Things We Learned » Capri gets better and better

Capri gets better and better

All the indicators are that last Saturday’s William Hill St Leger was a vintage renewal.  It looked beforehand like it might be and, with all the ‘right’ horses coming to the fore, it looks vintage now all right.

The race was won by the Irish Derby winner, with the Gordon Stakes winner finishing second, the Goodwood Cup and Queen’s Vase winner third, the Curragh Cup winner fourth and the Ribblesdale Stakes winner fifth.  Between them, the first five home had already won two Group 1 races, three Group 2 races and two Group 3 races this season.  Also, the winning time was good and the Timeform sectionals were strong. 

Any one of the first four or five could have won the St Leger in a normal year, and all five could still have significantly more to give.  Crystal Ocean and Coronet will probably be even more effective back in trip at a mile and a half, while Rekindling and Stradivarius should be more interesting when they move up in trip again.  We know that Stradivarius stays two miles, and Rekindling shaped as if he could improve for another step up in trip from a mile and six and a half furlongs.  Both will be interesting if they line up in the Qipco Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions’ Day next month, and both could be Cup horses next season. 

Strangely, with all the chatter about the placed horses, there is a chance that the winner Capri could be the one who goes under the radar.  The magnitude of the performance that the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt put up in winning the Leger should not be under-estimated. 

He and Ryan Moore hit the front just inside the three-furlong pole.  He engaged in battle with Stradivarius at that point, as Jim Crowley crept and crept on Crystal Ocean in behind.  Then, when Crystal Ocean challenged at the furlong pole as Stradivarius wilted, Capri stuck his head out willingly, responded to his rider’s urgings.  Sir Michael Stoute’s colt got to within a half a length, but he never got closer.  If they had gone another furlong, he still wouldn’t have got any closer. 

Not only was Capri winning one of the strongest renewals of the St Leger run in recent times, but he was also coming into the race on the back of a long break.  He missed an intended engagement in the Great Voltigeur, with the result that he was racing for the first time since he won the Irish Derby on the first day of July, two and a half months previously.  His strength in the market told you that he was ready to run his race – as does the result – but it is still probable that he will progress again for the experience. 

Fourth in the Ballysax Stakes and third in the Derrinstown and sixth in the Epsom Derby, the Galileo colt put up a career-best performance when he won the Irish Derby, and he probably put up another career-best on Saturday.

He does have pace, he wouldn’t have won this Leger if he didn’t have pace, but he obviously stays well and he has a will to win.  All of those attributes are serious weapons for a thoroughbred horse to have in his arsenal.  He will be a very interesting outsider if he does line up in the Arc and, given his rate of progress this term, he could be even better next year.     

Three-year-old stayers are strong 

It is not surprising that this year’s St Leger looked as good as it did.  All the indications are that this year’s crop of three-year-old stayers is the strongest crop that we have seen in years.

Queen’s Vase winner Stradivarius followed up his Royal Ascot win by going to Goodwood and beating the older stayers in the Goodwood Cup, beating Ascot Gold Cup winner Big Orange into second place.  He was the first three-year-old to win the Goodwood Cup since Lucky Moon won it 27 years ago.  Admittedly, Stradivarius was receiving 13lb from Michael Bell’s horse, but that’s the weight-for-age scale for you.  It has been more or less thus for over 150 years.

There was one other three-year-old in the Goodwood Cup, Desert Skyline, who finished third.  So the two three-year-olds finished first and third in that 14-runner Group 2 contest.  Not only that, but Desert Skyline – sixth in the Queen’s Vase – went to Doncaster last week and, the only three-year-old in the race, won the Group 2 Doncaster Cup.

Rekindling was one of three three-year-olds in the Group 2 Curragh Cup, and he won it, staying on strongly to get the better of Wicklow Brave.

The three-year-olds only receive 8lb from their elders in the Qipco Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions Day, and no three-year-old has won the race in it current incarnation, but it still may pay to look twice at the youngsters in this year’s renewal, a renewal in which the aforementioned triumvirate – Stradivarius, Desert Skyline and Rekindling – all hold entries.

Triple Crown talk

So Sizing John and Might Bite are both going to have a go at this Chase Triple Crown, and the million pound bonus that sails in her.

It makes sense.  Sizing John is the reigning Gold Cup champ who had the pace to be a two- and two-and-a-half-mile chaser before he won the Irish Gold Cup.  Jessica Harrington’s horse obviously has the stamina for a Gold Cup, but he also has the pace for a Betfair Chase and a King George. 

Might Bite is the RSA Chase winner and the moral Feltham Chase winner.  He is one for one at the Cheltenham Festival and he should be two for two at Kempton.  He is pacey too, and he has stamina.

It is not going to be easy.  Kauto Star is the only horse who has won all three legs of the Triple Crown – the Betfair Chase, the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup – since the inauguration of the Betfair Chase, and Kauto Star is the stand-out steeplechaser of the modern era. 

But it is not impossible either. 

Kicking King won two legs in 2004/05 when there was no first leg.  Long Run won two legs in 2010/11, Silviniaco Conti won two legs in 2014/15, Cue Card won the first two legs two years ago before falling at the third last fence in the Gold Cup when many still argue he was travelling like a winner.  Kauto Star himself won two legs three times.

It is great that Jessica Harrington and Nicky Henderson say that they are both going to have a go, and the 16/1 that is on offer about the Triple Crown being won looks fair.  The fact that it is about any horse – not a specific horse – winning the bonus means that the bet is effectively a double on the final two legs as opposed to a treble on all three legs. 

If either Sizing John or Might Bite happened to win the Betfair Chase – and at current ante post prices it is a shade of odds-on that one of them will – the chances are that the odds on that horse following up by completing the King George/Gold Cup double would be shorter than 16/1.

Wonderful Winx

If you decided to back wundermare Winx at 2/17 (it’s a price, honest) for the Group 1 Colgate Optic White George Main Stakes at Randwick last Saturday morning, and if you decided to get up to have an early breakfast and watch the race live, you may have been doubting the wisdom of both decisions – or at least of the former – as Hugh Bowman niggled her along, fully eight or nine lengths behind the leader, as they raced around the sweeping home turn.  But that’s Winx for you.  She picked up her rivals as she always does, she swept down the outside and she powered to victory.

That’s Winx’s racing style, and it only enhances her appeal.  She is like an equine Scurlogue Champ, and she is now 20 for 20.  She is box office south of the equator but, such is her prolificacy and her magnetism, she is also drawing the northern hemisphere in.  

Trainer Chris Waller said on Wednesday that he was considering a European campaign for the daughter of Street Cry, and that is really good news.  It would be brilliant to see her up here, racing where the water swirls anti-clockwise.  He stressed that, if it happens, it will be a campaign, not just a race, and that Royal Ascot will probably feature.

Two things that are not overly clear yet: which race she would contest at Royal Ascot, and what other two races would complete her campaign.  Winx has won at every distance from seven furlongs to a mile and three furlongs, so her options are plentiful.  You assume that they would want to win Group 1 races with her up here, even though two of her last three wins were in Group 2s, so that means that her Royal Ascot options would be limited to the Queen Anne Stakes and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. 

After that, she could go Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes, or Nassau Stakes, Matron Stakes.  Or she could run in the Eclipse at Sandown or the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket or the Pretty Polly Stakes at The Curragh on Irish Derby weekend.  There are races here for her, and it would be great to see her race on Irish soil.

The drive to 25

Capri’s win in the St Leger took Aidan O’Brien’s Group 1 tally for 2017 to 18, just seven short of Bobby Frankel’s world record of 25 Group/Grade 1 wins in a calendar year.  At this stage in 2016, a year in which the champion trainer ended with 23, he had 16.  He is bang on schedule.

© The Irish Field, 23rd September 2017