Things We Learned » The first three home in the toughest race

The first three home in the toughest race

All week people searched for a context for Aidan O’Brien’s feat last Sunday, all week people searched for a sporting parallel.  It wasn’t easy.

Limato’s trainer Henry Candy nailed it when he said that it was possibly the most extraordinary feat ever in flat racing.  The first three home in the toughest race.

And it is the toughest race.  The Arc de Triomphe is the race into which the entire season funnels, the championship race of Europe, probably the championship turf race of the world.  And Aidan O’Brien ran just three horses.  It was three from three.

Frankie Dettori’s Magificent Seven, Michael Dickinson’s Famous Five, now Aidan O’Brien’s 1-2-3.  Somebody will come up with a name for a 1-2-3 soon.

Of course, O’Brien has done it before.  It was in 1995 that he had the first three home in the Galway Plate.  (How the world has changed since 1995.)  He did it again in the Irish 2000 Guineas in 2001, and in the Irish 2000 Guineas again in 2002, and in the Irish Derby six weeks later, with three different three-year-old colts, and he did it in the Irish Champion Stakes in 2007.  Then he had the 1-2-3 in the Moyglare Stud Stakes last year.  All of these were on Irish soil.

Then at Newmarket on 1st May this year, he moved it onto British soil with the 1-2-3 in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket – the three Moyglare fillies from last year.  Now he has done it in France, on European soil, in the biggest race.

We know the other figures too.  When Highland Reel won the King George at Ascot in July, he took the trainer’s world-wide Group/Grade 1 career haul to 280, past the previous record of 279 set by legendary Australian trainer Tommy Smith.  That figure now stands at 293, and that is a figure that is difficult to comprehend.

Aidan is also on track this year for another Irish trainers’ championship, and another British trainers’ championship, his first since 2008.  He is over £3.5 million clear in Britain, he has amassed more than twice the prize money of his closest pursuer.  Incidentally, the £3.36 million (sterling equivalent) that the Arc 1-2-3 collected, which obviously will not be counted towards the British trainers’ championship, is almost a million more than his closest pursuer in Britain has amassed for the entire season so far.

There is also his Group/Grade 1 haul for 2016, 18 so far, 19 if you count Ivanovich Gorbatov’s Triumph Hurdle.  The world record is 25, set by the legendary Bobby Frankel in 2003.  Aidan had 24 in 2001, which was a record at the time, which Bobby Frankel eclipsed two years later. 

It is achievable.  Last year, between today, Dewhurst Stakes day, and the end of the season, Aidan O’Brien had five Group/Grade 1 winners: Air Force Blue in the Dewhurst, Johannes Vermeer in the Criterium International and Highland Reel in the Hong Kong Vase, as well as his two Breeders’ Cup winners Found (ring a bell?) and Hit It A Bomb.  And you can easily argue that he has a stronger team for the end-of-season highlights this year than he did last year.

Whether he breaks this particular record or not, these are truly extraordinary figures.  This is an extraordinary season within an extraordinary career.

Frankie Dettori put some context on it.  He is a remarkable trainer, said the jockey, but the Arc 1-2-3 takes it to a whole new level. 

New Bay better than the form suggests

Everything else in the Arc got a little lost in the backwash of Aidan O’Brien’s 1-2-3, but there was plenty going on. 

For starters, the high-drawn horses out-ran expectations.  If the race had been run at Longchamp, Aidan O’Brien would have looked on in horror when he saw the draw: Order Of St George in 16 (of 16), Found in 12, Highland Reel in 11.  Three runners, three of the six outside stalls.  That’ll be the visitors’ draw for you.

Not so at Chantilly, however, over a mile and a half, where the left-hand kink helps the high-drawn horses, and where a high draw may even be an advantage.

There was also Ryan Moore’s ride on Found.  It didn’t work out for the pair of them in the race last year at Longchamp, the gaps just didn’t appear when they needed them, and they finished ninth.  Moore was unperturbed, however, he gave his filly the same ride.  Only this time, the gaps appeared.

He dropped her in early, got over to the inside rail and got a lovely run up there so that he could sit just behind the leaders.  Then the gap opened between Vedevani and Postponed in the home straight, and Found had the pace to take it.  After that, it would have taken a very good one to come and catch her.

And there was New Bay’s run.  It was probably an advantage to be prominent and towards the inside in the Arc, but New Bay was in behind, and he made his ground wide.  The form book says that he finished seventh, six and three-quarter lengths behind Found, but Andre Fabre’s horse ran a whole lot better than that.  If there is a horse to take out of this year’s Arc with next year’s Arc in mind, if there is a Found from this year’s race, it is New Bay.

Prominent racers favoured

It wasn’t just in the Arc in which prominent racers appeared to be favoured at Chantilly.  The other four winners on the round course on the day – Wuheida, National Defense, Speedy Boarding and Limato – all raced on or near the pace, all no more than one horse-width off the rail, while the placed horses generally also raced handily.

There were horses who did well against this apparent bias, like Suedois, who was wider than ideal in the Foret, and Attendu, who came from the rear in the Foret, and Kontrastat, who was ridden patiently in the Jean-Luc Lagardere, and So Mi Dar, who had to check on the home turn and made ground late, and Toulifaut, who was badly hampered in the Marcel Boussac when trying to make her ground from the rear.

The converse was the case in the Prix de l’Abbaye, however, a race in which they appeared to go very fast from very early, and in which it was probably an advantage to be ridden patiently.  Eight of the first nine home were ridden patiently.  The one who wasn’t was Mecca’s Angel, who was up with the pace from flagfall and did really well to finish third, just three parts of a length behind the winner Marsha, on ground that was surely faster than ideal for her.

Michael Dods’ filly hasn’t raced over six furlongs since she was fourth in the Two-Year-Old Trophy at Redcar in 2013, but she is still in top form this season on this evidence and she will be of interest if she takes her chance in the Champions Sprint at Ascot next Saturday.

Raiders excelled

The British and Irish had a fantastic weekend at Chantilly.  The sole Group 1 race run on the Saturday, the Prix du Cadran, was won by the Roger Charlton-trained Quest For More, with the Hughie Morrison-trained Nearly Caught finishing third, while five of the six Group 1 races run on Sunday were won by Irish- or British-trained horses.

It appears that the key to Quest For More is not front-running tactics at all (he was held up on Saturday), but George Baker.  The Teofilo gelding’s record with Baker on board reads 41321126121, with a Group 2 and now a Group 1 win included among the 1s. 

So, as well as the 1-3 in the Cadran and that unprecedented 1-2-3 in the Arc, the raiders had the 1-2-3 in the Prix Marcel Boussac, the 1-2-3 in the Prix de l’Opera, the 1-2-3 in the Prix de l’Abbaye, and the 1-3 in the Prix de la Foret.  And in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, won so impressively by the Criquette Head-Maarek-trained National Defense, the raiders fielded the second and third.

On the way home on the plane, the returning visitors were singing: Can we have it at Chantilly every year?

Pleascach cracker

Pleascach ran a cracker in the Prix de l’Opera.  She almost got there under a top ride from Kevin Manning.  If the bob of her and Speedy Boarding’s heads had gone the other way, she would have won it.

It was a superb training performance by Jim Bolger, to get the Godolphin filly back to that type of form, a year and three weeks after she had last run, since she had finished fourth behind Golden Horn in the 2015 Irish Champion Stakes.  It is great that she got back to the racetrack this season.

Difficult to believe that it is 12 years since Bolger won the Prix de l’Opera with Alexander Goldrun.  Two months later, Alexander Goldrun went to Hong Kong and won the Hong Kong Cup.  It would be interesting if Pleascach trod a similar path.

© The Irish Field, 8th October 2016