at last year’s Champions Day.

Ascot’s season ending extravaganza began in 2011, and acts as a ‘Finals Day’ for five divisions of a Flat racing series. Sprinters, Milers, Mid-distance, Long-distance and Fillies and Mares form the content (along with a one-mile handicap), of a valuable event that has fast become both prestigious and eagerly anticipated.

Its timing (close to the Arc meeting) had, and still does, attract negative press from a standpoint that many of the best racehorses will be otherwise engaged and unable to appear, thereby undermining the status of the occasion. Nevertheless, there’s no doubting that the quality of fields continues to improve, and connections appear to be targeting Ascot in October as a fitting finale for their equine stars.

This year sees a gap of three weeks between the Arc meeting at Chantilly and Champions Day, and there’s every chance that many will take-in both. Just two weeks separated the prestigious events last year, and that didn’t stop Aidan O’Brien’s Found winning the Arc before chasing home Almanzor at Ascot. The extraordinary mare then headed to America for a crack at the Breeders’ Cup Turf. That she finished third at Santa Anita, was testament to both her talent and cast-iron constitution.

Yesterday saw the announcement of entries for British Champions Day 2017, and as we head deep into this year’s Flat season, it’s exciting to look at the likely clashes that will bring the campaign to an exhilarating conclusion.

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An incredible 18 Group One winners are entered in the showpiece Champion Stakes, won last year by French star Almanzor. Rouget’s outstanding colt could return in an attempt to defend his crown, though his season thus far has yet to begin due to injury. The French trainer spoke of the possibility, saying: “I have yet to make any decisions, and we will know more after his comeback race on 15th August in the Prix Gontaut-Biron. He satisfied me when working last Tuesday and although he won’t be 100% fit, I’m hopeful of a good performance.”

The prospect of a clash with super-filly Enable is truly mouth-watering, though I have my doubts that John Gosden would come here so soon after a crack at the Arc. Much could change between now and then, but the trainer likes his trips to America, and I’d fancy a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Turf is more likely to follow Chantilly.

Barney Roy and Ulysses are far more likely to line-up, and there is now a real prospect of Churchill attending this end of season bash. He heads to York in a couple of weeks for the Juddmonte, and how he does against Barney and Co will determine the remainder of his campaign. Ballydoyle also have Highland Reel and Winter entered in this, though HR’s target will be determined by the ground, and Winter now looks set to drop back to a mile.

As such she may well take a similar path to Minding and eventually line-up in the QEII on Champions Day. Despite a powerful performance in the Nassau Stakes, her trainer Aidan O'Brien said earlier this week: “Winter is well entered up, but at this stage we're looking at going back to a mile with her in the Matron Stakes. She's come out of her Goodwood win well.” Churchill up and Winter back down appears to be the plan for the Ballydoyle stars at this stage, but October remains a distance away.

Should Winter line-up in the QEII, she’ll be looking to replicate Minding in defeating Godolphin’s Ribchester. This looks the obvious target for Richard Fahey’s classy miler, who now looks set to have a break after the disappointment of losing out in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Speaking earlier this week, Fahey said: “I haven't entered him for the Champion Stakes as I think we're going to stick at a mile with him for the time being. Quite what happened at Goodwood I'm still not sure, but I suspect it was a mistake to try to make the running, and that was my mistake. They were proper extreme conditions. It was just one of those things and we all live to fight another day.”

Andre Fabre could send Royal Ascot winner Le Brivido or Guineas third Al Wukair. Both are high-class and would prove a serious threat if travelling from France. Jean-Claude Rouget also has the recent Messidor Stakes winner Taaref entered. The four-year-old colt is improving at a rate of knots, and would be another exciting addition to a classy looking field.

The Tin Man took last year’s Champions Day Sprint, and looks sure to return. He loves the track, and trainer James Fanshawe is excited at the prospect, saying: “Hopefully we can have him in as good a form as he was last year when we get to 21st October. It’s a great day and we really enjoyed last year. He seems fine after Newmarket and the idea is to aim for the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock next month.”

Brando was third 12 months ago, but connections will be hoping for better this time around, especially after the thrilling recent success in the Prix Maurice de Gheest. Prior to that, the five-year-old was a fast finishing fourth to Harry Angel in the July Cup at Newmarket. There’s no doubting that Kevin Ryan has the sprinter better than ever, and he’ll prove a serious contender come October.

Harry Angel is also likely to be aimed at this. Mightily impressive at Newmarket last time, he lost out to Caravaggio in the Commonwealth Cup at the Royal Meeting, and despite the latter seemingly going ‘off the boil’ of late, the pair may well clash again in October. Limato will need his ground, but would be another leading contender should he take his chance.

I’ve already got my ticket for the day. I, like many others, was uncertain about the meeting a few years back, but it has won me over. Its proximity to the Arc remains an issue, but Champions Day continues to grow as a spectacle. The list of outstanding entrants gives hope that this year’s meeting will prove the best yet.

Stoute shines a light through the Goodwood gloom

Even the most avid Flat racing fan would struggle to claim that last week’s Goodwood reached glorious proportions. A mix of disappointing weather, lacklustre performances, late withdrawals and a general lack of star quality left me somewhat underwhelmed by action on the Sussex Downs.

Several eagerly anticipated clashes failed to materialize, with Churchill the most notable absentee. Ribchester was left the short-priced favourite for the Sussex Stakes, but ran a bizarre race in the Goodwood mud, eventually finishing runner-up to the 20/1 winner Here Comes When.

The Nassau Stakes attracted a stellar cast, but the heavy rain decimated the field with Nezwaah, Shutter Speed and Wuheida all ‘pulled’ due to the testing conditions. Several of those that stood their ground are known ‘sound surface’ types, which left the path clear for a relatively comfortable success for Ballydoyle’s dual-Guineas heroine, Winter.

Despite the diminished field, Winter’s performance was one of the week’s standouts. Her ability to see-out the 1m2f trip was far from assured. There’s plenty of speed on the dam side, though the infusion of Galileo genes clearly did the trick. Indeed, she wasn’t stopping at the line, suggesting a mile-and-a-half wouldn’t be out of the question. The Irish Champion Stakes is now a possibility, and her performance there will determine the latter season targets.

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After her victory on Thursday, Aidan O’Brien was ruling nothing out, when saying: “I wouldn’t rule out a mile and a half and we are now very comfortable at a mile and a quarter. She is a strong, powerful mare with big powerful feet and she weighs between 530-540kgs. The lads will decide her future, but she has the option of Leopardstown (where she is also entered in the Matron Stakes), or York.” When asked about Chantilly in October, O’Brien added: “It’s possible, but the Arc is a good few races away.”

A powerful performance from Winter had been expected by many, and though Sir Michael Stoute’s Expert Eye was sent off favourite for the Vintage Stakes, few would have anticipated such a destructive display from the juvenile. Entrepreneur, King’s Best and Golan, landed the 2000 Guineas for Sir Michael around the turn of the century, with that last success coming in 2001. This son of Acclamation out of a Dansili mare, now heads the market for next year’s Classic. And there’s little wonder after this stunning performance.

He cruised into contention two-furlongs out, ‘pulling double’, then stormed clear, crushing runner-up Zaman by almost five lengths. The second had previously finished less than a couple of lengths behind Gustav Klimt in the Superlative at Newmarket, giving validity to claims that this was the juvenile performance of the season.

Stoute isn’t one for pushing his juveniles, and said as much after the eye-catching performance: “It's too early to talk about the Guineas, it's only the beginning of August in his two-year-old season. He does tick a lot of boxes as he's a well-balanced, well-made horse with a good mind and a lot of pace. We'll go step-by-step and I won't be putting him up to a mile yet. I am excited - he's brimful of promise, put it that way.”

The trainer’s style is emphasised by the steady progression of three-year-old Crystal Ocean, another Goodwood standout. He was a dominant winner of the Gordon Stakes on Saturday, a race Stoute has targeted with many of his best over the years. Conduit and Harbinger both took this race, with the former going on to win the St Leger at Doncaster. Both became high-class four-year-olds, winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot. Stoute also won the Gordon with Snow Sky in 2014, and with Ulysses 12 months ago. The former took the Hardwicke Stakes in 2015, whilst the latter won this year’s Coral-Eclipse before chasing home Enable in the King George.

Crystal Ocean has only five career starts to his name, and is tiptoeing along quite nicely. Thought by his trainer to be too immature for a crack at the Derby, he may well attempt to emulate Conduit by going for the St Leger in September. “We've loved him from early days. He's a lovely stamp of horse with a good mind,” said a satisfied Stoute. He went on: “He goes on soft ground – we knew that because he did in the Dante – but I was concerned about this ground because this is the worst they will ever get. He's a good athlete and that helps. We'll look at the Leger. I wouldn't say definitely, but we'll consider it.”

The final shining light on an otherwise overcast and dreary Sussex Downs, was new sprinting sensation Battaash. Trained by Charlie Hills, the three-year-old arrived at Goodwood’s King George Stakes, having previously scorched the Sandown turf in winning the Coral Charge. Hills had shown concern over the testing conditions, but this son of Dark Angel out of a Lawman mare, came through this latest test with flying colours. He toyed with the opposition, before storming clear a furlong from home. The top-class duo of Profitable and Marsha were left looking decidedly pedestrian by the impressive winner.

The lucky pilot was Jim Crowley, and he was clearly impressed, saying: “I don’t think I have ridden a better sprinter. I rode Battaash in work at Charlie's ten days ago and it was like riding a motorbike up the gallops.” Of the potential mouth-watering clash with Lady Aurelia in the Nunthorpe at York, the jockey added: “Bring it on. It would be lovely to win a Group One for the boss.”

A not-so Glorious Goodwood

It’s hard not to feel deflated after yesterday’s washout at Goodwood.

The heavens opened, and at the eleventh hour, Aidan O’Brien decided to protect a major asset, removing Churchill from the battlefield. It was probably a wise decision, as the remainder waded through mud, posting a winning time some 10 seconds slower than The Gurkha 12 months ago.

The seven-year-old Here Comes When caused an upset in defeating the red-hot favourite Ribchester, with Lightning Spear back in third. The favourite had loomed large a couple of furlongs out, but then appeared to almost pull himself up. Jim Crowley struck for home on the eventual winner, and looked to have the race in safe keeping, only for William Buick to summon a renewed effort from Ribchester. The line arrived too soon for the Godolphin colt, and it was Andrew Balding’s experienced campaigner that lifted the prestigious pot.

After the surprise victory, the winning trainer said: “He is here for a reason. We just prayed we got the rain and it's come in time. He is a very decent horse on this sort of ground. I think he has come back this season in better form than ever. When he won at York it was impressive on the time figures. He is stones better on this sort of ground.”

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Fahey was philosophical in defeat, saying: “Its extreme conditions out there, I was very worried - it's not for a Flat horse to be racing on, it's National Hunt horses. But he's run a mighty race and he showed good heart to nearly get back up. Maybe he was a bit lonely in front and half-pulled up a bit, but that's racing, we live to fight another day. I'm disappointed, you come here expecting to win and you don't, so you are disappointed. It was a strange race. You see him now, he is hardly having a blow. He is in France in 11 days' time and we will see how he is.”

Aidan O’Brien was also left mulling over future options, and the possibility of that much anticipated clash with Ribchester, when saying: “It's extreme out there now. There are other races coming up for him. If he stays at a mile he will go to France (Prix Jacques le Marois, August 13), if he steps up to a mile and a quarter he will go for the Juddmonte (International, at York on August 23). We came here wanting to run and we're very disappointed that we're not running.

“The year is long and hopefully there'll be other chances. The ground didn't walk too bad, but there was a lot of water on top of it and it was loose and sloppy. It's probably going to get near heavy as they must have had nearly an inch of rain.”

That has to be a concern for the rest of the meeting. Other eagerly anticipated clashes are sure to be at risk, with conditions extremely testing. Today’s Nassau Stakes has already lost some of its sparkle with the withdrawal of Shutter Speed. Queen’s Trust is at her best on quick ground, and has to be a doubt. What looked a classy field of fillies, could very quickly be whittled down to less than a handful, with Ballydoyle’s Winter a virtual certainty.

With conditions likely to improve somewhat by Friday, it is hoped that the exciting field of sprinters in the Group Two King George Stakes, take their place at the start. Battaash has looked an exciting youngster, though his trainer Charlie Hills had voiced concerns over the prospect of testing ground. He looked incredibly quick in his two victories at Sandown, and it’s hoped he’ll take his chance. The Clive Cox trained Profitable is set to oppose. Runner-up in the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot last month, he’ll love the ground and should run a huge race.

Marsha is another for who conditions will prove something of an unknown. She’s a rapidly improving filly, but has yet to encounter soft ground in 11 starts on turf. She finished a head behind Profitable at Ascot, and has since run well in defeat at the Curragh.

Other notable entries for this tasty looking sprint are Priceless, Kachy, Washington DC and Take Cover. The last two were first and second 12 months ago, though that renewal was run on lightning quick ground.

Monday Musings: Almost Autumn, But First A Glorious Winter

Don’t look, but it’s August - or will be tomorrow, writes Tony Stafford. Darker mornings and what used to be Glorious Goodwood, but now is officially the Qatar Goodwood Festival, are upon us. I don’t believe Goodwood has ever started as late as August 1 and by the time we get to the weekend, autumn will almost be here.

It has been positively wintry the last few days, but there will not be a shred of discontent from the Coolmore/Ballydoyle contingent if Winter, the second-most predominant filly of her generation after the peerless Enable, should carry her successful run through Thursday’s Nassau Stakes.

Some people may be suited by the various switches to the Goodwood programme, but I fail to see why there is any benefit in moving the Nassau, a perfect counter-point to my mind to the cavalry charge of the Stewards’ Cup and the always-competitive consolation race which precedes it, to the Thursday.

The Goodwood Cup, traditionally staged on Thursday, goes forward a couple of days to the opening stage of the five days, but at least the Sussex Stakes remains on the Wednesday, so not too long to wait for Churchill’s attempt at rehabilitation against Barney Roy and Ribchester, a handy Godolphin double act.

It was hot enough when Churchill could finish only fourth behind his nearest 2,000 Guineas victim Barney Roy in Royal Ascot’s St James’s Palace Stakes – 93 degrees Fahrenheit to my recollection. People everywhere were complaining about the heat, so no wonder some of the horses might have under-performed and maybe that was Churchill’s major reason for a sub-standard effort.

I pass on a slightly amusing story. I was fortunate enough to be based in a box that day and, arriving early with Harry Taylor, had the chance of a leisurely cup of coffee in an otherwise deserted location. Coming inside, I suggested there was a nice breeze outside as I accepted the offer of a second cup. This was greeted with the news that I was sitting with a fan whirring full on right behind me.

The King George duly provided Enable with a third successive Group 1 romp after her Oaks and Irish Oaks successes and firmly propelled her to the top of all the middle-distance ratings, and rightly so. The irony of the result is that while everyone pointed to the fact that she was getting 14lb from the older colts, so success was always highly likely, only one other three-year-old, the Godolphin colt Benbatl, even tried to take advantage of that generous weight concession, in his case 11lb from his elders.

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Benbatl had been fifth in the Derby behind the now retired Wings of Eagles and then narrowly won the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot in a close finish with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Orderofthegarter. His fifth place here was in keeping with those runs and suggested that others of his generation might also have made an impact.

O’Brien ran last year’s King George winner, Highland Reel, and that admirable horse’s full-brother Idaho, but the former was clearly – and as expected – hampered by the soft ground. Fourth place, some way behind his sibling and also Eclipse winner Ulysses, who was a gallant second, represented further testimony to his toughness in adverse conditions.

I also admired the fact that O’Brien apparently had no hesitation about running Highland Reel, never mind Idaho. The pair collected a joint £185,000 for their exertions after which Highland Reel can be rested for a time before more highly-remunerative world travel.

Enable was much too good for this group of colts and indeed the only time she has been beaten, it was her stable-mate Shutter Speed who crossed the line first at Newbury back in the spring. Shutter Speed is one of a handful of potentially-dangerous opponents for Winter on Thursday, as she returns for the first time since her close but weakening fourth in the Prix de Diane in June.

John Gosden also has So Mi Dar to make things interesting, while Nezwaat (who, like Enable, has a recent verdict over Rain Goddess), Queen’s Trust and Godolphin’s Wuheida are other likely runners.

Wuheida, unbeaten at two when she won the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day, made a spirited return to be runner-up to the tough Roly Poly at HQ, a performance which looks even better after that winner’s follow up in yesterday’s Prix Rothschild (Group 1) on the opening Sunday of Deauville’s summer meeting.

Last week, I put forward my friend Lew Day’s Raheen House as a potential St Leger winner. Whatever his fate there, Raheen House does have one unique distinction – he is the only male yet to finish ahead of Enable as he split the two Gosden fillies Shutter Speed and Enable in that Newbury race back in the spring.

The outstanding performance on the King George undercard was undoubtedly Nyaleti’s five-length demolition of the previously unbeaten Dance Diva in the Princess Margaret Juddmonte Stakes. Nyaleti had been comprehensively outrun, first by September in the Chesham Stakes at the Royal meeting and then, dropping back to six furlongs, by Clemmie in the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes at Newmarket’s July meeting, but got back on track here in devastating style.

Mark Johnston’s filly is clearly improving and as one pedigree student pointed out to me before and, with more energy after, the race, she probably benefited from the softer ground as her sire, Arch’s, and maternal grandsire Verglas’ produce are usually effective in the soft.

So one might think that the two Ballydoyle fillies that beat Nyaleti are the front-runners for next year’s 1,000 Guineas, but by all accounts you must think again. For hidden away last Thursday night in an otherwise anonymous Leopardstown card, which contained just the four Aidan O’Brien winners – all, incidentally, as Paul Smith might say : “In the purple and white” - was another juvenile who might be the best of the lot.

Running in the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes, Happily, a full-sister to both Gleneagles and 2014 Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, Marvellous, stretched five lengths clear of her rivals and impressed Ryan Moore. As ever, the biggest task for the trainer will be to plan a path that maximises the potential of all these, and no doubt others to come later. Already it looks as though the English trainers will struggle to make much of an impact in the major juvenile fillies’ races, Johnston and Nyaleti apart.

One of the more interesting aspects of the still embryonic jumps season has been the fantastic run of form of the Dan Skelton stable, enjoyed in equal measure by his younger brother Harry. Both are already into the 40’s for the season and a treble at Uttoxeter on Sunday even had the distinction of achieving the almost impossible – beating an Olly Murphy favourite.

While still in his first month with a licence, Murphy, son of trainer Anabel and former assistant to Gordon Elliott, has won with eight of 15 jumps runners and three of nine on the Flat, for almost a 50% strike-rate.

If the BHA handicappers keep giving his horses ratings like the 47 (won off 50 even with Jamie Spencer’s 3lb overweight at Newcastle on Saturday) for Banff (100 jumps after his second at Stratford on his Murphy debut) or the 43 allotted to Gold Class (103 jumps after beating Banff in that race), then he’ll continue to thrive, even without the obvious ability he clearly has to call on. [In both cases, the mark was achieved before the horse arrived at Murphy’s yard – Ed.]

An eye on a Juvenile – Fillies

During this rather quiet period, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the juvenile division, especially after witnessing several promising performances at Newmarket’s July Festival.

I’m starting with the female of the species, and arguably the most impressive two-year-old display of the weekend. The rapidly improving Clemmie, trained by Aidan O’Brien, powered clear in the latter stages to win the Group Two Duchess Of Cambridge Stakes. Still looking a little green at times, it took her a while to get into top gear. She looks a relentless galloper, rather than a filly with gears, and the stiff final furlong at Newmarket certainly suited. She’s currently second favourite for next year’s 1000 Guineas despite being beaten by more than four lengths at Royal Ascot just a few weeks back. She’s clearly a classy sort, and looks the type to continue improving with racing. Though I fancy she’ll become next season’s Roly Poly, rather than a Ballydoyle Winter or Rhododendron.

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Her stoutly bred stable companion September, heads the Guineas market after her romp in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot. By Japan’s outstanding stallion Deep Impact, out of Irish Oaks winner Peeping Fawn, her pedigree is exceptional, though points to stamina rather than speed. It’s no surprise to also see her heading the market for next year’s Epsom Oaks, and that sort of trip looks likely to prove her optimum. Unbeaten in just two career starts, her next outing is eagerly anticipated.

Another exciting Irish filly is the Jess Harrington trained Alpha Centauri. She was runner-up to the French filly Different League in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot, with Clemmie further back in seventh. The front pair were some way clear that day, and possibly had something of an edge on the maturity front. Both are physically imposing, and that advantage in stature is sure to change as the season unfolds. A clash in Ireland with Clemmie or September is highly likely for Harrington’s filly, and would further help assess the progression of these two-year-olds. I fancy that Alpha Centauri’s early season advantage may well evaporate.

Different League is trained in France by Matthieu Palussiere, who was formerly an assistant in Ireland to Mick Halford. The filly is by French stallion Dabirsim, himself an exceptional juvenile who captured the Prix Morny and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. It’s impossible to say whether we’ll see her back on our shores, though she is priced up for next season’s 1000 Guineas. The Prix Morny was touted as a possible short-term target.

Clive Cox is having another season to remember, and has an exciting filly, in Royal Ascot winner Heartache. She’s a sprinter, and looked exceptional when thrashing 22 others in the Group Two Queen Mary. Likely to head for the Lowther at York, Cox will be hoping she can progress in a similar fashion to his outstanding sprinter Harry Angel. She’s a way to go to become that good, though the initial signs are promising.

Other classy fillies are sure to be unearthed during the summer, with Ballydoyle more than likely to add to their classy pair of Clemmie and September. It would also come as a surprise should Godolphin not have several potential stars in their midst. Charlie Appleby has plenty of juveniles set to make their debuts in the coming weeks, including smartly bred fillies Piccola Collina, Lunar Maria and Dubhe.

Royal Ascot – A Stunning Success

Royal Ascot delivered on so many levels, with thrilling finishes, heroic performances, and a few shock defeats along the way. Ballydoyle and Godolphin flexed their muscles and again proved dominant, whilst Wes Ward, James Fanshawe and Michael Bell landed their own outstanding victories during a truly glorious Royal meeting.

Richard Fahey and Team Godolphin, got the ball rolling, with success for Ribchester in the opening Queen Anne Stakes. He’d comfortably taken the Lockinge in May, and was duly sent-off favourite to confirm his status as top-miler. Mutakayyef came with a promising challenge late-on, but when asked for maximum effort by pilot William Buick, Ribchester found plenty to finish more than a length to the good. “He’s an exceptional miler,” proclaimed the thrilled jockey.

Another useful Godolphin miler is three-year-old Barney Roy, trained by Richard Hannon. He was tasked with reversing Guineas placings with Ballydoyle’s latest sensation Churchill. O’Brien’s dual Guineas winner was a short-priced favourite to add the St James’s Palace Stakes, though Barney was also well-backed, and a thrilling duel was anticipated. Unfortunately, an expectant crowd were to be disappointed, as Churchill put in a below-par performance, leaving Hannon’s colt to take the spoils. A hard-fought victory left connections considering a step-up in trip for the talented three-year-old, with the Eclipse a likely target.

One horse that did put-in a dazzling opening day performance, was American filly Lady Aurelia. A year earlier she had romped to victory in the Queen Mary, and Wes Ward was hoping for more of the same. She certainly didn’t disappoint, quickening clear approaching the final furlong for a three-length success. Last year’s winner Profitable, along with the Abbaye winner Marsha, were both put firmly in their place.

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Another filly with a look of invincibility is Aidan O’Brien’s Winter. The dual-Guineas winner added the Coronation Stakes with the minimum of fuss, and though she’s been busy, her trainer hinted that the Falmouth in just a few weeks, could be the next target. She appears to be thriving for racing, and is a relaxed and powerful performer. The team will hope to get Churchill back on track, but his demise in the St James’s may have an impact on future targets for this filly. She has the potential to hold her own against the boys, should O’Brien take that route.

Ballydoyle had further major success along with a high-profile defeat, in a trio of wonderfully thrilling Royal Ascot renewals.

Highland Reel has become a phenomenon in recent years, and his globetrotting success has taken earnings towards the six-million mark. His gutsy victory in the Prince Of Wales’s typified his qualities. Ridden prominently throughout, he forged ahead in the latter stages and fought off all-comers before stretching clear late-on. This trip looked on the short-side to me, but Highland Reel was not for passing. “He's an incredible horse. He has pace, courage, tactical speed,” said a thoroughly satisfied trainer.

With the yard’s senior citizen doing the business, it was the turn of one of the youngster stars to shine. Caravaggio did exactly that in winning a thrilling Commonwealth Cup. Godolphin provided the main challenge with the lightning quick Harry Angel, and powerful travelling Blue Point forming a dual-assault. For much of the six-furlongs O’Brien’s charge appeared to have plenty to do, and indeed approaching the two-furlong pole he looked in a spot of bother. However, his finishing burst was exceptional, and the Godolphin pair were unable to hold on.

Caravaggio is an exceptional horse, but I remain convinced that he is vulnerable at this trip, especially on a flat track. Nevertheless, it will take an exceptional performance to end his current unblemished record.

Caravaggio was the Royal meeting banker for many, but Ballydoyle had another near-certainty running in the Gold Cup. Order Of St George was defending his crown, and sent-off a short-priced favourite to do so. Turning for home, Ryan Moore had plenty of ground to make up, but would undoubtedly be confident that the favourite had time to get on top. Unfortunately for Moore and his team, Big Orange was on the front end, and with James Doyle kicking-on at the two-furlong pole, Moore and his charge were suddenly on the back-foot. Order Of St George closed to within a nose, but Big Orange refused to fold. In a stunning finish, Michael Bell’s popular stayer held on for a famous victory.

It was arguably the highlight of a terrific week, which saw so many wonderful performances at one of the World’s most famous sporting events.

Winter looks a Summer Sensation

Saturday saw a Churchill masterclass, as O’Brien’s latest star swept to a Classic double with a two-length victory in the Irish 2000 Guineas.

Godolphin’s Thunder Snow proved the toughest nut to crack, but was overhauled a furlong from home. Conditions at the Curragh were far more testing than at Newmarket a month ago, but Churchill confirmed the racing adage, that the best ones can ‘go in any ground’. It was a decent performance from Thunder Snow in second, and he looks set to have another crack at the Ballydoyle charge in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

O'Brien was clearly thrilled with the performance, saying: “He's a great horse and we're delighted with him. He sleeps, he relaxes and he quickens. He's a very exciting horse. The ground was a concern, but Donnacha (O'Brien) rides him in all his work and he said it'd be no problem, so that gave us great confidence to keep going. He's brave and versatile. Ground and trip all come alike to him and he has a lovely demeanour. He saves all the petrol, and when you ask him to quicken he quickens.”

And of the next move, O’Brien confirmed: “Coming here we were thinking we'd go from here to Ascot and he'll probably go for the St James's Palace Stakes. He'd have no problem stepping up to 10 furlongs later in the year. He's so relaxed and chilled.”

Ballydoyle’s imperious start to the campaign continued yesterday, when Winter added the Irish 1000 Guineas to her Newmarket success. This was a stunning performance from the filly, proving that the victory at HQ was no flash-in-the-pan. She cruised through the race, and picked off the leaders at the two-furlong mark. She powered clear under a hands-and-heels drive from Ryan Moore, winning eased down by just shy of five lengths.

It was quite striking at how powerful she looked among the field of eight. This was a display of complete dominance, visually every bit as impressive as Churchill 24 hours earlier. O’Brien was similarly impressed, when saying: “She's maturing all the time and is a really strong traveller. When Ryan let her down today she went into overdrive. She'll probably get further than a mile but the Coronation Stakes will be next, once her owners agree. All going well we'll have plenty of options. Do we stick to a mile and go for the Falmouth or wait and step her up in distance in the Nassau? All those decisions are ahead of us.”

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It takes plenty to get Ryan Moore excited, but his comments suggested this filly could be special: “It was very easy and she gave me a lovely ride. I couldn't have been more impressed with her – she was relentless and it rode like a piece of work for her. She's a very good filly. She's stepped forward from each of her runs and there's no reason why she won't keep on progressing.”

Whilst O’Brien’s dominance shows no sign of waning, the team did suffer a blow with news of an injury to Minding, forcing her to miss the Tattersalls Gold Cup on Sunday. She joins Seventh Heaven on the sidelines until later in the season. The pair are arguably the best fillies around, and though the yard is overflowing with talent, these two are sure to be missed over the summer. It’s hoped that they’ll be back on track for an autumn campaign.

Over at Haydock on Saturday, the fillies were also making the headlines, with Priceless a gutsy winner of the Group 2 Temple Stakes. Quick out the blocks, she was always prominent, and powered to the front at the two-furlong pole. Kept up to her work by Adam Kirby, she held off the fast finishing Goldream, with Alpha Delphini in third. The victory completed a Group 2 double on the day for trainer Clive Cox, having landed the Sandy Lane Stakes thanks to a stunning performance from Harry Angel.

Cox was winning back-to-back Temple’s, following the victory of Profitable under the same ownership 12 months ago. He went on to win the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot the following month.

A clearly delighted trainer spoke of the progressive filly, saying: “She's just getting better and better. Since we dropped her back to five furlongs she's just improved and taken a step up. She was very green in her younger days and we tried to stretch her out in trip, but bringing her back to five (furlongs) has been the making of her.”
Of Ascot he added: “It will be the King's Stand next, along with Profitable. Alan (Spence, owner and Chelsea director) is obviously at the Cup Final but I'm delighted to win this for him again as he's been a huge supporter. She's making up into a really strong filly and it's uncanny to win the same race again.”

Goldream may have proven a slightly unfortunate loser, having made a tardy start before flying at the finish. Should the ground be similarly quick at Ascot, connections will be confident of a bold show from the King’s Stand winner of 2015.

The disappointment of the race, though somewhat unsurprisingly, was the Karl Burke trained filly Quiet Reflection. The combination of minimum trip and fast ground took her out of her comfort zone. A rather sluggish start didn’t help, and she was stuck at the back of the field throughout.

Yesterday, her trainer appeared defiant, and far from disillusioned by her performance, when saying: “I came very close to pulling her out yesterday and heading to Chantilly next weekend, but you don't know what the ground will be like in a week's time and we decided to let her take her chance. She's not a five-furlong filly, at least we know that for sure now, and it ended up being a racecourse gallop.

“In hindsight, we probably should have run her in the Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh with the way the ground went there on Saturday, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. The main thing is she's got that run in now, which we wanted, she's come out of it well and we'll head for Royal Ascot. I was happy with how she ran and so was Martin (Harley). He said he felt she was just picking up in the last 100 yards after getting her second wind and another furlong will make a big difference.”

There’s no doubting that a step up to six-furlongs is sure to see Quiet Reflection at her best, though ground will also prove a crucial factor in her performance at the Royal Meeting.

For now attention turns to Epsom, as we gear-up for the Oaks and the Derby. Can O’Brien continue his dominance of the Classics, or can John Gosden apply the brakes to this Ballydoyle Juggernaut?