Things We Learned » Champions Day

Champions Day

There has been lots of talk all week about the dearth of quality that is on show at Ascot today, on Champions’ Day, of all days. No Australia, they say. No Kingman, no Taghrooda, no Treve. It’s the time of the year, they continue, and the softening ground.

Here’s the thing though: the Champion Stakes has always been run at this time of year. It is only the venue that has changed. When Twice Over won the last renewal of the race at Newmarket in 2010, the race was run on 16th October, just two days earlier in the year than this year’s renewal. When New Approach beat Twice Over in the race in 2008 at Newmarket, it was run on today’s date, 18th October. When Literato won it for France in 2007, it was actually run on 20th October, two days later than this year.

Five of the last seven renewals of the Champion Stakes before the switch from Newmarket to Ascot were run on ground that was softer than good. And who is to know when the ground at Newmarket would be better than the ground at Ascot on any given year?

Australia and Kingman are both injured, and Treve was retired from racing before a re-think and a re-jigged plan was hatched to bring her back next year and bid for another Arc. (Anyone get on at 1000 on Betfair?) Regrettably, none of that trio would have been running today anyway, whatever concoction the elements had presented.

And it is unlikely that Taghrooda would have made it either on good ground. She had a hard race in the Arc just two weeks ago, and it is Sheikh Hamdan’s policy to retire his top three-year-old fillies at the end of their Classic year.

It’s actually a good story. Cirrus Des Aigles? Anseo. Free Eagle? Anseo. (Hopefully he remains so.) Ruler Of The World? Anseo. Night Of Thunder, Charm Spirit, Integral? All anseo. The headline races are still top class and fascinating contests.

Moving dates

There was tentative talk last year about moving British Champions’ Day to an earlier date, just three years into its existence, and there was talk this week of the scuppering of those plans because of the instigation of the new all-singing all-dancing Irish Champions Weekend. But realistically, to where would British Champions Day have moved?

There are five Group races today, three Group 1s and two Group 2s, all of which would had to have been accommodated in an earlier date. Move the Champion Stakes, and it would have impacted on the Irish Champion Stakes, even in its old guise one week earlier than Irish Champions Weekend, and possibly the Arc de Triomphe. Move the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and it impacts in the Prix du Moulin. Move the Fillies & Mares Stakes, and it impacts on the Prix de l’Opera.

Move the Sprint Stakes, and it impacts on the Prix de l’Abbaye and/or the Haydock Sprint Cup and/or the Flying Five. Move the Long Distance Cup and it impacts on the Irish St Leger and/or the Prix du Cadran.

Unlike with Irish Champions Weekend, for which the calendar just needed tweaking, there would have been considerable implications for a significant movement in the date for today’s meeting. That would have been an all-nighter at European Pattern Committee headquarters.

Juveniles’ day

By contrast, yesterday’s Future Champions Day at Newmarket still does not sit squarely.

The Cornwallis Stakes, a Group 3 race run over five furlongs, used to be run at Ascot around 9th to 13th October. The Middle Park Stakes, a Group 1 race run over six furlongs, used to be run at Newmarket around 1st to 5th October. The Fillies’ Mile, a Group 1 race for fillies run over a mile (the clue is in the title) used to be run around a bend at Ascot around 25th to 29th September. The Dewhurst Stakes, a Group 1 race for colts run over seven furlongs, used to be run at Newmarket around 16th to 20th October. At least that one hasn’t changed.

There were other changes. The Rockfel Stakes, essentially the fillies’ Dewhurst, a Group 2 race for fillies run over seven furlongs, was moved from Dewhurst/Champion Stakes day in mid-October to the Cambridgeshire meeting in late-September, while the Royal Lodge Stakes, the Fillies’ Mile for colts, was moved from Fillies’ Mile day (Ascot in late September) to Cambridgeshire day (Newmarket in late September).

Fine if the changes were made because of a need to alter the juveniles’ Pattern because there was some fundamental shift occurring in the industry, but there does not appear to have been any such shift. Newmarket got the Fillies’ Mile, the Royal Lodge and the Cornwallis Stakes, Ascot got the Champion Stakes, the Pride Stakes (the Fillies & Mares Stakes) and the Jockey Club Cup (the Long Distance Cup), and the logical order of the important juvenile races at the end of the season underwent a fundamental shift.

Irish injured jockeys

It was somehow appropriate that the winner of the Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown on Wednesday, Lord Scoundrel, was ridden by Bryan Cooper – his first winner on his second ride back after seven months on the sidelines.

Irish Injured Jockeys was launched earlier on the day, a new charity set up with the aim of raising funds on a consistent basis, and maintaining a high level of awareness of the need for said fund-raising, for Irish injured jockeys.

Jockeys get injured. It is an unavoidable fact. And this week was a tragic week for the profession internationally, with Caitlin Forrest and Carly-Mae Pye in Australia, and Juan Saez in America, suffering fatal injuries.

It is difficult to believe that it is a year since that day in Limerick when the racing world rallied around the need to raise funds for John Thomas McNamara and Jonjo Bright. It was a unique day, it proved what racing can do when people pull together with a common goal, but it was only necessary because the funding mechanism was not already in place. Irish Injured Jockeys has been set up to try to ensure that that imbalance is redressed.

The right people are involved too. Ruby Walsh is chairman, Andrew McNamara is secretary. Jockeys Barry Geraghty, Pat Smullen, David Casey, Davy Russell and Fran Berry are on the list of directors, as well as Turf Club and HRI representatives. The honorary patrons are Aidan O’Brien, JP Magnier, Sue-Ann Foley and Sheikh Fahad Al Thani. It is a serious organisation, and a much-welcomed initiative.

Ground myth

Many trainers were interviewed during the week in the lead up to Champions’ Day, many pondered the softening ground, wondering if their respective horses would handle it, and many figured that they would be okay on it, concluding: “It’s the same for all of them.”

It isn’t.

Neither Jack Dexter nor Maarek would be as short as 6/1 for the Sprint Stakes if the ground was not soft. Forgotten Rules would probably be a little bigger than 4/1 for the Long Distance Cup on good or fast ground, Cirrus Des Aigles would probably be available at greater than 11/8 for the Champion Stakes.

On soft ground, some horses are just more equal than others.

© The Irish Field, 18th October 2014