The announcement that Frankie Dettori will ride the Coolmore conglomerate’s Camelot in Sunday’s Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe has come as a huge shock in racing circles, writes Neill Dennehy. The question is, if Dettori is the sublimely talented, arrogant, big race Jockey that we think he is, then why has it come as such a shock? Books could be written on the Cold War between Coolmore and Godolphin so we won’t go there, but having been overlooked for countless big rides by the Boys in Blue this year, and only having the anachronism that is the Ascot Gold Cup to console himself with, isn’t it time that Dettori gave in to his primary urge as a top flight jockey to ride good horses again? This is the first sign in a long time that the fire is still burning.
The fact is that if Frankie isn’t riding pattern race quality animals, he might as well not be in racing at all. He has long made known his distaste for the mundane weekday fare of the British Flat Season and he is now viewed by many punters as something of a Placepot buster when indeed he does make the trip to some of the less salubrious tracks of a Monday or Tuesday. Days like this Sunday are why he is still in the game.
The question of disloyalty on the part of Dettori and the displeasure of Sheikh Mohammad at his decision have arisen too of course. While the Italian is breaking no rule with regard to his retainer, the fact that he failed to consult anyone in Godolphin at his choice of mount and the small matter of him informing the team by text that he would ride Camelot may be viewed as both disrespectful and unprofessional considering Godolphin have a runner in the race in Masterstroke. One could see it as a gentle reminder that he is still an in demand jockey on the big occasion having effectively been put on the shelf by his employers. Set against his simpering apology act after booting home Coolmore’s Scorpion in the 2005 St Leger, this is something of a departure.
This seems the action of an angry man who doesn’t see a long-term future for himself within the Godolphin operation.There has been a shift in the tide, this time last year, Dettori was the unequivocal number one, now it looks at best as if he is the victim of bad luck and Mikael Barzalona is getting on most of the best horses first and having won, is duly keeping the ride thereafter. More likely is that Dettori is now merely first jockey to Saed Bin Suroor and Barzalona likewise to Mohammad Al Zarooni. It is clear who seems to be getting the better end of the deal at the moment with the former trainer’s string bearing more resemblance to Mark Johnston’s than Aiden O’Brien’s of late. Perhaps Bin Suroor may be being incrementally eased towards the door as well.
So Frankie may be angry, an early summer Racing Post interview that came on the back of a Twitter rumour of his impending retirement suggests that something is certainly exercising the Italian. In that piece, Dettori seemed to lash out against a media whom he felt were writing his obituary because the horses he was riding were no good. The point he was putting across was that it was being portrayed that there was some link between the horses’ collective non-performance and him, when in fact; no one in the Racing media had suggested anything of the sort. It was a Classic case of misplaced anger and the first public sign of distress signals.
The knowledge that everything has to end sometime must have entered his head when the in demand Barzalonaentered the fray last year. Courted by Coolmore and rated by Fabre, he would surely have never come from France to ride second strings in maidens and at the backwater tracks that Dettori himself felt didn’t merit his time any more. MaybeFrankie has made a rod for his own back in being a little too vocal about how his talents should be best utilised?
The fact that Sunday may be the last time that Frankie rides a favourite in an Arc probably isn’t lost on him; neither will be that he may be risking his retainer to do it. Faced with the Boy wonder Barzalona and the diligent De Sousa, the crafty Italian may already be planning his exit strategy. With Joseph O’Brien’s weight sure to curtail his flat career in the not too distant future, perhaps Dettori is looking at taking up a role across the Irish Sea at Coolmore. He is after all racing box office and the lighter fixture schedule in Ireland would suit him. The journey from Newmarket could probably be made bearable by the thought of once again riding genuine Group 1 horses and while Aiden O’Brien likes his jockeys to ride work in the morning, such logistical obstacles can surely be overcome if there is a mutual will to do so.
It truly will be the end of an era if Dettori, always a fit in royal blue, does depart Godolphin. For a man feted for his loyalty, Sheikh Mohammad’s continuing decision to make Frankie swallow his professional pride is perplexing, he has certainly shown more compassion in the past to less gifted riders who haven’t served him with near the same distinction. As the face of British Racing said of himself in that Derby week interview, he is now just a ‘Foot Soldier’ in the Godolphin mass ranks. Definitely time to go then, pity Racing’s ultimate showman couldn’t leave the people that matter most wanting more.
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Neill Dennehy brings us his take on Camelot’s bid for the Triple Crown in the St Leger on Saturday, and he’s given an honest view of his defeat.
The signs were there, well maybe they were. Monday evening, a Listed race at Galway where barely a couple of furlongs of the mile and a half have passed. Joseph O’Brien is riding Chamonix and is being slightly held in by Ken Condon’s Macbeth. O’Brien bumps and barges his way out. The manoeuvre was unnecessary, at best bad etiquette, at worst reckless. The link between events here and what transpired at Doncaster on Saturday is too tenuous, but O’Brien’s actions in Monday’s race served as a reminder that he was still a young man making his way.
The mainstream racing media were reluctant to criticise Joseph for his effort on Camelot at Doncaster. A reluctance to speak out is understandable on many levels. Criticising a veritable racing powerhouse is rarely prudent, as is exemplified by the spurious reasoning put forward behind Camelot’s demise on terrestrial television last Saturday. It was suggested that the colt was carrying some kind of injury and wasn’t the same horse we saw in the Derby. In reality, what happened was that Camelot pulled for his head railing against the slow early gallop for a few furlongs, but then proceeded to tank all the way to the two pole and touch five to one on in running.
This was indeed the same horse that ran in the Derby; alas the extra two and a half furlongs of the St Leger clearly blunted his speed. In a sense, it was entirely reasonable for O’Brien to ride Camelot in the manner he did, but fatally, what he didn’t anticipate was the degree to which the extra distance would diminish Camelot’s turn of speed. In hindsight, rather than going for the rail, Joseph needed to get daylight, start rowing away on Camelot and gradually built up momentum in the manner that Barzalona did on Encke at the three pole. Joseph didn’t make his move in earnest until after the two, Camelot threw his head in the air recalcitrantly for a second, but then stayed on dourly to the finish closing down the three length gap Encke had opened up to a fast diminishing three quarters of a length at the line.
To ride Camelot for speed was understandable, but that doesn’t make it any less the wrong call. It is arguable that perhaps the opposition was underrated; extreme distances can sometimes bring horses closer together. Some will say that O’Brien was conserving suspect stamina, but this corner would be more of the opinion that the decisions Joseph took in the St Leger were governed by his blind faith in the brilliance of his mount, wanting to win with style and panache when really all that matters when trying to close out a Triple crown is the win.
What was required at Doncaster was an experienced head. A jockey who understood that horses will let you down more often than they will bail you out. Camelot needed winding up at the three pole, in the manner Moore hunted down At First Sight in the Derby on Workforce, or how Murtagh sent on Yeats early in his fourth Gold Cup. Jim McGrath’s call in Sea the Star’s Arc also comes to mind. “He’ll need to be a champion from there”, he said of the great colt as he sat buried on the rail in mid division just after turning in at Longchamp. Kinane pushed and kicked with a rare ferocity for the next few furlongs. Clear in the final eighth, he had the luxury of putting down his stick. The moral is that Kinane had given Sea the Stars the best chance to be “that champion”.
Incidentally, O’Brien sent on Chamonix real early in that Listed race last Monday night. He pushed and kicked for all he was worth well over four furlongs out winning at his leisure. Perhaps if he had shown such bloody mindedness on the Saturday Coolmore might now be commissioning a new statue. Whatever, kudos to Mr Barzelona, the talented, youthful foreigner who has had more than his fair share of critics. The strange thing about the mainstream’s reluctance to assess truly Joseph’s ride is that I doubt the young man would be at all perturbed by the critique. We can see from the way he rides that he is an intensely independent minded, confident young man who wouldn’t be put off by a few hurlers on the ditch. He’ll come again and doesn’t require any apologists.
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Resurrecting a Division – Pearl Secret
Britain has seen many worthy Group 1 calibre sprinters grace its shores in recent seasons, but aside from the 2012 Royal Ascot cameo of the exceptional Black Caviar, few enough of them have quickened the pulse and it is clear that sprinting is deemed the poor relation of not just British, but European Racing. There have been high points, such as the remarkable Borderlescott graduation story, and the likes of the admirable Marchand D’Or and the mercurial Kingsgate Native peddling their wears around the fast fives and sixes of Ascot, York and Newmarket; Australian import Starspangledbanner even went close enough to what would in boxing parlance be referred to as ‘unifying the division’ in 2010, but the racing public has never really had the sense of seeing a true star in the ascension in the manner of a Lochsong, an Oasis Dream, or a Green Desert. Today’s 5 furlong Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York may go some way towards making sprinting fashionable again in the UK if the Pearl Bloodstock owned David Barron trained son of Compton Place Pearl Secret belies his inexperience to hit the heights that many racing fans believe he is capable of reaching.
For his North Yorkshire based trainer David Barren who saddled his first winner some 41 years ago, it has been a long road towards getting his hands on a horse as good as this. What began as messing around with a few jumpers graduated to his first winner Miss Import, a hardy sprinting mare who won two on the bounce with no less than Piggot on board before being sold to race in America, it was a start. Barron stands today as perhaps the shrewdest, yet still one of the most underrated trainers in the UK. The racehorse game is a metaphor for life more generally, and Barron has made a living for the last 40 years taking his all too finite resources and placing them where they will be most effective. Having made his name as a trainer primarily of Sprinters, Barron is renowned for his ability to place horses to win and shows a healthy 17% strike rate at the shorter distances while punters backing him blindly since 2008 will have been in profit to a princely 18%.
The stony faced Yorkshire man has plied his trade like most, with primarily moderate horses, but like any stable that has survived this long, there have been significant standard bearers that have carried the can and no doubt paid for a few of the lesser lights along the way. Barron appears to be right at the peak of his powers this season with high end handicapper Waffle having run second in the Wokingham amongst other creditable efforts and handicap graduate Hitchens running on for third in a quagmire of a July Cup, other Group races are surely at his mercy, particularly in Ireland where he has travelled successfully in the past. The improving Poet’s Place also won the Portland for good measure. These three stable stars were preceded by the late blooming talent that was Coastal Bluff, in ways, his career was a blue print of theirs, that of steady progression from handicaps to something better culminating in him dead heating in the Nunthorpe of 1997, his bit having snapped just leaving the gate, it must have been the difference, but then he picked up both the Stewards’ and Ayr Gold Cups in the Summer of 1996 and these things are always more about the journey all said.
Barron doesn’t strike one as the overly sentimental type, but he clearly recognised something special in Coastal Bluff, a horse that had done him a turn in a stable of twicers, who had delivered on the big day, a prince among swine. He was keen to reward him with a well-deserved retirement once he felt he was past his best, it led to an unseemly public spat which finally concluded in late October 1998 with the sale of Coastal Bluff at the Autumn Newmarket Sales for 17,000 guineas. Having earned over 200,000k in his career and by now at the age of six being past his best, two dire performances allied with a history of breathing problems had caused the three quarters owner of Coastal Bluff David Sharpe to feel it was time to draw a line under his involvement with the horse and chose the auction ring as the means to break up his partnership with Barron. (Barron, had bought Coastal Bluff as a yearling for 2,700 guineas and sold three-quarters of him as a two-year-old to Sharp for pounds 6,000) The trainer dropped out of the bidding before Sharp entered at 10,000 guineas. Barron was said to have had tears in his eyes as he bade farewell to what had been his greatest servant.
“This is a dreadful day,” he said. “I just can’t afford to pay that sort of money to retire a horse but I would have given my share to the other owner if he had promised not to race him again. But my gate is always open to Coastal Bluff if his new owners ever want to find somewhere for him. And he’d never have a saddle put on his back again.”
What all of this tells us is that Barron has something against which to measure the qualities of Pearl Secret and racecourse performances to date suggest that this straight talking Yorkshire man may finally again have found a horse befitting of his training talent. Decades of training racehorses has taught Barron to be reserved in his public assessments of his racehorses, but the talent of Pearl Secret has been so obvious that it has been unable to go unacknowledged. Upon debut last backend, he was well backed and duly blitzed a field of maidens at York – his immense promise was immediately apparent and was confirmed the following April at Doncaster in listed company to those hitherto unaware of his abilities. Despite the bad ground that day, the worst Pearl Secret had encountered (his dam had handled it well incidentally) , as the betting suggested, he again won easily, a particularly impressive element of the performance being how quickly he made up ground off of a slow pace. In truth, were he to be as good as they hoped, he just had to win that day regardless of the conditions. His reputation as a top class sprinter in the making was rubber stamped in the Scurry Stakes at Sandown where drawn disadvantageously far off the rail, and again having to be dropped in off a slow pace, Pearl Secret was workmanlike in victory in a race that is working out well.
Barron has always been frank about the how good Pearl Secret is. He has often referred to Pearl Secret’s natural speed and regards him as the quickest horse he has ever had. A nervous disposition has meant that he has been progressed steadily. The trainer has commented that he ‘has got to learn to cope, as there is no use being able to run if he can’t handle it.’ But not tempering enthusiasm too much the Barron added ‘he has so much ability, he has no need to get worried.’ After all, this is a horse that was too good for handicap company after his third race in a division where three year olds have traditionally struggled. An Ascot entry was scrapped due to the occasion being too big, but he is expected to be there next year as a more mature 4yo, both physically and mentally, the Nunthorpe was always the prime 3yo target. It may sound anodyne, but he is still learning. His over exuberance meant that it took the colt a long time to learn to settle and for this reason Pearl secret was kept in training over the winter to tick over as 2 or 3 months idle at that stage of his development would have made a horse so aware of his surroundings too fresh and keen.
Physically, he is described by Barron as a fine type of horse with a great walk, he carries plenty of condition, a real bull of a sprinter and with his distinctive white markings his form certainly strikes as an appropriate vessel for his prodigious talent. As mentioned, Barron has not always been the recipient of such obvious likely lads and the willingness of bloodstock agent David Redvers and the prominent new young racing owner Sheikh Fahad to spread their bloodstock interests amongst a number of the small and medium sized trainers has certainly been to his advantage. An anecdote from his recent interview on Racing UK about how he acquired the services of Lester Piggot to ride Miss Import all those years ago is quite illuminating. He spoke of how ‘in the good old days’, he could speak to Piggot himself directly and how he hadn’t had to go through any agents, he struck as a man who seemed completely averse to networking or self-promotion and this reluctance along with a clear bias towards the South in Racing must clearly be a big part of why Barron has perhaps not trained the number of high class horses his talent has warranted.
Barron’s focus on Sprinters has been through necessity, the situation was summed up most succinctly by the man himself in a recent Racing UK interview with Lydia Hislop. His is a reality is constrained by finance and a fast precocious horse doesn’t necessarily have a strong pedigree. Barron looks for a model; a horse that looks like it can gallop regardless of pedigree and is situated towards the middle or lower end of the market. It is furrow ploughed at the mid-range extremely successfully by the Doyle/ Hannon combination and Bill Turner is a good example of someone who can extract early season winners from even the most modest of purchase prices. In Horseracing, the further a horse goes, the more its pedigree seems to out, this fact is seen most readily in the Coolmore stallions dominance of the Epsom Derby and it is noticeable how all the major middle distance races in Europe are either dominated by Coolmore, or powerful owner breeders like the Aga Khan or Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte which is probably pound for pound the leading operation in the world right now. Staying horses need pedigree, this pedigree doesn’t come cheap and equally importantly, they also need time. For example, Guy Harwood, the trainer of Dancing Brave did not believe in racing horses until they were at least two years and three months old, for most staying types, this means only light training until at least late summer. This approach is one adopted by current trainers such as Sir Michael Stoute and even commercially motivated operations like Coolmore appear to be gravitating back towards this approach.
Small and medium sized trainers cannot afford to ‘keep horses on forever.’ They need to be able to look at one and say ‘it could win or it couldn’t.’ It could take years for a big weak staying horse to get strong enough to win races, and that is taking on trust that the horse has any ability in the first place. The pursuit simply isn’t economically viable for most trainers. They ‘don’t have the time.’ David Barron is probably acutely aware that Pearl Secret is the most talented individual he is ever likely to get a hold of. Whatever happens today, he should have an exciting horse to go to war with this season and next as Pearl Secret’s lack of 2yo profile and his being by the Steady Eddie sire Compton Place mean that he is unlikely to be in huge demand at stud in the immediate future. However, this might be as good a Group 1 opportunity as the colt is ever likely to get. York is the fastest Group 1 five furlongs in Britain and the strong early pace and easy finish it produces is really in Pearl Secret’s favour, add to this the softening of the ground upsetting main rivals Ortensia (a little) and Sole Power and Bated Breath a lot and the stars may be aligning for this exciting young colt. Roger Charlton may protest that Bated Breath ‘deserves’ a Group 1, but this corner would reckon that David Barron merits one considerably more. Bated Breath is a known quantity, and Pearl Secret has star quality, I know the result I’d like to see. Ortensia probably has the class edge on Meydan running taking into account collateral form with the Lynam and Charlton runners, but if Pearl Secret can overcome his lack of experience, this could be a gilt edge chance. 5/1 is not over generous but it is tempting.
Fancy Pearl Secret for theYork Ebor Nunthorpe Stakes? Back him at 5/1 with Stan James for £10 and get your £10 free bet!
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The Irish Derby – Theories abound
What is supposed to be the main event in the Irish Racing calendar moved to a new Saturday evening slot last week and while the fixture list being dictated by the whims of RTE’s Ryle Nugent is nothing to be celebratory over, the 500 increase on the gate in the face of poor weather conditions meant that the occasion could be deemed a relative success. There are other factors to be considered though if the Irish Derby is going to become a permanent Saturday evening staple, the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes was denied terrestrial TV coverage this year and how the move to a Saturday evening affected the numbers through the gate on the Sunday is as yet unknown. A lot remains to be seen with this alteration.
It is the view of many that John Magnier saved Irish Derby day as a spectacle by declaring the superstar colt Camelot to run in the unseasonably heavy ground. Some have even seen it as an act of benevolence; however this corner would beg to disagree. The gesture was not so much noble as mutually beneficial for Coolmore and Irish Racing. Could connections have picked up the prize with Camelot’s mud loving stable mate Imperial Monarch? Maybe, but as we will see, it would not have been in the long term interest of Coolmore to pull Camelot out at the eleventh hour as the Irish Derby, so bereft in recent seasons, was badly in need of a star turn.
It was never to be the case on the prevailing ground that both Camelot and Imperial Monarch could have run. It would have been too close for comfort and it just wouldn’t have done to have the triple Group 1 winning matinee idol, his ‘wheels spinning’ ruffled up by the heavy ground, back end maiden winning character actor. That isn’t the way breeding empires are built, however much Aiden O’Brien protested in last week’s Racing Post that Coolmore were more willing than ever now to expose their horses, clearly it is only where the risk reward ratio is more in their favour.
The overriding factor and the motive behind Magnier’s behest that Camelot run was that a strong, vibrant Irish Derby is in the universal interest of Irish Racing. Coolmore took a short term hit in allowing Imperial Monarch to bypass the race for the Grand Prix de Paris, so that the debilitating effect of various Ballydoyle processions could be mitigated by the presence of Camelot this year. The result was perfect as given Camelot’s reputation as an extremely good mover, Coolmore would not like it to be seen that he relished the ground in any case. Likewise, it is doubtless that he will be ridden in the Ledger so as not to emphasise his stamina just in case he appears to relish the 14f trip a little too much.
Whatever about last weekend, the Irish Derby may have been irreparably damaged by the poor quality fields it has attracted in the last number of years. The reputation of the race has nosedived with Ballydoyle B-listers like Frozen Fire and Treasure Beach capturing recent renewals. Even more worrying than the winners has been the lack of depth in the field most years. The executive at the Curragh must work to attract more British and especially French competitors, who seem to, in light of the Coolmore stranglehold over the race, view it as too much of an away game. Certainly, the type of horse who perennially runs in the King Edward at Royal Ascot needs targeting, it may be a Group 2 race, but in certain years, the ‘Ascot Derby’ is a race almost as deep as its Curragh counterpart and no one could argue that the likes of Noble Mission and Thomas Chippendale would not have added to last Saturday’s event. We have reached a point now where Ireland’s premier Classic simply cannot do without this kind of horse as it is quite likely that next year’s Epsom Derby winner will not be around to save the show.
So why did Coolmore choose to run Camelot in an ailing race with ground conditions all against him? Well firstly, it would appear that the appeasement of sponsors would have been somewhere on the agenda. Dubai Duty Free taking up the sponsorship of the Derby really got Irish Racing out of a hole. Financial support of any kind is difficult to find in this economic climate and the Irish government’s impending decision to ban the sponsorship of sporting events by drinks companies has made the problem of securing support for the various Irish races all the more acute. As such, it was important that the best field possible showed up at the Curragh last weekend in order to keep the sponsors sweet.
Secondly, as mentioned, upholding the reputation of the Irish Derby is very much in the interests of Coolmore as the Curragh is a place where big reputations are salvaged almost as often as they are made. The Curragh is the fairest track and often the final refuge of the beleaguered equine star that may have failed at Newmarket or Epsom, the opposition being a little too stiff for so early in the year. At home, he will often find the pace, dictated by a stable mate, a little more comfortable, the ground watered or not to his liking, and there is far less of a likelihood of trouble in running. The likes of Mastercraftsman and several Irish derby winners are clear examples of this phenomenon.
Thirdly, The Irish Derby has also proved a rich seam for Coolmore to exploit as a means of selling on horses. Shares, entire or otherwise of nearly all the recent Irish Derby winners have been sold, a stud can only stand so many sons of Galileo and Montjeu after all. The likes of Soldier of Fortune (standing in France at Haras du Logis Saint Germain for 10k), Cape Blanco (standing in America for Coolmore at 17.5K but has been sold in part to Jim and Fitri Haye along with Fame and Glory and Treasure Beach, all previous Irish Derby winners). The quirky 2008 Derby winner Frozen Fire (3k) was sold to race in South Africa and is now standing at Coolagown Stud in Fermoy County Cork. All of these sales were made in part or in most cases largely on the back of Irish Derby successes. The common denominator amongst all of these Derby winners is that none of them were deemed to have profiles commercially desirable enough to stand in Ireland for Coolmore as flat stallions. That says something for the race and suggests that it is no longer associated with excellence. There is a possibility that Cape Blanco could return at some point, being the most commercially feasible of the set, but it is remote and he could soon be joined on foreign soils by another Irish Derby winner in Dylan Thomas (the last true champion of consequence to run in the race before Camelot) his fee has crashed alarmingly down to 12k.
The recent history of the Irish Derby suggests that Imperial Monarch’s Classic was sacrificed so that 5 more like him can go and win the race and then be sold to go and stand as stallions somewhere else. Camelot ran in order to reinvigorate the race and bring up its average rating. The move proved to be a masterstroke. It was good public relations, and showed bravery and foresight on the part of the Coolmore operation. It will prove beneficial to Coolmore from the point of view of Camelot’s campaigning in that it allows them to plot a more conservative course without fear of reproach. The fact Camelot has had a hard race on heavy ground means that few can now quibble with his right to a mid-season break. This allows connections to dodge a meeting with Frankel in the Juddmonte and not lose face. There is no reason why Coolmore would want Frankel beaten and it makes even less sense exposing Camelot against him. It seems a great result all round, that is unless you are a racing fan!! Connections of Frankel do not seem predisposed to pursuing risk, seeing Black Caviar nearly getting beaten will probably make them even more steadfast in their position. The possibility of an appearance on the dirt track, under the lights at Santa Anita in November seems more remote now than ever. We need to see him do more and the most illuminating take so far on the situation was put forward by Chris McGrath on ATR’s Sunday Forum, not being a great one for direct quotes, I’m almost sure that the substance of what he said was the following: ‘Frankel’s greatest blessing will ultimately be his most limiting factor- that is being trained by Henry Cecil.’
At what point did the unbeaten record become a weight around his neck?
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Campaigning a Great
Frankel v Camelot in the Juddmonte International at York over ten and a half furlongs, it is a strong possibility according to Sir Henry Cecil, writes Neill Dennehy. The master of Warren Place has stated that after his Ascot exertions this week, Frankel will go again in the Sussex Stakes over a mile at Goodwood and will back up at York three weeks later finally sating the desire of many racing fans to see the son of Galileo step up in trip. Cecil has also observed the race sponsored by his main patron Prince Khalid Abdullah as a fitting target for Coolmore’s unbeaten dual Classic winner Camelot in between engagements at the Curragh in the Irish Derby and a tilt at the Triple Crown in Doncaster’s St Leger. Exciting times ahead it seems, but it could all unravel quite easily and if these two great colts are to meet, it seems more likely it will be in the new Ascot Champion Stakes over a mile and a quarter.
Ordinarily, this was a clash we could expect to see, the Derby winner taking on the top older horse in training is usually the natural progression going into high summer, but two factors have muddied the waters, this Derby winner has won a Guineas which means the sceptre of the Triple Crown looms, while it is the easier root, its history dictates that the Leger can justifiably take precedence over other targets with the unique treble having not been completed since Nijinsky some forty years ago. The long straight at Doncaster may call to mind nostalgic days of past glories for John Magnier and of musings of history ‘meaning more’ now in his time of life, but the Leger also serves as a handy way of avoiding Frankel. Additionally, while Leger winners on their own may not be in vogue with flat breeders, a Triple Crown winner is a different proposition altogether, a stallion marketer’s dream in fact.
The other thing to consider is that Coolmore may not necessarily want to expose their new star by pitting him against Frankel, unbeaten records are prized in European racing and given Frankel’s sire and the fact that he is owned by a friendly competitor (It was under a mutual agreement on nominations between Coolmore and Juddmonte that led to Kind, Frankel’s dam, being sent to Gallileo), there is little reason why Coolmore would want to see Frankel beaten either. Certainly, the Irish juggernaut do not need the scalp of Frankel to ‘make’ Camelot, the Montjeu colt’s reputation was cemented after he crossed the line in the 2000 Guineas having also been Champion Two Year Old, add this to the fact that Montjeu himself died last March and that Camelot was his first Group 1 winner over a mile at 3 years in Europe and one is left with a package that is almost as commercially desirable as Frankel himself. The sink may have thrown at Sea the Stars, but he was by Cape Cross, a Darley stallion so this is an entirely different set of circumstances and this corner wouldn’t be surprised if the clash never occurred at all. So a Triple Crown, but at what cost? A season passed where all three of Frankel, Black Caviar and Camelot campaigned in the UK but none of them met would be a most wretched thing.
Frankel’s campaign looks set to be mapped out after the Queen Anne along the lines of the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in the first week of August, backing up in the Juddmonte later for the step up to ten and a half furlongs and then rounding off in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket in early October assuming all goes well with new distance. The Breeders Cup looks a remote possibility as seemingly Sir Henry has never much cared for the meeting and in any case doesn’t view it as holding the same relevance that it once did. His indifference with all matters stateside is allied with a keenness to support the still fairly new concept of Ascot’s own ‘Champions Day’
As mentioned, the Master of Warren Place has also suggested that the Juddmonte would also be a suitable target for Camelot, falling as it does nicely between the Irish Derby and the Leger, but the wisdom of stepping down to 10.5f in the run up to tackling the Leger would surely be questionable. The easy nature of the course would also surely be in Frankel’s favour and Coolmore would surely have to employ a whole raft of Group 1 calibre pacemakers in order to make it a sufficient test of stamina for Camelot to overturn Frankel. One would get the sense that if Cecil had his choice of where to take on Camelot, this would be the place, with the Coolmore horse building to an equally big target a few weeks later and the nature of the course playing so much to Frankel’s strengths. That is not necessarily to say that Frankel should have anything to fear, if he improves the 3 or 4 pounds which Cecil anticipates from his Lockinge effort and this is added to the improvement expected from stepping up in trip, there is a strong possibility that it could be an easy victory for the Galileo colt. Seeing as Frankel’s plans look set in stone, it looks like Coolmore will have to do the chasing if they want this match. If the clash is to occur, it will be on Champions Day.
The day would be aptly named were these two to meet there. Frankel is a great horse, to doubt his ability seems absurd at this point, but as yet, he hasn’t displayed the versatility that the great horses typically do, or at least, he hasn’t been allowed to. The campaigning of Frankel has been conservative, there is little getting away from that, especially when compared with what Camelot has done in just 4 races and the breath of what Sea the Stars did in just 6 in 2009. Frankel started off over a mile at 2 and has only deviated from there to go back to 7 to take in the Dewhurst and the Greenham in his 2 1/2 seasons in training. His Guineas was explosive, a performance fit to define any horse and he passed his acid test against Canford Cliffs with consummate ease, but still we crave a bit more, to see him tested and pushed to the limits of his ability.
He has been held back because of his exuberant nature, that Guineas performance while breath taking inhibited his short term options. It was backed up by an Ascot struggle where he was mishandled, mired in ineptitude and nearly done in by a Coolmore B-lister , his lungs bursting and crying for the line, he survived. Early in his 3yo career, he was being stoked up on flag fall in Classics and sent on from the 4 pole at Ascot to chase down his pacemaker, it was crazy stuff, contrast it with how Kinnane handled STS and O’Brien has delivered Camelot. It is a small wonder there is any horse left at all now, not to mind one in his prime and coiled, ready to produce his best. One thing is for certain, horses ridden like Frankel was at Newmarket and Ascot don’t win unless they are exceptional. It could be that he has already met his toughest challenges. Connections may be guilty of taking these races too literally in terms of assessing his prospects at 10f. When left to his own devices at Goodwood, he settled beautifully and powered away at the finish still looking to have plenty in the tank. This and his run in the QE11 suggested that Frankel’s Guineas and St James’ Palace Stakes runs should be disregarded as pointers to his future prospects at 10f. Thinking on 10 furlongs, might there be a hint of regret regarding the Derby and what might have been. In recent times, a tearaway like New Approach looked to have pulled his chance away only to cross the line in front leaving one to think that Frankel might have won the Derby running on fumes and innate talent. It’s the Derby after all, John Oxx spoke of the invisible brick wall at the two pole and still he sent Sea the Stars. Would the scalp of Camelot provide connections with some recompense for not taking the plunge last June? Surely the mind must wonder occasionally and think what if?
Sporting as it was to keep him in training, he is now commercially bullet proof and nothing that happens between now and the end of the season could possibly dent the eye watering fee he will command as a first season sire. In truth, his place at the top table at stud was sewn up after the Dewhurst. A fast, precocious son of Galileo was always going to be in demand, the Guineas and the fact that he trained on was the icing on the cake and meant that a mega covering fee could justifiably be charged. This fuels the sense that Frankel should really now be running in the Eclipse or the Prince of Wales.
Connections could well be stepping him up in trip a little late in the day in waiting for the Juddmonte. Beating the same horses again in Excellebration and Strong Suit will prove nothing. Even the Sussex, while bringing something new, doesn’t look that exciting as the upcoming crop of 3yo’s don’t look up to much. It is time to be sporting in the truest sense and seek a new challenge. Unless Frankel shows more versatility, there really will have been little purpose in the competitive sense in keeping him in training to do everything he did before last season. Leaving it till the last third of the season to go up in distance brings its own problems. If the Juddmonte is a weak or small field event this year which it can often be, Frankel beating tomato cans over 10.5 furlongs off of a dawdling gallop will prove nothing and connections and the wider public will learn little of his true merit at the new distance.
This likely outcome will have his team heading to the Champion Stakes without a clear idea of where the horse is. For what it’s worth, I believe Frankel will get 10f easily and such is his talent the 12f trip would easily be within his compass as well. But supposing Frankel goes and hacks up in the Champion Stakes after York with plenty left in the tank and looking like he would relish another two furlongs, that is all fine and well, but the problem with that is the Arc has just been run two weeks previously and here now you have a horse who could have run in and most likely won it. If connections stepped up Frankel earlier in the season, they would most likely have encountered a strongly run 1m2f (drop in behind So You Think and you’ll know exactly where you can and cannot go for the rest of the season) and would therefore have known whether Frankel could have been an Arc horse. The result is that the public are left with more what ifs. Omitting the Derby was excusable, even understandable, but the situation it is all too probable that connections will find themselves in with regard to the Arc was completely avoidable, and that is racing’s loss.
We welcome Neill Dennehy back to the Tavern, who brings us his thoughts on the boys in blue and their success, or apparent lack recent of success, in their world operations.
Gore Vidal once said something to the effect that ‘every time he saw a friend succeed, he died a little.’ One would imagine that this quote could apply equally or even more so to the success of a rival, competitor or even an enemy. The racing world witnessed a certain détente in March at the Dubai World Cup meeting, but in truth, racing’s equivalent of the Cold War will not end until the day Galileo or the equivalent Coolmore super sire of the time bears over one of Sheikh Mohammad’s choicely bred band of broodmares. While the presence of Wrote, Daddy Long Legs and most notably So You Think at Meydan did much to thaw strained relations and build bridges, if there is a red telephone connecting Dubai and Rosegreen, we’ve yet to see evidence of it and positions are polarized further by the fact on the evidence of the racetrack, one side looks more in need of making that difficult phone call than the other.
It looks likely to be another arduous season for Godolphin and the success of the Coolmore operation juxtaposed against Sheikh Mohammad’s toiling outfit suggests that last season’s 2yo and Classic successes may have been a false dawn. Loss making and underachievement can often be confused, but given the massive annual investment, Sheikh Mohammad must be nothing if not a little disappointed with his yield. As his two highly promising fillies Discourse and Lyric of Light trailed home last and second last in the opening fillies classic of the season, the Sheikh could be forgiven for wondering a) where it had all gone wrong, and b) whether this would be a sign of things to come for the season. Mandaen provided little relief in the Dante and the jokes that often come with the failure of a Godolphin recruit from another stable once again rang a little too true for comfort even amongst the apologists. Worse still, being unrepresented in the two premier stallion making races in Europe, the Epsom Derby and the Newmarket 2000 Guineas must rank as the unkindest cut of all.
While Sheikh Mohammad’s operation maintains an iron grip on UK horseracing, holding the fate of the whole industry in the palm of one’s hand can be a joyless pursuit without the sweet reassurance of a little success on the days that matter. Despite amazing early success, after the bones of 20 years on the UK racing scene, it was expected that this Godolphin operation would be a little further along the line in terms of attaining big race successes. With hundreds of horses in training and huge feeder yards operating in England and France, it is not unreasonable to expect a good deal more. Something has to change, with the measure of preparing horses for Classic campaigns by wintering them in Dubai largely having been discredited, it seems that it has been shown that it pays not to disrupt the rhythm that is the daily life of the thoroughbred, perhaps that should also include dispensing with the practice of uprooting Classic prospects from their trainers at the end of their 2yo careers. The career paths of Casamento, Dubai Prince and many more dictate that this isn’t best practice either. While these moves on the part of the Sheikh may not be the deciding factors in the operations lack of success in recent times, it generally pays to shut the back door and get the simple things right from the off.
It could be time to reconfigure the team and it may be that Sheikh Mohammad should not have as much direct influence. A position in the back seat may be a little easier to swallow if the Dubai magnate felt he was getting a little more bang for his buck with regard to track success. Could it be to a certain degree that a brigade of backslapping yes-men are costing or at least inhibiting his team from succeeding on the track? It is time to delegate to someone who is more qualified and able to be the head and brains of this operation, the alternative is to continue to be out thought and out manoeuvred by those with more expertise and skill. It also must now be the time to start utilising the likes of Stoute and Cecil (again), if they are the masters that they are so widely acclaimed to be, than surely it is a mistake not to avail of their experience and expertise. It could be that the Sheikh does not appreciate being dictated to, but if the move were to bring results, than surely it would be a price worth paying. Who’s to say that the relationship couldn’t operate on an equal footing, whatever, the material benefits of a training arrangement with a Stoute or a Cecil would be that they would have the great man’s ear and that their years of nous and experience could put the operation back on the correct footing. The Godolphin team have been dogged for years by rumours surrounding their ‘overtraining’ of horses, it is time to stop ‘leaving it on the gallops.’ The appointment of a second trainer is at least a step in the right direction. There is clearly a problem on the executive level, the results bear this out. Success in their own almost playground like realm in Meydan is one thing, but the attraction of the racing out there is chiefly in its almost vulgar amounts of prize money, the Dubai World Cup is not prestigious enough to make stallions, it is held at the ‘wrong time of year’ and the decision to move it from Dirt to Tapeta has taken away much of the American interest.
Things clearly need to change or success will continue to be forfeited, starting with the boycotting of the Coolmore stallions at the sales. While Coolmore have not been able to benefit from Sheikh Mohammad’s billions at the sales, the stand-off has indirectly strengthened their position. It is time surely to take the radical step of accepting defeat in the stallion wars, to swallow pride for the greater good of the whole operation and racing in general. A strong Godolphin is in everyone’s interests and has benefits that will long-term be felt universally. To continually take a hiding from an operation who have a considerably shallower pool of resources, but who possess far more innate horse intelligence and commercial nous must be a painful process, so why go on with it? It is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, why have one of the best broodmare bands in the world but refuse to use the best stallions? The essential theory of breeding is ‘the best with the best’ after all. The operation in its present guise, while sustainable is underachieving hugely and one could use much stronger words than that.
All is not lost however and while Godolphin does not have anything in their stallion band of the quality of Galileo or Montjeu, they do have some seriously high end stallions in the likes of Street Cry, Dubawi, Cape Cross, Shamardal and Exceed and Excel. They have also bought into the Coolmore bloodlines with Teofilo and New Approach who are both sons of Galileo; the early signs for these two look promising, Gallileo has the promise to perhaps become a great sire of sires and this mitigate the relative disappointment that has been Authorized. Godolphin have struggled for Group 1 winners for years and the team has struggled even more so for Group 1 winners by Darley Stallions, if they could get their broodmares to a better quality of stallion, than there could be less reliance on the sales, private and yearling purchases which would give the operation a more stable and sustainable feel. It is frightening to think that their last miler of consequence was Ramonti, their last middle distance colt to turn heads Shamardal. It has been too long and the racing public wants them back, the criticism as the Americans say ‘comes from a good place.’
The strength of their broodmare band dictates that Darley are capable of producing homebred Group 1 winners, they just need to focus less on numbers and more on quality as well as being open to using the Coolmore stallions. Failing this, they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle in trusting the likes of Dubawi or New Approach can come through as super sires, they are good and have the potential to be better than that but the Derby record of Montjeu shows that they are light years away from what is required at the top table for now.
Talented young journalist Neil Dennehy is back at the Horse Racing Tavern with his take on the highly publicised 2012 Grand National at Aintree.
“After the race we saw the loose horses running in and we were looking for him, but he never came.”
What a fantastic Grand National. While the deaths of the Gold Cup winner Synchronised and the admirable According to Pete were very sad and unfortunate, we should not allow ourselves to say that they marred an amazing race and one of the greatest finishes ever witnessed in the Aintree marathon. Don’t Push it, Ballabriggs and now Neptune Collognes ridden expertly by Daryl Jacob have done much to bury the old eleven stone rule and it seems that the compression of the weights has meant that the Grand National is now a far more compelling spectacle for the purist. The sight of a Gold Cup horse who had lost a bit of his old kick chasing down a high class handicapper in Sunnyhillboy who had plied his trade at chasings sharp end for the previous three seasons gave the race a sense of the substantial which was added to by the effort of the now graded level Irish performer Seabass and one time Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Cappa Bleu further back in third and fourth. The result looked classy enough that it could have been that of a Newbury Hennessey where the second season chasers haven’t come up to scratch. This edition of the National declared emphatically that Aintree’s marathon spectacular could accommodate class horses and that weight can be given away. Messrs Nicholls and Henderson must be licking their lips in anticipation of next year already and surely the sound jumping sturdy citizens at Gigginstown can provide something for it after the exploits of the unfancied Tharawat in eighth and given the number of Grade 1 calibre chasers they currently boast. If Neptune Collognes off 11st 6lbs can give give the weight then surely with a top weight of 11st 10lbs, other Gold Cup horses ex and current will give it a twist. John Hales’ grey now heads off into the sunset in a blaze of glory befitting of a horse who won Grade 1s in a very competitive era of staying chasing, who led Denman for a circuit in the 08’ Gold Cup and Kauto Star for all but a furlong in the same race. This exit was as fitting for this old grey warrior as the losses of Synchronised and According to Pete were undeserved. It was a case of two much loved horses chasing glory on the premise that ‘it will always be someone else’s horse,’ such is life and hard as it is there’s not light without dark.
Record crowds and betting turnover, excellent television viewing figures in all probability and a broad acknowledgement that it still holds its position as one of the great occasions in British sport. So what’s the problem with the Grand National? As the above suggests, the executive at Aintree are getting an awful lot right, and if we are honest, what is perceived by some as being wrong is likely to be nigh on impossible to fix if what makes the National essentially the National is to remain. The problem of course is that once again yesterday, two horses died during the course of the race. Distressing as this is, most people who know the sport of National Hunt racing will understand that ameliorating this situation will most likely go hand in hand with neutering the greatest steeplechase in the world. What the British Racing authorities have to ask themselves is whether it would be right to do that. These after all are horses and not human beings, much loved and all as they are. They are doing what they were bred to do and the National Hunt breed of racehorse in itself would not even exist but for horseracing. That is not to say that this gives racing people a right to do whatever they like with these animals, but given the overall picture, the wonderful standard of living and high level of treatment experienced by most racehorses day in day out, I don’t think what happened on Saturday constituted abuse. By and large, racehorse trainers and their establishments are a shining beacon for good animal husbandry and the race last Saturday is one of the essential pursuits that a National Hunt Steeplechaser is bred for.
It is worth mentioning the public policy concerns that surround this race. It is the centrepiece of a meeting over three days that brings tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds of revenue into the Merseyside area every spring. Apologies if bringing money into this sounds vulgar, but it is warranted, as it is an important factor in any decision that will be made over the future of the race. The Grand National meeting has a wide reaching effect and creates revenue streams both directly and indirectly for a significant number of people in the local area. Therefore, it seems appropriate to beg the question as to whether reducing the spectacle of the race by lowering the fences and reducing the field would be in the interest of the British public more generally in this harsh economic climate. If the spectacle is lessened, the crowd over time would naturally dwindle and local businesses would lose a source of revenue they could once hang their hat on. Is tinkering with this race somewhat irresponsible or is that a stretch? These are certainly factors if not deciding ones.
It is not as if the people at Aintree racecourse have not taken heed of the concerns of animal welfare groups in any case. Plenty of changes to the great race have been made in recent times. Racing followers have seen the drops lessened and height taken off of the fences, much to the chagrin of some who wish to see the National as a ‘proper test’ of a chaser preserved. The problem organisers face is that there is always going to be an inherent risk in running a race of the nature of the Grand National and if the race is retain anything of its character, there will likely always be accidents. Part of the issues faced in modifying the National course is that racing mortalities can be very difficult to legislate for. It could be argued that the death of According to Pete who was brought down could have been avoided if there was a smaller field size or perhaps the track been a little wider. However, we see horses being brought down in 10 runner as well as 40 runner fields, it is not as likely to occur but it still happens. How do we know for sure that it was the field size that was material in According to Pete being brought down? Supposing we do have fewer runners and one day we see another horse being brought down, what should the organisers do then? Reduce the field size even further? The fact is that we can mitigate risk but never fully remove it and tinkering is all well and good but eventually the changes will become unsustainable if the race is to retain its essence and what makes it uniquely the Grand National.
Compressing the weights, lowering the fences and raising the prize money has meant that a better calibre of racehorse is coming to the race these days, a kind of horse that can set a strong gallop over the first six fences and keep going. This in itself will bring about a whole new set of challenges. If the saying that speed kills is to be believed, should the fences not be raised again in order to slow down these class horses? It is difficult to say and we will probably have to witness more fatalities in the years immediately coming so that there is a significant enough sample size that the team at Aintree can decide what is best to do. The recent modifications have not seemed to help the situation and it just brings home the dangers of being overly reactionary in situations like this. There is a perpetual sense year on year of a race in transition, yet this is allied with a feeling that everything that can be done to mitigate accidents has been done and with these classier types of horse going for the race, it is possible that the hand of artificiality has made the course more unsafe as faster horses brush breakneck through the top of fences.
It would seem from the immediate post race comments of Paul Nicholls that something about those who are anti Grand National seems to stick in his craw. There is always a feeling with this race that it brings out the ‘Carnival of Death’ readership brigade that are generally keen to jump on any sort of bandwagon. He is probably right to question their bona fides as it is likely that if two horses are killed summer jumping at Cartmel in a few weeks, they will not be heard from as they will have found something else to occupy themselves by then. This isn’t putting a slant or anything, it is just fact. The idea of the BHA ever pointing this fact out however is public relations madness in the cosmetic world we live in it is better to be seen to be open to outside influence, even if that outside influence is uninformed and one is just paying lip service. What is vital is that animal welfare groups do not become the driving force behind the BHA’s policy formulation process as dancing to their tune is a dangerous game in the long term. The RSPCA for example is a charity and should stick with that as it does great work, however as a charity, it has neither the standing nor the expertise to dictate to the BHA the manner in which British Horseracing should be run. It can also be said that some of the comments made by a certain animal welfare organisations during the reformation of the whip rules ranged variously from inappropriate to derogatory towards British horse racing.
With this in mind, if the racing authorities cow tow to these movements with regard to their policy, it is giving them a legitimacy that they do not deserve when set against their recent public outbursts on the whip issue. What is more, it would make the BHA look somewhat toothless. British racing must be careful not to back itself into a corner where they can deal only in black and white and where the arbitrary triumphs. Horseracing is a complex sport and the welfare issues surrounding it even more so. One can lower the National fences by another foot; it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be fewer accidents. Does the BHA want British National Hunt Racing to share the same fate as its Australian counterpart? Change, even by degree always has to finish somewhere. Who wants to preside over the beginning of the end? It’s time to be strong.
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Neill Dennehy reflects on the career and breeding of the great sire Montjeu, and the influence he’ll have on champions to come.
The death of the great Coolmore sire Montjeu has sent shock waves throughout the breeding industry, but the impact has been felt alike by racing fans who enjoyed the thrill of seeing Montjeu race on the track and who will continue to follow the careers of his progeny in the seasons to come. At his peak, the best racehorse ever produced by the perhaps the greatest sire of all time Saddler’s Wells travelled with an élan and verve that was unmistakable, rarely has a middle distance colt travelled so sweetly and this was probably captured best in the 2000 King George where he went past Group 1 horses like they were standing still, he was as the call said ‘laughing at them.’ Montjeu was prodigious in his capacity to pass on his outstanding ability to his offspring, this is best testified to by the fact that out of only 8 crops of 3yos, he has sired 3 Derby winners. Despite succumbing to septicaemia at the age of 16, he has still surely done enough to warrant being mentioned among the top sires of all time.
It is as a sire that Montjeu has exerted most influence. The mark he has left on the breed will be indelible, but given his exploits on the track, it would be reductive to say that he was just a great sire. Still, Montjeu’s exploits in the breeding shed will be what he is best remembered for. The consistency of quality he has produced in siring 15 separate Group 1 winners over such a short period of time has been simply astounding and has made his name synonymous with breeding excellence around the globe. In later years he has suffered from fertility issues which make his achievements all the more meritable. His first three year olds hit the track in 05’ where he was to have the first two home in both the Epsom and Irish Derbies, a St Ledger victor and an Arc hero. It was an incredible start and things just kept rolling from there. Along with his stud mate Galileo, he finally laid to rest the doubts that had arrested the great Saddlers Wells as a sire of sires. The breeding world had waited for years and along they came like buses and such has been their success, it seems folly now that anyone would ever have doubted that the old king would be capable of siring an heir to his throne.
It is against his fellow Coolmore stalwart Galileo that he is most oft compared. In many ways they have defined each other and at times it has just seemed like one long game of one-upmanship each one trumping the other only to be out done again. Montjeu would lay down a St. Nick only to be raised a Frankel, and on it will go for just a few years yet. By and large, comparisons with Gallileo have often been unflattering to Montjeu for various reasons that I will get to. But in simple terms, Montjeu has been derided for his inability to sire milers, his temperament, his head carriage and his stout German pedigree. His progeny can also often tend to need a bit of time. Galileo has been a superstar at stud, a stylish Derby winner, the level of unrelenting success he has attained in the breeding shed has surely surpassed the expectations of even his staunchest supporters. He is judged to have gotten substantially better mares than Montjeu over the piece, but breeding outcomes like the great Frankel suggest that any resources invested in Galileo are justified. At times, his ability to sire horses that can excel at shorter distances allied with the general sense of box office that seems to pervade him can make Montjeu seem akin to the brilliant radio presenter to whom television is unkind, always in the shadows.
It can be said that Montjeu has not had all the advantages that Galileo managed to avail of. Connections helped Galileo with high quality mares from the beginning. The same is not true of Montjeu who would have had good mares, but not the cream. Montjeu’s ability to stamp his progeny aligned with the relatively moderate nature of his early matings mean that he is probably as close to a self-made sire as one can find if that idea in itself isn’t too much of a contradiction in terms. His pedigree was German and packed with stamina to an almost unfashionable extent and at the time he went to stud, Saddler’s Wells had yet to have a son who had truly made a great fist of stallion duties. Out and out mile-and –half horses usually struggle at stud in the modern era, Derby winners like Motivator and at this early stage perhaps even Authorized and Dylan Thomas are a testament to this. The Tattersall’s Gold Cup over 10f fell to Montjeu, but that isn’t really a prestige Group 1 and despite his electrifying turn of foot, he would have been regarded by breeders as a stayer. In truth, while Monjeu’s place on the stallion roster at Coolmore was justified and worthy, he would have exceeded their expectations wildly in what he achieved.
It all seems almost incomprehensible now given the way things have turned out but it probably wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility then that Montjeu might end up as a National Hunt sire. Motivator’s Derby changed everything and it just underlines the fact that a really top notch sire will make the most of even limited opportunities. Galileo on the other hand, had always been the beneficiary of the Coolmore hype machine (July Cup entry for a horse that never even managed to win over a mile and a quarter), with his good looks, a not over big yet athletic frame that was very correct conformationally and also suggested precocity, he was deemed the heir apparent to Saddler’s Wells. His pedigree was also German but it hinted at speed with winners at a variety of trips. He is capable of getting relatively early 2yos. Monjeu on the other hand, was by some accounts, was not as prepossessing to the eye, taller narrower and with not quite as handsome a head, it looked like his offspring would need time and would not make up into two year old types. His family was not completely fashionable in that his dam and grand dam were both staying types which can be detrimental given the speed driven commercial nature of modern breeding. All of this lends itself to at earliest an autumn 2yo and a distance of at minimum 7f in most instances.
It might be a stretch to say Montjeu was expected to fail, but it is almost certain that there were high hopes that Galileo would be successful. In some ways it is a question as to one’s preference, a relatively early 2yo who looks the part and would have sold for plenty or the bigger more unfurnished sort who is going to need time and might be 4 or 5 before he is at his best, although Montjeu’s record in the Derby gives lie to that last bit.
Success isn’t completely down to the calibre of mare and certainly the stallion has to hold up his end of the bargain too, but the best book certainly helps. Breeding doesn’t lend itself to certainty and it would be wrong to say that Coolmore expected Galileo to have the success he has had, but in choosing the mares they did they gave him every chance. The relative expectations for Montjeu were much lower and he has gotten to where he has by upgrading the mares that visited him in his early years. With Galileo’s book, it is possible that Montjeu would have already sired a Guineas winner, but it is impossible to say for sure. Camelot may yet prove that he is capable of siring more than just Derby colts. I would posit that both Motivator and Authorized would have gone very well in the Guineas in their respective years. In a way it is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy as most of the Montjeu colts who would have had the class to run well in a Guineas would have been safely campaigned by going the traditional Derby Trials route. Newmarket and the Curragh both boast a very testing mile and it must be a real possibility that Montjeu will throw up a Guineas winner if his best offspring are campaigned as such in the time he has left. This season Wading will hopefully go some way to proving that he is also capable of siring top class fillies. The performance of Parish Hall last season by Teofilo(a son of Gallileo out of Halla Siamsa by Montjeu) suggests that he will be able to make his mark as a broodmare sire in time as well.
As it stands, the record of Montjeu’s sons at stud has been decidedly patchy. However, given he has been covering better mares in recent years on the back of his success, things may be about to improve. Some of Montjeu’s top runners from early in his stud career will not have come from the best families. In real terms, they have already probably overachieved once by having been successful on the track, to expect them to go on and then be successes at stud coming from the good but not top notch families that they do is possibly asking a little much. Now that Montjeu has been getting the top mares, we can probably expect that his next son to go to stud in a blaze of glory will probably be a raging success. It was only in 2010 that two sons of Danehill Dancer produced Group 1 winners and it just goes to show that these things can take time.
It will be interesting to see how the books of other horses will be modified by Montjeu’s demise. His son, the flashy 2011 Derby winner Pour Moi may yet be the prime beneficiary. It will also increase the pressure on the Coolmore juggernaut to get things right with Camelot, which will probably mean an expansive campaign that takes in the Guineas. A Group 1 at 10f or even better a mile Classic would aid his cause substantially. One thing is for sure; those with mares booked to Montjeu may find it tough to find a replacement to their satisfaction. Gallileo can only take so many and surely with the mare being good enough to go to Montjeu, the likes of High Chapperal, Hurricane Run and even Pour Moi wouldn’t be deemed satisfactory at this stage of their careers. The first two being slow burners and the latter being completely unproven. Hurricane Run might be the best option of these as he was very typical of his sire and has had a few stakes horses without throwing up any stars, this could be his break. Perhaps the likes of Sea the Stars and even Darley stallions like New Approach, Shamardal and Dubawi might pick up some of the slack. The financial implications for Coolmore could be quite severe; one couldn’t be sure what their situation is with regard to insurance for their stallion band. Typically, the loss of a mid-range stallion could be absorbed by the strength of the group and that would be the idea behind opting not to insure, but the loss of one like Montjeu and his influence is going to hurt one way or another, insurance or none. It seems the expert stallion makers will just have to make another. It could be a huge source of revenue lost that would have been expected to go on for at least another 5-7 years. Beyond finance, all of this is very unfortunate anyway, at just 16, Montjeu certainly had a lot more left to contribute and Horseracing will be the poorer for his loss. It is strange to think that in a few years his name won’t be listed above his progeny on the card of those good autumn maidens at the Curragh and Leopardstown. It’s the nature of horses and their fragility; they are only consistent in their inconsistency. Mercurial on the track, but in his career at stud at least, Montjeu was like clockwork.
Neill Dennehy has been reviewing each day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival this week. We bring you his final review of the Festival for Friday’s races at the Tavern.
The race most likely to produce a future star on the Friday looked to be the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over three miles, the first two in that race both look like very good prospects. The winner Brindisi Breeze took it up plenty early enough and looks a top class prospect. Although not overly big, his shrewd connections are still very confident that he will go to the top over fences and they have every reason to be buoyant given his performance here. It is great for the northern circuit to have produced another top class racehorse. The Willie Mullins trained Boston Bob was regarded by connections as being as good a novice as they had ever sent to the festival.
Many were quick to criticise Ruby Walsh’s ride on Boston Bob and on the face of it, it looks as though it was misjudged. They did go off pretty quick in front, but it seems that Walsh still had his mount settled too far back when the race began to develop. The ride smacked to some as overconfidence and he displayed a certain lack of tactical versatility in sitting still even when they were starting to get away from him out in front. It subsequently transpired that Willie Mullins wasn’t overly happy with Boston Bob before the race and he remains a top prospect for chasing next season. He possible just lacks a change of gear and might be better suited by soft ground. Connections were certainly correct in running him here rather than in the Neptune. It looked briefly like he might gather in Brindisi Breeze coming up the hill, but having to make up so much ground clearly blunted his finish. Nothing should be taken away from the winner however who did it the hard way and was well on top at the line. Boston Bob might be a future candidate for something like the Irish National as he may just be short of the pace to compete in the top three mile races over fences.
This year’s renewal of the Triumph didn’t look a vintage one from the outset and so it seems to have proved with the winner Countrywide Flame looking exposed coming into the race. While he was a shock winner at 33/1, there was little fluke about the manner of the victory and he probably will go on to be the best of these over two miles. He showed a good turn of foot here. If any of this crop are to progress to become grade one animals in open company, it will probably be at a trip well above the minimum. The winner reversed Leopardstown form comprehensively with Hisaabaat who was three lengths back in second and Dermot Weld’s made hurdler is an exposed flat performer not short of a quirk who really looks to have limited prospects in both spheres. He can probably step up in trip; this move looks to be a common theme here. Like the winner, he is tough and jumps well but lacks a turn of foot. Saddlers Risk showed up well for a long way in front, but was ultimately disappointing back in sixth. The in and out Baby Mix once again let down his followers in ninth. The two best prospects in the race might have been the fallers Pearl Swan who was coming into it when departing, he may have a future in staying hurdles and Balder Success who lacked experience and probably found the ground quick enough. He is regarded as an embryonic chaser by Alan King who’s other more fancied charge, the very professional Grumeti didn’t get up the hill back in third having looked the winner at the second last.
Finally, it falls to discuss the blue rebind, the reason why over seventy thousand spectators crammed into Cheltenham racecourse last Friday, the motive behind the very existence of the National Hunt breed….. The Gold Cup. It is probably best to treat this race as if Kauto Star wasn’t in it, in truth, he never was having not fully recovered from his training ground fall and Paul Nicholls reported that something seemed to go amiss internally at the water jump. What we saw was the horse that used to be Kauto Star and he won’t be remembered for what happened last Friday. On the plus side it was a chance for his adoring public to say goodbye and he got a lovely reception as he was quickly pulled up by his jockey Ruby Walsh, a man whose reputation he helped cement and reinforced again and again over the course of sixteen grade ones. This can’t be described a disappointment as really, who can reasonably expect a fairytale and that is what it would have been. The truth is that the last time we saw the real Kauto Star was probably in the December of 2009 and everything since has just been a testament to his courage. We’ll leave what happens next up to Paul Nicholls as we all should have done the last time, but it looks pretty clear what is going to happen and the Gold Cup of 2012 was not just the end of the career of a horse, but the end of an era. The racing public has been spoilt in the last six years with a succession of box office Gold Cup winners, now we are going to have to realise that most of the time, the Gold Cup is just won by a good stayer. Sir Des Champs and maybe eventually even Sprinter Sacre show a lot of potential, but right now, it is just that.
There looks to be a definite changing of the guard as well as the power swing in the Trainer’s Championship is definitely moving towards Nicky Henderson. If he doesn’t do it this season, he must surely finish the job next. Paul Nicholls is most certainly working behind the scenes to ameliorate matters, but we can only judge on what we see now, and as regards chasers, Henderson holds all of the cards. Scarcely can a man ever have looked so disappointed as to have won a stayers hurdle and a Champion in one week. If it needed pointing out, we certainly know now what fires the passion in Paul Nicholls.
Now to try and analyse what happened last Friday. There are a few possible ways of looking at this, and it is difficult to say definitively why we got the result we did, but we’ll have a look at a few of the angles. Long Run just simply didn’t pick up at the finish and on the face of it that seems strange given this year’s Gold Cup was run in a time seven seconds slower than last year. Long Run hasn’t been performing as well as he did last season, but the decline culminating in a third place last Friday is quite startling. Could he do with stronger handling? Possibly, but it seems unfair to put blame on Sam Waley-Cohen when the horse has simply seemed a shadow of himself. The fact that he couldn’t beat a 12yo Kauto Star at Haydock or Kempton pointed towards regression, now it appears, we have had it confirmed, the question is, is it terminal? This is one way of looking at it. But there are some mitigating circumstances to his demise, they primarily concern the pace in the race.
What can be said for sure is that with the absence of Denman and effectively Kauto Star, there was no one to pull along the pace, this Gold Cup took a different complexion to recent renewals. Of course, there are no two races exactly the same, but they can have common traits. In recent Gold Cups, the slow staying type horses had already been left for dust by the quickening pace by the end that the likes of Denman, Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges would set. At the start of the second mile, someone would typically up the ante and this year there wasn’t a stayer who was classy enough to do this and it might have been to the detriment of Long Run who effectively had the race set up for him last season. In effect, there were too many horses travelling too comfortably for too long. To alleviate this problem, Sam should maybe have kicked on a bit earlier on Long Run, but then, like Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly, he thought he was on the best horse and so thought he could win any way from anywhere. He sat a close fourth like he had when winning last season, but as the times suggest, this was a very different race as horses like The Giant Bolster and Time for Rupert can’t force a pace like Denman.
Generally, it is viewed that out and out stayers like Synchronised will struggle with a slower gallop, but there are exceptions to this rule and often the best horses need a strong gallop to fully assert their superiority. It can be said that the Welsh National winner is the one who should have been more inconvenienced, but in this instance, it was the slow gallop that allowed him to stay in touch and then make his abundant stamina tell at the end of the race. Had a Denman or Neptune Collonges been setting the pace, Synchronised would have probably been about twenty lengths behind and so far out with the washing his extra stamina would have been no use. When Kauto Star used to up the the ante six out in the King George year on year, that is when he used to begin to out speed his rivals as that was the point when they simply couldn’t go with him.
Ruby Walsh didn’t give the stayers the chance to exert their stamina around the last few flights in those King George wins, when the stamina horses were beginning to exert their influence, the speed horse had already flown the coup. It is all about making that move that only a high class horse can make. When they were entering the torture chamber four out in the Gold Cup, no one had made that telling move and it left Long Run with the same chance as all the rest as he hadn’t been given the chance to use his extra gears. The way to beat stayers is by setting an even gallop with a gradually rising tempo, it is the reason why Ballydoyle employ pacemakers. Stayers don’t win by going off helter skelter and grinding their opposition into the ground, they do it by keeping close enough as McCoy did on Synchronised and then kicking into overdrive. The way for class horses to beat the sluggers is to set smart sectionals and then make their move at the point when the stayer can’t go with them. In letting Synchronised be that close to him at the bottom of the hill, Long Run levelled the playing field. Simon Holt called exactly what was going to happen after the last and the two and a quarter lengths doesn’t fully reflect the fact that he was well on top at the line. He landed sideways after the last and still won going away. It wasn’t stylish, as McManus said, ’they did it their way’, at least Jonjo now has a Saturday horse. Having felt the burn of carrying eleven stone ten hock deep around Chepstow mid-winter, Synchronised was always going to triumph if he was still there when the water got deep.
Even connections of the Giant Bolster must wonder if they should have taken it up a little sooner, Tom Scudamore rode him to beat Long Run and then Synchronised came out of the shadows and mugged him. It must be difficult for David Bridgewater to take as AP McCoy has had his job, his Jockey’s Championship and now he has only gone and nicked his Gold Cup!! In all seriousness, he seems an amiable fella and a capable trainer so let us hope he is sent a few more horses. He looks to have a horse who can compete at the top level for a few years to come and what a certainty he must have been in that handicap on Cleeve Hurdle day. Burton Port and Time For Rupert both ran good races in fourth and fifth and will probably go for the National from here, neither will probably ever have a better chance of winning a Gold Cup and the same can be said for Midnight Chase who possibly underperformed a tad. So there it is, another year gone by, this year’s Cheltenham Festival was something of a transitional one and while it will be remembered for the launching of a superstar, it will also be recalled as the final round for a few old warriors and the year that Father Time finally felt Kauto’s collar.
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Neill Dennehy continues his day-by-day review of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival! Make sure you read Neills’ reviews from each day at the Horse Racing Tavern.
The Thursday action kicked off with the Jewson. It is safe to say that this was the best edition of Thursday racing that Cheltenham has seen since its switch to four days with a n extremely classy winner of the Jewson and cracking finishes in both the World Hurdle and especially the Ryanair where Barry Geraghty gave a Riverside Theatre as good a ride as this corner has ever seen over jumps. The quality of action on display really served to establish the Thursday as legitimately being on the same footing as the other days. The Jewson winner Sir Des Champs looks to be the best winner of that race since its inception maintaining his unbeaten record. Due to the depth of novice chasing talent that Gigginstown have boasted this season, he has been campaigned mainly at the country tracks, but he confirmed himself here as probably the most talented of the bunch with the ease of his victory. His jumping was perfect and he travelled beautifully all the way through the race just off of the pace under a textbook ride by his jockey Davy Russell. It was his first real test of the season and he passed it with flying colours and the four and a half-length margin of victory doesn’t reflect fully his superiority. He has already been installed as 6/1 ante post favourite for the Gold Cup in a number of places and looks to be the best staying chaser Ireland has produced since War of Attrition. He is said to be the perfect physical model to look at and thus possesses the scope to go on and improve on this again. It will be interesting to see if connections choose to step into open company at Punchestown.
Champion Court jumped and travelled really well throughout and Martin Keighley’s stable star was an absolute credit to connections battling on really well to the line despite the winner clearly having his measure. His jumping will stand him in good stead next season and he looks the type who could make a big impression in something like the Paddy Power under a big weight. Champion Court looks an out and out two and a half miler and if he continues to go the right way, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be contesting graded races over that trip for the foreseeable future. Connections will hope to return for the Ryanair next season. For Non Stop ran well without ever looking like troubling the front two, he simply doesn’t jump well enough. The disappointing Peddlers Cross also looks to have issues in that area, but he looked so far removed from his best when pulled up early that it looks like connections are going to have to look at sorting whatever is physically ailing him before looking at anything else. Despite a good start over fences, he evidently hasn’t really taken to it, but there are issues beyond fences that will have to be rectified if he is to succeed back over hurdles where he is presently a 33/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle. The market confidence probably derived as much from the stable’s good form and this probably led to a falsely placed confidence that Peddlers Cross was back to his best. In truth, the vibes were bad for most of the season. As an aside, connections of Grands Crus may now feel that their horse may have been better suited by this race rather than the RSA.
The Ryanair Chase which has been much maligned in the past probably served up the best spectacle of the meeting and certainly the best finish. Given the way that the Gold Cup panned out, it is quite probable that the front three here of Riverside Theatre, Alberta’s Run and Medermit could probably have had a say in the blue rebind. The winner, Riverside Theatre, was given an excellent ride by Barry Geraghty to be delivered on the line to pip gallant runner up Alberta’s Run who was seeking a fourth festival win. Riverside Theatre almost certainly acts better on a flat track and won here despite not handling the course. He seemed to be climbing at times on the way around and was never fluent at his fences and won in large part due to the prowess and determination of his jockey. He is clearly a top class animal as witnessed by his two grade one victories at Ascot one year apart and is probably capable of even better than this somewhere more conventional. He looked like bouncing a few times here, but Geraghty galvanised him and he will be a force wherever he goes now be it Punchestown or Aintree and he must be on the King George shortlist for further down the line. He ran third in it last season. This was probably the moment where Geraghty moved into the stratosphere of Walsh and McCoy.
Medermit ran a great race in second and confirmed himself as a real grade one force going down by just half a length to the all-out winner. He clearly came on a lot from Ascot where he was further behind Riverside Theatre in second, it could be however that Medermit is better suited by Cheltenham and Riverside Theatre by Ascot. It is possible that connections may well decide to try and step him up in trip now; he was a bit unlucky here as he was on the far rail and the finish occurred a bit away from him. He may have benefited from some company. Medermit is clearly going the right way and it will be interesting to see where connections go from here.
Alberta’s Run came into this off the back of his Old Roan win in October having been side-lined since with injury. This was a brave effort and he was only hauled back well inside the final furlong. He is a real course specialist and it might just be that he won’t be seen again this season after these exertions. The plan will probably be to try and get back to this point again next season. Captain Chris ran his best race for a while back in fourth and this was certainly a step back in the right direction. He would be interesting stepped back up to three miles. Sommersby’s connections might feel he would have been better served running in the Champion Chase given how things transpired there and how closely his form ties in with Finian’s Rainbow, it should be remembered however that Sommersby’s victory over the Champion Chaser was over an extended two miles and one furlong and Sommersby has looked somewhat tripless in the past. For what it is worth, his best two career runs have both been in that same Ascot race.
The worries over the stable form of Paul Nicholls lead to his perennial champion Big Bucks being sent off at a seemingly generous 5/6. Big Bucks equalled Sir Ken’s record of sixteen consecutive hurdle wins here and also put himself into the record books with a fourth consecutive Ladbrokes World Hurdle. He lobbed along easily through the race here and took things up three out at the top of the hill. At this point, he had the speed horses Thousand Stars, Voler la Vedette, Smad Place and Oscar Whiskey to fend off and he did so one by one with characteristic aplomb. He burned off the non-stayer Oscar Whiskey most easily and that horse will probably aimed at a repeat bid in the Aintree Hurdle, he simply didn’t see out the trip here.
Voler la Vedette was to give the champion the most to do as she cruised up between the last two hurdles travelling powerfully. Andrew Lynch switched abruptly to the stand side rail as he felt his mare would be intimidated in having to eyeball the great champion and wouldn’t go past. For a split second, it looked like it might have been a tactical masterstroke. Walsh brought the champion back across the track to impose his horse’s presence on the mare and eventually managed to get away from her to win by a length and three quarters with the gallant Smad Place back in third. The result justified Colm Murphy’s decision to undertake a World Hurdle bid with his star mare. Thousand Stars ran well back in fourth, but he is short at the elite level and he can go well again at Aintree en route to his prime target of defending his French Champion Hurdle crown. Big Bucks once again showed his class here as he quickened away from his rivals and William Hill immediately went top price of 7/4 for him to retain his crown next season, it might look big on the day this time next year, but given his trainer Paul Nicholls’ lack of staying chasing talent, don’t be too surprised if the Big Bucks chasing debate is reopened as Nicholls identifies himself primarily as a trainer of Gold Cup horses and the only other horse he currently trains who may have pretensions for this pursuit next season is Al Ferof who may not get the trip. Can anyone imagine Paul Nicholls without a runner in the Gold Cup? Big Bucks might be worth an ante post poke for jump racing’s most prestigious race if the price gets silly.