Things We Learned » Champion dawns

Champion dawns

Lots of interesting things have been said and written all week about Dawn Approach’s victory at Newmarket on Saturday, so suffice to say, a week later, that it was a really good result on many levels.  As well as the fact that there is something inherently satisfying about seeing the top class horses win the top class races, and that Dawn Approach’s win was an eighth Irish win in the last 12 renewals of the first British Classic of the season, it was also a great result for rider, owner and trainer.

It was another copybook, no-nonsense, uncomplicated, largely unheralded ride from Kevin Manning, who excels in keeping things simple.  It was a good-news story for Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin at a time when they could have been doing with one, and it was another milestone for Jim Bolger, a first English 2000 Guineas.

As with jockeys, it is impossible to measure the magnitude of the effect that a trainer has on a horse’s performance.  It is possible that Dawn Approach would have won the 2000 Guineas on Saturday even if he had been moved to Newmarket after Sheikh Mohammed had taken an interest in him.  Actually, the son of New Approach is so relaxed that it is possible that Skillnets could have trained him to win a Guineas.  It is unlikely though.

More likely is that the youngster has benefitted greatly from the tuition that he has received at the Bolger academy, as many horses and humans have before him.

Interestingly, the record of ‘Godolphin-trained’ horses in the 2000 Guineas in the last 10 years reads 205900009000, while Jim Bolger’s record reads 2391.  And this year in particular, if the ball had hopped the wrong way, Dawn Approach might not have even been able to race on Saturday.

Opportunity Knox

Staying with Sheikh Mohammed for a second, his purchase of the exciting Fort Knox from Andrew Tinkler is fascinating.  This isn’t a Sheikh-buys-promising-young-Classic-aspirant-shock headline-maker, but it is interesting that the colt will remain in training with Tommy Carmody, and that he will race in the Sheikh’s maroon and white silks, not Godolphin blue, at least for now.

The old maroon and white colours have become a little more visible on Irish racecourses in the last few years – just about surviving in the face of the relentless Godolphin march – since Sheikh Mohammed began the annual project of sending a small number of juveniles to a small number of Irish trainers.  The project began in 2010, when the Michael Halford-trained Casamento, winner of the Beresford Stakes and the Racing Post Trophy, was the flag-bearer that year.

That venture notwithstanding, the norm with new Sheikh Mohammed acquisitions is that the horse is whisked away to Newmarket and painted blue.  It didn’t happen with Saturday’s Guineas winner, and perhaps the success of Operation Dawn Approach to date has convinced the owner that there is another way.  And Tommy Carmody and Johnny Murtagh have done all right thank you very much with Fort Knox so far.

One other consideration.  Simon Crisford was correct when he said that the Godolphin brand has been tarnished by the whole steroids affair at Moulton Paddocks, and the fact that Mahmood Al Zarooni lodged an appeal on Tuesday against the severity of his punishment means that there is every chance that that brand will be associated with further negativity in the near future.  It might not be a bad idea if we got to see a little more of the maroon and white silks for now.

Sectional value

Here’s the value of sectional times.

Initial reaction on observing the absolute race times from Qipco 2000 Guineas day at Newmarket last Saturday was that Universal and Windhoek did not post impressive performances in the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes and the Listed Newmarket Stakes respectively, 0.4secs/furlong and 0.49secs/furlong respectively slower than standard time.  Comparatively the slowest and third slowest times on the day, and decidedly average at best for the grades.  However, have a look at the sectionals: different story.

Joe Fanning was superb on both horses from the front.  On Universal in the Jockey Club Stakes, Fanning was allowed dictate his own fractions up front, and he set positively pedestrian and remarkably consistent ones.  He passed each furlong marker from the nine-furlong pole to the four-furlong pole in 12.89secs, 12.8secs, 12.88secs, 12.9secs and 12.82secs.  That’s more Tag Heuer stopwatch-in-your-head than clock-in-your-head stuff.

Pressed by Johnny Murtagh and Dandino inside the half-mile pole, Universal picked up, and Johnny gave Dandino every chance by sitting as close to the leader as he did.  But Universal is obviously as talented as he is tough and progressive, and he responded by getting from the three-furlong pole to the furlong marker in 21.24secs (10.68secs and 10.56secs per furlong).  That is a high class sectional in the closing stages of a middle-distance race.

It was a similar story with Windhoek.  Fanning didn’t break 12 seconds for any single furlong until he passed the three-furlong pole and asked his horse to lengthen, which Windhoek duly did, clocking sectionals of 11.61secs and 11.12secs from the three-furlong pole to the furlong pole despite veering to his left.  Both horses are significantly better than their final winning times suggest.

Deegan flying

Paul Deegan’s flying start to the season continued when Sruthan, who had already won on his racecourse debut at Dundalk at the end of March, ran out a really impressive winner of the Listed Tetrarch Stakes at The Curragh on Monday.

The task facing Robert Ng’s horse was made easier by the withdrawal of Cougar Ridge at the start, but such was the authority of Sruthan’s victory that David Wachman’s horse would have had to have been at the top of his game to beat him.  Sruthan travelled nicely just behind the pace, and he picked up impressively when Chris Hayes asked him, to come right away from the useful Fortify.  There was talk of the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot afterwards for the half-brother to Sruachan, and why not?  This seven furlongs could be his optimum and he deserves a shot at a Group race now.

Sruthan was Deegan’s seventh winner of the season, which leaves him fourth in the trainers’ championship in terms of number of winners, behind only Aidan O’Brien, Jim Bolger and Dermot Weld.  He has some nice-looking juveniles, like Fast In The Wind and Najm Suhail, and he has plenty of potentially talented horses for a good mix of good owners.  All going well, it could be an exciting season for the Curragh trainer.

Switching codes

It is remarkable how quickly we can morph from National Hunt mode to Flat mode.  The Punchestown Festival finished just three weeks ago today, yet all the talk is of Guineas and Derbies and stamina for a mile and a half, not for three miles.  It could have been three years ago.  Hurricane Fly and Quevega and Sprinter Sacre have been archived, and mention the King George, and you immediately think of Ascot, not Kempton.

The beginners’ chase at Punchestown today, which has been won by Sizing Europe and Arvika Ligeonniere, is buried beneath the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial and the Victoria Cup, and you always feel that the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock is at least two weeks too late.  Also Simenon, trained by that good trainer flat Willie Mullins, had no luck in running in finishing fourth in the Chester Cup on Wednesday.  Both horse and trainer could be well worth watching for now.

© The Irish Field, 11th May 2013