Things We Learned » Beckford excites

Beckford excites

Beckford looked good when he won his maiden on his racecourse debut at The Curragh in May, but he looks even better now.

For starters, the form of that maiden is working out exceptionally well.  Runner-up Red Persian and fourth-placed Commander Grigio won afterwards, while third-placed Would Be King finished second to Brother Bear in the Marble Hill and finished second to new Guineas favourite Gustav Klimt in the opener on Sunday.

More than that, of course, Beckford himself went and won the Group 2 Railway Stakes on Saturday.  The Gordon Elliott-trained colt travelled well for Declan McDonogh, he picked up well, despite having little cover from flagfall, and he stayed on well all the way to the line. 

It’s strong form.  The runner-up Verbal Dexterity had won his maiden by nine and a half lengths, the third Murillo had been beaten a half a length in the Coventry Stakes when he looked a little unlucky, and the fourth De Bruyne Horse had won the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom.  Also, the race was run in a good time, the second fastest comparative time of the day and 0.7secs faster than the time that the four-year-old filly Only Mine clocked in beating Gordon Lord Byron in the listed race run over the same course and distance earlier in the day, carrying 1lb less. 

That was just Beckford’s second run too, his first since that maiden win in mid-May.  Newtown Anner Stud’s horse can only improve and it makes sense that he is as high as joint second favourite in the betting for next year’s Guineas.

Elliott plays it down

Gordon Elliott’s reaction after Beckford’s win was interesting: National Hunt is my number one (paraphrasing), we’re just having a bit of fun with these two-year-olds during the summer.

It’s up there with the trainer’s response (no chance!) all the way through the 2016/17 National Hunt season, any time he was asked about his prospects of being crowned champion, when everybody could see that, as the season progressed, he had a massive chance.

It’s Elliott all over: play things down, leave it to the horses.  He can obviously train two-year-old six-furlong horses as well as four-and-a-half-mile chasers, and just about everything in between.

Of course, Gordon Elliott is not alone as a trainer who can excel at both codes.  The existence of the dual purpose trainer has always been a feature of Irish racing, but it has dominated the landscape of late. 

Perennial National Hunt champ Willie Mullins had another winner at Royal Ascot two weeks ago with Thomas Hobson.  The 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup and Irish Grand National-winning trainer Jessica Harrington has as exciting a clutch of two-year-olds this season as she has ever had, headed by Alpha Centauri and Brother Bear. 

Joseph O’Brien had 23 winners on the flat in Ireland last year and has had 24 winners on the flat so far this year, while he had 38 National Hunt winners in Ireland last season and 15 to date this season.  He won the Group 2 Curragh Cup on Sunday with Rekindling and he won the Grade 3 Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary on Thursday evening with Plinth.  There’s your versatility right there.  

Record watch

Latest update on the likelihood of Aidan O’Brien equalling or breaking Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group/Grade 1 wins in a calendar year: positive and negative.

On the positive side, the champion trainer bagged another Group 1 win when Capri landed another Irish Derby for him on Saturday.  Add that to his five Classics this year and his Coronation Cup and his three Group 1 Royal Ascot winners, and that makes 10 so far in 2017.

This time last year, after the Irish Derby, a year that saw Aidan O’Brien reach a total of 23 Group/Grade 1 wins in total, he had six.  So he is well ahead of last year’s pace at this juncture.

On the negative side, regrettably, Wings Of Eagles has been retired and Somehow has been lost.  Also, Acapulco’s racing career is running out of time, and Minding’s return has been delayed at best.  These are blows.  Minding provided five of the total of 23 last year.

There are far more positives than negatives though.  Winter could be this year’s Minding, Caravaggio could sweep all sprints before him, Highland Reel keeps on winning at the highest level.  And there is strength in-depth in every discipline, including among the juveniles, colts and fillies.

Next Group/Grade 1 targets today: Cliffs Of Moher and Taj Mahal in the Eclipse, Whitecliffsofdover and Homesman in the Belmont Derby, Key To My Heart in the Belmont Oaks.

Epsom Derby form looks solid 

Strange that the strength of the Epsom Derby field is often decried before the race is run.

This tendency could be down to the fact that we haven’t become as familiar as we need to be with the protagonists.  That they are not embedded deeply into our psyche, not before the Derby is run, not like they will be when they go on and win the Eclipse or the King George or the Arc, or when they are going off to stud and we are lamenting the fact that their racing careers could not have been extended. 

Or it could be down to the fact that these three-year-old colts, these adolescents, have not reached the pinnacles of their respective abilities yet.

But even before the Epsom Derby this year, we knew that we had the Dante first, second and fourth, the Derrinstown first and third, the Ballysax first, second and fourth, the Dee Stakes winner, the Chester Vase first, second and third, the Epsom Derby Trial first and second, the Cocked Hat Stakes winner and the Lingfield Derby Trial first and second.  The quality was there from the trials.

We didn’t have the Guineas winner, so maybe that’s it.  Maybe if the Guineas winner doesn’t run in the Derby, we jump to the conclusion that it isn’t a great Derby.

Now look: the Epsom Derby has provided the 1-2-3 in the Irish Derby, as well as the winners of the King Edward VII Stakes and the Hampton Court Stakes and the Curragh Cup.  

So three of those races were confined to three-year-olds, but the Epsom Derby horses still stood up very well against the non-Epsom Derby horses. 

Benbatl was the only Derby representative in the Hampton Court Stakes, and he won it.  There were five Derby representatives in the 12-runner King Edward VII Stakes, and two of them filled the first two places. In the Irish Derby, five of the nine runners had run in the Epsom Derby, and they finished first, second, third, fifth and eighth.

Also, Rekindling was the only Epsom Derby representatives in the Curragh Cup, and he won it, beating his elders.

Of course, there is another big test today, when the Derby horses take another step beyond the safety zone that is their own age group and take on their elders in Group 1 open competition in the Eclipse.  Three-year-olds occupy the top three places in the Eclipse market, and two of them represent the Epsom Derby form.  We will be even wiser this evening.

Eclipse jockey go-round

Silvestre de Sousa rides Eminent for Martyn Meade for the first time in the Coral-Eclipse today.  Jim Crowley has ridden Eminent in all four of his races to date, one last year and three this year, the Craven, the Guineas and the Derby, but he is riding Ulysses today for Sir Michael Stoute.  

It looks like de Sousa had been booked for Eminent before it was confirmed publicly that Crowley would ride Ulysses, but Jim Crowley rode Ulysses for the first time in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot and, who knows, he may have chosen to ride the Flaxman Stables’ colt anyway.

Andrea Atzeni has ridden Decorated Knight in 11 of his last 12 races, including when he won the Group 1 Jebel Hatta and the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, but he goes to Haydock to ride Ajman Princess in the Lancashire Oaks for Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, so Olivier Peslier rides Roger Charlton’s horse for the first time today.

Oisin Murphy is back on Lightning Spear, after Jamie Spencer had ridden him in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last time, William Buick rides Salouen for the first time, and Padraig Beggy rides Taj Mahal for the second time, the first time since he rode him in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud last October.

James Doyle rides Barney Roy and Ryan Moore rides Cliffs Of Moher.  At least there’s some consistency in the world. 

© The Irish Field, 8th July 2017