Donn's Articles » Gleneagles


On Friday, Aidan O’Brien said that Gleneagles was on track for Champions’ Day at Ascot on Saturday.  The long-range ante post weathermen are saying not much rain for the week, largely dry, and largely dry is Gleneagles weather.

Of course, we have been here before.  On four occasions this season, Gleneagles has had to cancel intended engagements because of inclement weather and easy ground.  He didn’t even make it to declaration stage for the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July, and his participation in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville in August was never really likely.  It never really looked like the Deauville ground was going to be anything other than soft.

However, decisions on his two most recent intended engagements have gone all the way to the wire.  He was declared for the Juddmonte International at York in August, and Aidan O’Brien walked the track on the morning of the race before deciding no.

It was a similar story before the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last month.  Gleneagles was again a late scratching after his trainer had walked the track.  The Galileo colt did gallop through the half-light after racing at Leopardstown though, a timely reminder that he was still present, that he was still a factor in the 2015 season.

In the meantime, the season has gone on around him.  Solow won the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in his absence, an appropriately-named winner of what had been billed as another Duel on the Downs.  Esoterique won the Prix Jacques le Marois, Golden Horn won the Irish Champion Stakes and followed up last Sunday in the Arc.  Muhaarar won the Commonwealth Cup and the July Cup and the Prix Maurice de Gheest.  This season’s chapters are being written, yet you have to go back to mid-June to find the latest one on Gleneagles.

Absence may foster fondness, but it can also engender indifference.  Gleneagles was a significant part of the story in the early part of the season.  But no one part is bigger than the entire and, in his absence, the story goes on.

Aidan O’Brien’s season has also gone on without him.  The champion trainer has won the Oaks, the Pretty Polly Stakes, the Irish St Leger, the Secretariat Stakes, and his two-year-olds have excelled, with Air Force Blue and Minding and Ballydoyle collectively claiming six Group 1 prizes.  But he may have been playing without his star player, it may be that Messi has been on the sidelines since June.

Gleneagles was a top class juvenile who has stepped forward as a three-year-old.  He won the National Stakes last year and was first past the post in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.  This year, he has won the 2000 Guineas, the Irish 2000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace Stakes.  He was beaten on his racecourse debut last year, but he hasn’t been beaten by another horse since.

After the St James’s Palace Stakes, O’Brien said that he didn’t think that he had ever had a miler who was as good as Gleneagles.  Think Rock Of Gibraltar, think Hawk Wing, think Giant’s Causeway, and that is an exalted pedestal.

It is understandable that there will be comparisons between Gleneagles and Giant’s Causeway.  Gleneagles is out of You’resothrilling, a full-sister to Giant’s Causeway.  The Iron Horse they called him.  He was a battler who rarely did more than he had to.  He won five Group 1 races as a three-year-old, but none of them by more than three parts of a length.

Gleneagles showed those battling qualities in the Irish Guineas, but he is different to his uncle, in that he shapes like a miler who might get 10 furlongs.  While Giant’s Causeway was a dual Group 1 winner over a mile, he excelled over 10 furlongs.  Like Giant’s Causeway but with more speed, O’Brien said after the St James’s Palace Stakes.  Again, exalted pedestal.

You can understand the reticence concerning Gleneagles.  He is a good, fast ground horse.  He is all about pace, and that weapon is at its most potent when he can bounce off the ground.  He did win the Irish Guineas on easy ground, but his wheels spun, it was the least impressive performance of his career.

Before the Juddmonte International at York in August, as well as the doubt about Gleneagles’ participation, there was also a doubt about Golden Horn’s participation.  Gleneagles didn’t run, Golden Horn did, and Arabian Queen beat him.

Since then, John Gosden’s colt has won the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but that defeat remains on his cv.  It is the only blemish on an otherwise flawless record.

It is difficult to know by how much a defeat can tarnish a reputation, and it is impossible to put it into monetary terms for a stallion prospect.  Would Golden Horn’s starting fee as a stallion have been larger than it will be had he not been beaten at York?  That may ultimately depend on how he fares in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in three weeks’ time.  Would the quality of the mares that he attracts have been significantly higher?  Probably not.  Galileo got beaten, Dubawi got beaten, Giant’s Causeway got beaten, and these are among the most successful stallions in the world.

Gleneagles has two options on British Champions’ Day, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over a mile, where Solow lies in wait again, and the Qipco Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs, where he would meet Jack Hobbs.  There are no easy options.  After that, run or not, win or lose, the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland at the end of October is on his radar.

Gleneagles may be the forgotten horse of the season, but he remains intriguing despite that, or perhaps because of it.  Hopefully we will get to see him race at Ascot on Saturday.  The next chapter needs to be written now.

© The Sunday Times, 11th October 2015