Not even the predictable British weather could spoil a fantastic Champions Day at Ascot last weekend, with Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden sharing training honours with two winners apiece.
From declaring ground on the fast side of good on Thursday morning, Ascot soaked up more than 20mm of rain over the next 48 hours and ultimately conditions for Britain’s richest day’s racing of the year were testing, described as “heavy” in places.
It has been another remarkable year for O’Brien, who would have mopped up all 10 of the English and Irish classics this season were it not for a certain Enable and the Irishman, who would not dispute the claim that he is a workaholic, equalled the late Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group 1 winners in a year when Hydrangea captured the Filly & Mares on the Royal Heath.
O’Brien still has some big guns to fire in America, Australia, Hong Kong and France, but it looks as if Doncaster next Saturday may be the scene of what would be an historic triumph for the Coolmore team.
O’Brien confessed that he may saddle both Saxon Warrior and The Pentagon for the Racing Post Trophy, Britain’s final Group 1 race of 2017 and the pair currently head the ante-post lists for next year’s Derby.
The two already have a silver and bronze medal in the Ballydoyle trophy room, but SAXON WARRIOR, who looked all class when winning the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at The Curragh, is the one I expect to follow in the footsteps of such superstars as Camelot, High Chaparral and St Nicholas Abbey by giving Coolmore their eighth success in this race.
Not that it will prove any pushover for “the lads”, with fellow Irish trainer Jim Bolger reporting his Group 1 National Stakes winner Verbal Dexterity being “back on his A-game”, the colt having had to miss the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket earlier in the month because of a bad scope. He looks the one for the Exacta, though Gosden warns not to ignore his Royal Lodge Stakes winner Roaring Lion if we get a dry week.
O’Brien, who also collected the Group 2 Long Distance Cup with evergreen stayer Order Of St George, was taking his Champions Day tally to 13 since the meeting was launched in 2012.
However, he had to share centre stage at Ascot with Gosden, who plucked the two biggest plums off the tree with Cracksman (Champion Stakes) and Persuasive
(QE11) and also had four others finish in the frame. Gosden cannot quite match O’Brien’s phenomenal firepower at the top table, but a double with Cracksman and Persuasive took the Newmarket trainer’s Group 1 haul this year to nine.
Having bypassed a clash with stablemate Enable in the Arc, Cracksman proved all the rage in the £1.3-million Champion Stakes, his connections’ concern about the 2000m trip being on the sharp side quickly disappearing when the heavens opened at Ascot midweek.
Cracksman, who was placed in both the English and Irish Derby, provided his sire Frankel with his first Group 1 victory in Europe, powering clear up the straight to demolish a high-class field in impressive fashion.
Gosden, who had no regrets about not running Cracksman in the Arc, said: “He thrived physically through the summer and though he is not short of speed, we knew that the rain would suit us more than most. “Inevitably, everyone is now asking about a face-off next year between Cracksman and Enable and it might well happen in either the King George or the Arc, but plenty can go wrong through the winter so we’ll cross those bridges when we have to.”
The ground clearly helped Cracksman as it made the race more of a stamina test. Whereas connections of both Barney Roy and Brametot were quick to blame the going change for their below-par performances, O’Brien was justifiably proud of Highland Reel, who was making his first appearance since the King George in July and battled on well for third place.
Coolmore made no secret of the fact that defending his Breeders’ Cup Turf title at Del Mar on Saturday week is the main priority for Highland Reel, while returning to California was always the main aim for Ulysses, who was a late absentee.
O’Brien was well aware that Highland Reel would not enjoy the ground, but after a two-month break it was important their globe-trotting superstar knocked the rust off before he crosses the Atlantic next weekend.
Persuasive has always had Group 1 potential but nothing ha gone right for the filly this season – until now.
Backed from 20-1 to 8-1 in the morning, mud-loving Persuasive, extricated from a pocket at the 400m pole, surprised Frankie Dettori with how well she quickened, but it was a first Group 1 and a glorious farewell for a talented filly who now heads for the breeding shed.
Godolphin began the week in confident mood but it proved a disappointing day for the boys in blue, with not only Barney Roy flopping but also Harry Angel, finishing fourth to Librisa Breeze.
Ribchester, reeled in up the hill by Persuasive, ran well but looked as if he was feeling the effects of a season which began at Dubai in March.
Librisa Breeze could well travel through the winter, connections being keen on a crack at the turf sprint at the Dubai World Cup meeting in March.
Talking of Oz, all eyes will be focussed on what goes on Down Under next Saturday morning, with brilliant mare WINX chasing history when she attempts to emulate the legendary Kingston Town by winning the prestigious Cox Plate at Moonee Valley for a third consecutive year.
And finally one for today at Newmarket where seven of the eight races are for two-year-olds, which makes it tough for punters.
I was impressed with ELWAZIR when he finished second here last month, and this Frankel colt is a strong Lambourn whisper to go one better in the 1400m novice.
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