Things We Learned » Champions Day ingredients

Champions Day ingredients

Okay, so the weather wasn’t great and the ground was soft, but Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot last Saturday was still a success.

It had the right ingredients: top class racehorses.  Enable was obviously missing and Ulysses was a 10th-hour scratching, and we were missing the five-furlong speedballs, Battaash and Marsha and Lady Aurelia, but we had the best six-furlong horses and the best milers and the best fillies (outside of Enable) and the best middle-distance horses (outside of Enable and Ulysses). 

The human victors too enhanced the ‘champion’ theme: John Gosden and Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori, and a refreshing breakthrough Group 1 win by Dean Ivory.

Dettori lights up Ascot like Dettori lights up nowhere else, and any Ascot meeting at which he has a Group 1 double is well on its way to success before another ball is kicked.  Add that to an outlandish performance by Cracksman in the Champion Stakes itself, a race in which, according to Timeform, he clocked a faster time for the final furlong (after running nine) than any other horse clocked on the day, even after running just five or seven.  The headline writers on Saturday evening were spoiled for choice.

British Champions Day has now embedded itself nicely into the European Pattern and into the international calendar.  Irish Champions Weekend in Ireland in mid-September, Arc weekend in France in early October, British Champions Day in Britain in mid-October, Breeders’ Cup weekend in America in early November. 

You don’t have to run at all four meetings, but you can.  Found ran at all four in 2015 and again in 2016, and has a Breeders’ Cup Turf and an Arc de Triomphe to show for it.  Indeed, she only finished outside the first three once and only twice finished outside the first two in those eight runs.

This year, Hydrangea won the Matron Stakes in Ireland, was beaten a head by Rhododendron in the Prix de l’Opera in France, and won the Fillies & Mare Stakes in Britain.  Order Of St George won the Irish Leger, finished fourth in the Arc and won the Long Distance Cup.  Ribchester won the Prix du Moulin, finished second in the QE2 and is now on track for America.  It’s tough to do all four meetings – you don’t happen upon a filly like Found very often – but to run at three, and to run your race at three, is more than possible.

Inside track should be given a chance

There were a couple of issues arising out of Champions Day.  The late off-times was one.  The Champion Stakes went off almost 12 minutes late, and that is not good enough for a race that is of major international interest.  

Part of the delay was down to Barney Roy initially being saddled with the incorrect saddlecloth, but the previous race, the QE2, scheduled for 3.15pm, actually went off at 3.23:41.  That’s eight minutes and 41 seconds late. 

And it was not ideal that racing took place on ground that was soft, soft to heavy in places and into a strong headwind.  There is not a lot that you can do about the wind or the rain, but there is the contingent plan to race on the inside track.  On Thursday morning, the ground on the inside track was good to firm, firm in places, presumably because it was not watered during the summer.  The decision to race on the main track was taken on Thursday morning, before declarations.

Presumably the thinking behind the timing of the decision is that it is taken before declarations, so that connections will know on what track they will be racing before they decide to declare.  However, it would have been a brave call, to decide move to the inside track 48 hours before racing, even if the weather forecast was not great.

The facility to move to the inside track is a great facility to have, but perhaps the utilisation of that facility should be given a better chance.  Perhaps Ascot would need time to prepare the track, but is it really that important that a decision on which track racing will take place is taken before declarations?  In America in inclement conditions, they move from turf to dirt at very short notice.

Putting 25 Group 1 wins into context

How do you put 25 Group 1 wins into context?  A world record?

When Librisa Breeze won the British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, he brought up Dean Ivory’s first Group 1 win.  Dean Ivory is a top trainer, he trained Miss George to win a listed race at Lingfield in 2004, yet he had to wait another 13 years for his first Group 1.

He trained Sirius Prospect and Caspian Prince and he went close to landing a Group 1 with Tropics, who was beaten a nose by Muhaarar in the 2015 July Cup.  That was gutting.  That’s how elusive Group 1 wins are, but it does give some sort of perspective to 25 in a year.

It’s a world record.  Run a hundred metres in 9.58 seconds, jump over a bar that is two and a half metres high, run a marathon in two hours and two and a half minutes.  That’s the context.

You always hear Aidan O’Brien refer to the team.  He means it, of course, he name-checks them: all the people who were happy with the horse in the lead up to the race.  What he doesn’t tell you is that it is he who is responsible for the team.

It is Aidan himself who has assembled the team, who has picked the members, who manages the team, who determines the culture of the team.  The trainer probably can’t groom or wash or feed every horse, and he certainly can’t ride every winner, in the same way as the manager can’t win the ball or stick it in the back of the net.

But it is the manager who is responsible for the team.  It is the manager who has picked the team and who has managed the players and who has put it all together.  That’s Aidan O’Brien. 

This game would tame lions

Just shows you, the fragility of racehorses.  Fayonagh was just doing a routine canter on Wednesday morning with Davy Russell, she wasn’t even doing a full piece of work, when she suffered that fatal injury.

It’s desperate for everyone involved.  For Davy Russell, who was riding her at the time and who rode her to win her maiden hurdle, for Jamie Codd, who rode her to those bumper wins at Fairyhouse and Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring, for the Gittins family, who owned her and raced her and who were undoubtedly and justifiably looking forward to an exciting season ahead with her.

And it’s desperate for Gordon Elliott and his staff, who trained her to win her last three bumpers and her maiden hurdle.  It’s not just the loss of a potentially top class equine athlete, that potential unfulfilled that leaves a gaping hole, but there’s also the loss of a friend for the trainer and his team.  No head looking out over the half-door at you in the morning.

You have to feel for Gordon Elliott, it is the second high-profile horse that the trainer has lost this month.  Chris Jones’ horse Mega Fortune suffered a fatal fall at the second last flight on his seasonal debut at Limerick just three weeks ago.  Fayonagh was only six years old, Mega Fortune was just four.  Both horses had the potential to be top class. 

“She’s gone, but we won’t forget her,” said Gordon Elliott on At The Races. 

It would tame lions this game. 

Enable or Cracksman

It’s a moot point, but if you were to run the race tomorrow – hypothetically, of course, assuming that both horses were race fit and raring to go, ignoring the fact that Enable is on her holidays and that Cracksman ran his lungs out just a week ago – over a mile and a quarter or even a mile and a half, on good ground at, say, Ascot or Chantilly or York, where both have won, in receipt of the fillies’ allowance: Enable.

But if you were to run the race at Longchamp next October over a mile and a half on goodish ground – and you just might – under the gaze of Longchamp’s new stand, then, given his potential for progression, and even conceding the fillies’ allowance: Cracksman.

Or just wait until riding arrangements are confirmed.

© The Irish Field, 28th October 2017