Things We Learned » Bishop is not the best horse in the world

Bishop is not the best horse in the world

It was not surprising that Dubai World Cup night postmortems were dominated by Prince Bishop. He did, after all, with the feature event on the night, the richest race in the world, the race after which the night is named and around which the entire day – nay, the entire Carnival – is centred.

In an ideal world, the richest horse race in the world should be won by the best horse in the world, so it is not ideal when it is won by an eight-year-old gelding who had won just 10 of his 27 races and who had been beaten in both of the races that he had contested at this year’s Carnival. Sheikh Hamdan’s horse (that’s Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, not to be confused with his uncle Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum) probably wasn’t even the best horse running on the night, he may not even have been the best horse in the race, so it is difficult to argue that he is the best horse in the world.

So how come he won it?

It was probably down to the pace of the race. They went flat out through the first four furlongs of the race, and that ultimately set it up for something to come from behind. The plan with Prince Bishop was to break well from stall one and race up there early in order to avoid the kickback. He didn’t appear to enjoy the dirt in his face on his previous two runs on dirt.

As things turned out, he avoided the kickback all right, but he avoided it because he was so far behind the pace, not because he was up with it. Ironically, the fact that he missed the break, and that he didn’t fancy chasing the early pace, was ultimately at the root of his victory.

Fair play to William Buick, because he never gave up. And fair play also to Prince Bishop himself, because, once out of the kickback and moved towards the outside, he started to grab a hold of the bridle. A horse with a different attitude would have given up the chase as a lost cause.

That said, from a purist’s perspective, it was a disappointing result. And interestingly, if Prince Bishop had not been in the race, or if he had remained out the back, as it looked like he would, the race would have had the perfect result for the race and the night. The Americans would have filled the first two places, with Horse of the Year, the super-popular California Chrome beating compatriot Lea – trained by Bill Mott, who trained Cigar to win the first ever Dubai World Cup in 1996 – by a length.

The biggest surprise – even bigger than his actual victory – was that Prince Bishop did not trade at any bigger than 50 in-running on Betfair. After they had gone two furlongs, you wouldn’t have backed him at 1000.

Top class performances

It was a pity that the headline race got a less than satisfactory result, because there were some top class performances earlier in the evening that would have been worthy of top billing.

From a parochial perspective, victory for Sole Power (from this parish) in the Al Quoz Sprint was the obvious highlight. The only Irish-trained horse racing on the night, the Powers’ horse was trained to the minute for the race by Eddie Lynam and he was ridden to perfection by Richard Hughes. It was just reward for a horse who had shaped as if Meydan just didn’t suit him. He was racing at the track for the ninth time, and he was winning for the first.

Tamarkuz displayed courage that he probably didn’t fully know he possessed himself after missing the break in the Godolphin Mile, while Brown Panther was always in control in the Dubai Gold Cup as soon as the excellent Richard Kingscote had negated the possible disadvantage of his draw in stall 14.

Mubtaahij was electric in the UAE Derby, while the two French horses, Solow and Dolniya, both looked very good in landing their respective inaugural Group 1 wins in the Dubai Turf and the Dubai Sheema Classic respectively.

Solow put up a high-class performance. Freddy Head’s horse had the race in the bag from the top of the home straight, and he was impressive in coming clear, beating The high-class Grey Gatsby by over four lengths. That is his fifth win on the spin, and he will be a big player in any of the top class races over any distance from a mile to 10 furlongs that he contests back in Europe now.

Dolniya probably shouldn’t have been suited by the sedate pace that they went in the Sheema Classic, but, sent to the front well outside the furlong pole by Christophe Soumillon, she stayed on really well all the way to the line to beat compatriot Flintshire by over two lengths. That is top class form and, raced just eight times in her life, she should continue to improve.

Godolphin trainers

Times were that, if you saw a horse racing in Godolphin blue, you could legitimately assume that the horse was trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Not any more.

The two-pronged Godolphin approach was tried and tested, first with bin Suroor and Mahmood Al Zarooni, then with bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby. Then Dawn Approach remained with Jim Bolger despite the fact that he traded the white-and-purple-panel Bolger silks for Godolphin blue.

Then there was Trading Leather and Lucida and the Michael Halford-trained Toscanini. Then some of the two-year-olds with Bolger and Halford and Willie McCreery started to morph from their Sheikh Mohammed maroon and white to royal blue.

Now it is happening in Britain also. It was unusual to see Romsdal win the Magnolia Stakes at Kempton last Saturday, his rider Nicky Mackay clad in Godolphin blue, but the horse still under the tutelage of John Gosden, as he was when he finished third in the Derby last year and second in the Leger in the green colours of Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, Princess Haya. And Romsdal was following in the footsteps on Entertainment, another former Princess Haya-owned horse, who won at Chelmsford on Thursday for Gosden and Godolphin, and was followed up by Maverick Wave who won at Chelmsford on Saturday evening.

Godolphin had six runners at The Curragh on Sunday. Four of them were trained by Jim Bolger, one was trained by Michael Halford and the other by Willie McCreery. It has taken a while to implement, but this multiple-trainer strategy could pay dividends this season.

Johnston’s juveniles

You never would have had Mark Johnston pegged as a trainer for early two-year-olds. In the last five years combined, he has had just three runners in March, and none of them won.

This year, different story. The Middleham trainer sent out three juveniles in March in the three juvenile races run in Britain. It all kicked off with Ravenhoe, who landed the Brocklesby at Doncaster on the first day of the turf flat season. Twenty minutes later, Rah Rah won a maiden at Kempton, and then, just over an hour after that, Buratino landed a maiden at Chelmsford. Three for three, a 100% strike rate.

Johnston’s operation is a little different to normal this year. Primarily because of the shift in Godolphin’s modus operandi, he will not have the depth among the older horses that he has had in the recent past. The net result is that he invested more in yearlings last autumn than is usually the case. He has around 130 juveniles, more than ever before.

The trainer says that this year’s juveniles are no more precocious than his juveniles usually are, that they are mainly middle-distance types. However, the limited evidence that we have suggests that the Johnston juveniles may be a little way ahead of their contemporaries in general, at least for now.

Casualty list lengthens

Mikey Fogarty was the latest top-notch rider to add his name to the casualty list after he was unseated from Oscar Invitation in the handicap hurdle at Clonmel on Thursday. It is desperate luck again this year for Fogarty, who missed the ride on Vesper Bell in the Aintree Grand National last year after fracturing vertebrae in his back when his horse Bishopsfurze fell in the Topham Chase.

The ever-lengthening list of casualties is a stark reminder of the perils that are the day-to-day reality for the National Hunt jockey, with three of the top Irish riders, Barry Geraghty, Davy Russell and Mark Walsh, all on the sidelines with fractured or broken limbs, as well as Jamie Moore in Britain, who broke his tibia and fibula when his horse fell on him on the walkway out to the racecourse at Towcester on Wednesday. Add to that the fact that Bryan Cooper is currently suspended, and the two Grand Nationals are going to go ahead this year without some of the top names.

© The Irish Field, 4th April 2015