Things We Learned » Something to lose

Something to lose

Now that the decision has been made by connections to bypass the race, I’m not sure about this notion that is slowly gaining traction that Frankel had nothing to lose by running in the Arc.

Dancing Brave was no less a horse for getting beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, goes the argument. Nijinsky is not regarded any less fondly now than he would have been had he not been beaten in the Arc or the Champion Stakes. Sea-Bird’s legacy wasn’t tarnished by defeat in the Grand Criterium. Brigadier Gerard lost nothing in getting beaten by Roberto in the Benson and Hedges. Well, he did actually. His unbeaten record for starters.

The populist view seems to be that we shouldn’t run scared of defeat, that there is no shame in losing and that Frankel’s light would have remained undimmed even if he had gone to Paris and experienced defeat for the first time.

You can relate to the argument – failure is merely evidence that you have tried something – especially when it goes along with the general sense of regret that Frankel is probably going to face another cakewalk (1/10 again, if you’re interested) in the Champion Stakes instead of stepping into the unknown once more.

It would have been good for racing, for sure, had Frankel been aimed at the Arc, the race that has evolved into the quintessential European middle-distance championship race. And it would have been fantastic to have seen him succeed.

It would have been his toughest assignment ever, he would have faced more imponderables (new distance, new track, new country, deepest opposition ever, possibility of easy ground, possibility of poor draw in a race in which the draw is crucial, possibility of sedate pace) than he had ever faced in his career before and, if he had conquered them, he would have surged another few thousand feet into the ether.

But don’t kid yourself: there would have been a potential downside. There is something special about the preservation of an unbeaten record, something imperious about an undefeated and undefeatable athlete. You only find the boundary of a horse’s ability when he gets beaten. With Frankel, it would be fitting if we were never to find that boundary.

Tale of the tape

So it isn’t a two-horse race, but here are five points of comparison between the first and second favourites for this afternoon’s Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes:

• Nathaniel is probably at his best over 12 furlongs, Snow Fairy is probably at her best over 10 furlongs. (Today’s race is over 10 furlongs.)

• Nathaniel is probably at his best with a little bit of cut in the ground, Snow Fairy is probably at her best on fast ground. (Today’s race will probably be run on fast ground.)

• Nathaniel has never raced beyond England’s boundaries, Snow Fairy is a seasoned world traveller, her record overseas reading 1112311. (Today’s race is a foreign jaunt for both.)

• The only time the pair of them have met to date, when they finished third and fifth respectively behind Cirrus Des Aigles in last year’s Champion Stakes, Snow Fairy finished two lengths in front of Nathaniel, giving him 2lb. (Today, Nathaniel has to give Snow Fairy 3lb).

• John Gosden says that Nathaniel will come on for the run, Ed Dunlop says that Snow Fairy is spot on. (Today, if you are to win, you really should be spot on.)

Nathaniel is an 11/8 shot for today’s race, Snow Fairy is a 9/4 shot. So where do you think the value in the match lies?

Oaksey memories

Everyone has his own John Oaksey memories. I don’t remember him riding Taxidermist to win the Hennessy or the Whitbread, but I do remember him on television during the 1970s and 1980s – my formative racing years – looking after half of the ITV Seven (three and a half races) for Dickie Davies’s World of Sport from Newcastle (or somewhere) while Brough Scott presided over the other half from Sandown (or somewhere else).

Our paths first crossed when he was one-quarter or one-fifth of the judging panel for the inaugural Martin Wills Memorial Trust awards that somehow deemed that my offering was worthy of recognition. I remember as a star-struck not-much-older-than-adolescent, making his debut at Newmarket’s Craven meeting, not knowing whether to call him Mr Lawrence or Mr Oaksey or Lord Oaksey or Sir, or whether to bow or genuflect or just to shake his hand and smile. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. I was certain to have been greeted by his characteristic warmth whatever I had done.

You will have to travel very far to find someone who has a bad word to say about the late Lord Oaksey.

Major quandary

Ursa Major has had plenty of media exposure of late, but the main point about Andrew Tinkler’s horse has been largely missed – which St Leger should he contest next week?

The Doncaster version (the Ladbrokes one) is obviously shaping up to be a top class renewal this year, with the colossus that is Camelot lying in wait for unsuspecting day-trippers, and St Leger three-out-of-five man John Gosden in the process of assembling a team of X-Men (and possibly one X-Woman).

However, the fact remains that three-year-olds struggle in the Irish St Leger. The last member of the Classic generation to win the season’s final Irish Classic (sic.) was Vinnie Roe, and he was so good he won three more. Before Vinnie, you have to go back to Petite Ile in 1989. That was 22 renewals and 23 winners ago.

The vibe at the moment appears to be that the Irish version – the Gain Horse Feeds one – is the one being favoured by connections of Ursa Major, but they also have gallant Ebor runner-up Royal Diamond as an (outside) option for The Curragh, so don’t be completely bowled over if the younger horse does show up at Doncaster instead.

Killarney draw

There were four flat races with more than 10 runners run at Killarney last week, Interestingly, the first four horses home in each race were drawn, respectively, 9-5-10-3 (of 11), 12-9-7-5 (of 12), 14-5-15-13 (of 15), 13-9-6-15 (of 15). With an apparent bias towards high-drawn horses, those horses who ran well from a low draw, including Lady Lyrath, Mamma Rosa and Gabh Mo Leithsceal, might be worth a second look when they run next.

© The Irish Field, 8th September 2012