Things We Learned »

Goodwood racenames

Who knows why Goodwood changed the Lupe Stakes to the Height Of Fashion Stakes (shame that you need an Excel spreadsheet these days to track race name changes), or the Predominate Stakes to the Cocked Hat Stakes, but it probably had something to do with sponsors and whims, as these things often do.

These races continue to have an impact, mind you, despite their fall from fashion as Classic trials. On the Lupe Stakes’ final renewal as, well, the Lupe Stakes, in 2006, Rising Cross dead-heated for first place, and John Best’s filly went on to finish second behind Alexandrova in the Oaks, before winning the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes at York that September.

In 2008, the all(most)-new Height Of Fashion Stakes was won by Michita, who went on to win the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot a month later. In 2009 it was won by Moneycantbuymelove, who won the Sandringham Handicap at Royal Ascot a month later, and who finished third behind Midday in the Group 1 Nassau Stakes that August.

The 2010 renewal of the Goodwood fillies’ race was won by Snow Fairy who, of course, went on to win the Oaks and the Irish Oaks and Group 1 races in Japan and Hong Kong the same year. The 2011 renewal was won by Beatrice Aurore, who was beaten in the Oaks, but who won a Group 3 race at Chantilly. Last year’s Height Of Fashion Stakes was won by Coquet, who might have gone close in the Oaks had she not been hampered two furlongs out.

The colts’ race also still punches above its weight. Pentire won the Predominate Stakes in 1985 and Dubai Millennium won it in 1999, and the 10-year roll of honour doesn’t look too shabby either, with St Leger winner Masked Marvel and St Leger third Michelangelo on it, as well as the top class and regrettably ill-fated Rewilding, Derby third, Great Voltigeur winner, Sheema Classic winner, Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner.

So it might be a good idea to keep Elik and Disclaimer on side at least for a little while.

Personality crucial

It probably wasn’t wholly surprising that a Racing Post survey this week revealed that a majority of respondents preferred the old Channel 4 racing coverage to the new Channel 4 racing coverage, but what was surprising was the magnitude of that majority. 78% to 22% was a landslide.

More importantly, however, viewership figures for the still-new-look coverage are also down. The number of people who watched racing on Channel 4 in January was down 18% on the corresponding figure last year, while viewership figures for the Morning Line were also down 18% for the month. In February, viewership figures for Channel 4 Racing were down 6% (the Morning Line was down 11%), in March they were down 9% (26%) and in April they were down 26% (22%). These are significant figures.

It is impossible to pinpoint for certain the reasons for such a significant decline, but two major elements spring to mind. The first is obvious. By taking Mike Cattermole, John Francome, Simon Holt, Alastair Down, Derek Thompson and John McCririck off the set – Francome walked away himself, but the others didn’t want to go – you removed a significant part of Channel 4 Racing’s personality, the very thing that defined it. It doesn’t matter that some of the old team have been retained, or that some of the new team are good, the soul of the coverage has been removed.

The second is the fascination with the touchscreen table. Besides sending Channel 4 Racing down the Sky Monday Night Football road, or tilting a hat to the relentless march of technology, it is difficult to see the benefit of having panel members actually operate the table.

It seems that the machine has become more important than the commentary that it is supposed to facilitate. The screen has become the end, not the means, which seems to make the commentary more formulaic than it needs to be. It seems to foster rigidity to the detriment of fluency and personality. It dilutes ad hoc-ness, stymies fluidity, reduces off-the-cuffness, and completely obliterates Francome-isms.

The machine is not a substitute for personality.

Guineas compare

The natural perennial assumption until empirical evidence to the contrary is produced, is that the Newmarket 2000 Guineas is a better race than the French 2000 Guineas (say: Poule d’Essai des Poulains). Camelot’s Guineas last year was a better race than Lucayan’s, Frankel’s Guineas was a better race than Tin Horse’s, Makfi’s was better than Lope De Vega’s, Sea The Stars’ was better than Silver Frost’s. All legitimate assumptions.

However, Dawn Approach apart, it might be different this year.

It is not without precedent, but it was significant that no French-trained horse contested the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket this year. Last year, two of the three French-trained horses in the Newmarket race, French Fifteen and Hermival, finished second and third behind Camelot. In 2010, the 33/1 winner Makfi was the only French-trained horse in the race.

In the French 2000 Guineas this year, the first six horses home recorded RPRs of greater than 110. In the Newmarket race, only Dawn Approach and Glory Awaits did.

Dawn Approach was imperious at Newmarket, he could hardly have been more impressive in winning, and you can only ever beat what they put in front of you. However, there remains a shadow of doubt over the depth of the race. The low RPR’s, coupled with the fact that Toronado didn’t run his race, and that a 150/1 shot, who had won just once in eight previous attempts, finished second, casts that shadow.

This has potential implications for the season ahead and, more immediately, for this afternoon’s Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas. Van Der Neer and George Vancouver represent the Newmarket form, while Havana Gold, Gale Force Ten and Flying The Flag represent the French form. It will be interesting to see which race comes out on top, but the value for now may be in taking a positive view of the French form.

Three to note

The first three fillies home in the 10-furlong fillies’ handicap at Navan on Sunday could be all worth following for now.

Mamma Rosa ensured that the race was run at a good pace, the winning time was good and the race had a solid overall shape to it. The winner Valbucca finished really strongly, as is her wont, to complete a hat-trick, her winning spree taking her from a mark of 66, when she won over Sunday’s course and distance in October, to a new mark of 87. That is 9lb higher than the mark off which she won on Sunday, but she won with a little bit in hand, and she may not be finished yet.

Runner-up Opera Gloves was making her seasonal debut and was racing for just the third time in her life. She made nice ground from mid-division, and looked the likely winner when she took it up from Dane Street inside the final furlong, but she just could not withstand the winner’s finishing surge. A 3lb hike is not harsh, and she should be able to win a handicap off her new mark of 91 before perhaps going on to bigger things.

Of the trio, however, it is third-placed Dane Street who is of greatest immediate interest. Jessica Harrington’s filly was handy throughout behind the fast pace, and she was left in front plenty early enough when the leaders began to drop away at the two-furlong pole. She picked up nicely for Fran Berry, however, and she stuck to her task really well even after she had been passed, coming back at Opera Gloves at the line and only losing out on second place by the bob of a head.

A 3lb hike is more than fair, she should come on for this, her seasonal debut and just her seventh ever run and, by Street Cry, she should be even better when the ground gets even faster. She will be of interest wherever she runs next.

Godolphin good news

These are turbulent times for Godolphin, but they are not without their rays of light. Dawn Approach’s 2000 Guineas was obviously a bright one, as was Farhh’s Lockinge Stakes last Saturday, and the general form of Saeed bin Suroor’s horses. Eight days ago, the trainer hadn’t had a winner in 12 attempts in Britain this season. In the last seven days, however, he has had six winners (including Farhh’s Lockinge Stakes and a listed race win by Willing Foe), three seconds and two thirds from just 15 runners.

The best recent news of all for Godolphin, however, was that bin Suroor’s yard was found to be anabolic-steroids-free. That was like winning the Derby twice.

© The Irish Field, 25th May 2013