Things We Learned » Some day ahead at Ascot

Some day ahead at Ascot

After a phenomenal Irish Champions Weekend and a wholly memorable Arc de Triomphe weekend, we are set for another top class day of flat racing today at Ascot on British Champions Day.

It is serious racing.  Almanzor is back, the Irish Champion Stakes hero, the French Derby winner who skipped a home gig in the Arc de Triomphe to go to Ascot.

Found is there, remarkable filly that she is, just 13 days after she ran her lungs out to win the Arc.  But we know that she thrives on her racing, especially at this time of year.  She was second in the Champion Stakes last year, despite having to make her ground from the rear, just 13 days after running in the Arc.  Then she went to Keeneland two weeks after that and beat Arc winner Golden Horn in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Found’s conqueror in last year’s renewal, Fascinating Rock, is back, defending his title, bidding to become just the third horse since Brigadier Gerard to land back-to-back runnings of the Champion Stakes.  You feel that Dermot Weld – who excels on this day, at this meeting – has been gearing his season towards this day.

Minding taking on old rivals Ribchester and Awtaad and Galileo Gold in the QE2, Quiet Reflection against one of last season’s most exciting juveniles Shalaa in the Sprint, Seventh Heaven versus Zhukova in a Fillies & Mares Stakes that is so hot, Prix de l’Opera winner Speedy Boarding is a 10/1 shot.

And Order Of St George in the Long Distance Cup, back to the scene of his Gold Cup win just 13 days after he finished third in the Arc, taking on last year’s Leger winner Simple Verse, who is stepping up to two miles for the first time, and the talented Forgotten Rules, favourite for last year’s renewal, who warmed up nicely for this at The Curragh three weeks ago.

Anyone missing?  Postponed for one.  He is the obvious absentee, but he was never really coming here, not when the Arc was his primary goal, and not when he could only finish fifth there.

Derby winner Harzand, French Guineas and Oaks winner La Cressonniere, Sun Chariot/Matron/Falmouth Stakes winner Alice Springs, July Cup winner Limato, who was out of the Sprint, then in, then out again.  It’s not unusual with Limato.

And we’re missing all the two-year-olds.

A top class two-year-old race would be a nice addition to the day.  Not instead of the Balmorral Handicap, which is a fitting finale to the day as you digest all that has gone before, but as well as it. 

Interestingly, all of the top 23 horses that were left in the Balmoral Handicap at the five-day entry stage stood their ground at final declaration stage.  Every single one of them.  That’s all 20 runners plus three reserves.  So if you were so inclined, you could probably have a Balmoral Handicap Consolation race for those who did not make the cut, start the meeting with that, allow the day ease its way in.

But easing-its-way-in is not in the DNA of Ascot, a course that starts its Royal meeting with the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, which is followed by the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes, then the Group 2 Coventry Stakes, then the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes.  Such an explosion of top class racing that you have to go home and watch the recording to determine what actually happened.

The problem with the prospective addition of a top class juveniles’ race – like returning the Fillies’ Mile to Ascot – is that the two-year-old Pattern has been upset enough in the last few years, since the creation of British Champions Day and the trialing of Future Champions Day on the Friday.  It is all settling down now, and people are getting used to the new calendar.  Leave it as it is now.  It ain’t broke. 

Some day ahead.


De Bromhead stars

You know that the National Hunt season is upon you when Henry de Bromhead has a double at Punchestown on a Thursday.

It was a Grade 3 double too: Sadler’s Risk in the Irish Daily Star Chase and Three Stars in the Buck House Chase. 

Sadler’s Risk was good in beating Galway Plate winner Lord Scoundrel under a copybook ride from David Mullins.  It may seem like Roger Brookhouse’s horse has been around for ages – it is five years, after all, since he finished fourth behind Treasure Beach in the Chester Vase when he was trained by Mark Johnston – but he was off for most of last season, and he was racing in just his seventh chase on Thursday. 

He is morphing into a better chaser than hurdler, and he still has scope for progression now in staying chases.  Third behind his stable companion Shanahan’s Turn in the 2015 Galway Plate, and winner of the Munster National two and a half months later, his record over fences over two miles and six furlongs or more reads 3121.  By Sadler’s Wells out of a Dynaformer mare, it is not surprising that it is turning out that stamina is probably his forte.

Three Stars was also very good.  His task was made easier than it might have been by the fact that favourite Lieutenant Colonel under-performed, but he travelled like the most likely winner for Ruby Walsh from a long way out.  He only got home by two lengths in the end from the staying-on Ball D’Arc – who had also chased him home at Listowel last month – but the margin of victory probably does not do justice to the magnitude of the winner’s superiority.

Robert Finnegan’s horse was a good novice hurdler last season, and he surprised a few people when he beat Thomas Hobson and Tycoon Prince in a Grade 3 contest on soft ground at Navan last November.  Considered a good ground horse before that win, he is obviously versatile and, only six, he could have an interesting time ahead of him in two-mile novice chases this season. 

Elliott on a roll

And if you needed confirmation that the National Hunt scene was bubbling away underneath the build up to British Champions Day, you had it in the performance of Gordon Elliott’s team this week.

Elliott had nine winners last week, as well as eight seconds and five thirds.

Highlights?  Diamond King was one.  The King’s Theatre gelding was relatively weak in the market before his beginners’ chase at Galway on Tuesday, but he was dynamite during it.  He travelled really well for Davy Russell, his jumping was superb for a debutant, and he came away readily up the hill to win as easily as he liked.

His trainer said afterwards that he will now go for the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse on 4th December and, after that, who knows?  The Drinmore is a special race for Elliott, it was in the Drinmore Chase that he gained his first Grade 1 win, when Jessies Dream landed the 2010 renewal after Mikael D’Haguenet had fallen at the final fence.  Jessies Dream went on to finish second in the RSA Chase the following March, and Diamond King – a Cheltenham Festival winner – could trod a similar path, although he also has the option of the JLT Chase.

Tiger Roll’s win in the JT McNamara Ladbrokes Munster National at Limerick on Sunday was another highlight for Gordon Elliott this week.  The trainer spoke afterwards of how special it was for him, to win the inaugural running of the race under JT McNamara’s name, that he watched the race with JT’s widow Caroline.

He also admitted afterwards that he thought about taking Tiger Roll out of the race because of the ground, that it was Eddie O’Leary who said, let him take his chance, that they would find out more about the horse at worst, that they would find out if he could handle the ground and the distance.

He sure did.

More than handle it, the Gigginstown House horse excelled for the stamina test.  He moved through his race beautifully in his red blinkers, he came from mid-division through his field in a race in which it was probably an advantage to race handily, and he careered away under Donagh Meyler from the top of the home straight.

The handicapper raised the 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner by 11lb for that win, but that was merited, he was so impressive in victory.  Also, it takes him up to a mark of just 147, which is still 3lb lower than his peak over hurdles. 

This was his first run over three miles over fences, he seemed to relish the extended stamina test and the slower pace at which things happened over the longer trip.  Also, he seemed to appreciate being ridden like this, slowly slowly in behind and passing horses.  He will be of interest wherever he goes next.  Ideally that will be in a big field and over three miles or further. 


Curtis flying start continues

Across the water, Rebecca Curtis’ fine start to the season continues.  In the last three weeks, she has had six runners in handicaps, and two of them have won.  The Romford Pele won a handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot last Friday at an SP of 7/1, and Potters Cross won a good three-mile handicap chase at Chepstow last Saturday, returned at 12/1.  It continues to be the case that all her runners in handicaps are worth a second look.

She has also had eight runners in non-handicaps during the same period, and two of them have won.  Geordie Des Champs won a novices’ hurdle at Chepstow last Saturday at 5/1, and Definite Outcome won a novices’ chase there on Sunday, also at 5/1, a race in which Curtis also fielded the runner-up in Aurillac.

So the Pembrokeshire trainer is showing a level stakes profit in handicaps of €15.00 for the last three weeks, and a level stakes profit in all races of €19.00. 

It is a great start for Jonathan Moore’s association with the trainer.  Moore has had 35 rides for Curtis this season so far, and he has won on 10 of them, for a strike rate of 29% and a level stakes profit of €51.48.  These are impressive figures, and they could get even better over the coming weeks and months.


Cyclone as good as ever

If Hidden Cyclone was a tree, he would be an evergreen tree.  Shark Hanlon’s stalwart looked as good as ever at Punchestown on Wednesday, making all under Danny Mullins and coming clear from Rashaan and The Game Changer from the second last.

If the ball had hopped a little more kindly for him, he could have won the Galway Hurdle in July as an 11-year-old.  But, according to his trainer, there is no reason why he can’t go and win the Galway Hurdle next year as a 12-year-old.

© The Irish Field, 15th October 2016