Things We Learned » Warrior was very good

Warrior was very good

Saxon Warrior was very good in winning the 2000 Guineas on Saturday.  He only won by a length and a half, and the time was not spectacular, but there was much more to the performance than the winning margin and the time.

There was the visual impression for starters.  Even if you weren’t watching him from the start through the race, you can watch him from the start through the replay.  He wasn’t that quickly away, he was far enough back early on, but he moved through his race easily at one-mile Classic pace, he was able to move up nicely, apparently relatively effortlessly, just behind the leaders.

One of the most striking features of his performance was the turn of foot that he showed.  When Donnacha O’Brien moved him to his right and asked him to pick up inside the three-furlong pole, the response was immediate.  He moved from a length behind Masar, a nine-length Craven winner and Guineas favourite, to level with him very quickly, and he hit the front just inside the two-furlong marker.

The other aspect of the performance that impressed was what happened when he hit the front.  He didn’t pull seven lengths clear, but he didn’t need to.  He moved a little to his left, then he moved a little to his right, but he ran all the way through the line for his young rider and he left the impression that he was only doing enough, that he may have had plenty more in hand than the bare margin by which he beat his rivals.

The feeling beforehand was that Aidan O’Brien’s colt was competing on Saturday over a distance that would be short of his best this season.  He was favourite for the Derby before Saturday’s race, but he wasn’t favourite for the Guineas.  You can understand the reasoning too. 

His dam may have won the Moyglare Stud Stakes as a juvenile and she may have finished third in the Guineas, but she is by Galileo and she is from the family of Oaks winner Dancing Rain.  Also, while we know his sire Deep Impact as a 12-furlong horse, a Japanese Derby horse, a Japan Cup horse, an Arc horse, he also won the Tenno Sho over two miles and he won the Japanese St Leger over a mile and seven furlongs. 

Then there is Saxon Warrior himself, his physique and the races that he won as a juvenile: the Beresford Stakes over a mile on soft ground, the Racing Post Trophy over a mile, historically more a pointer to the Derby than to the Guineas.  It is not majorly surprising that he is now odds-on for the Derby. 

Triple Crown talk 

It is great that there is talk of the Triple Crown now for Saxon Warrior.  The third leg of the Triple Crown, the St Leger, is not a commercial race, it is not a stallion-making race, but there is a depth of history that goes with the Triple Crown, and it is great that Aidan O’Brien and Team Ballydoyle appear to be on the Triple Crown wavelength. 

Nijinsky is still the last horse to win complete the Triple Crown, to win the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger.  That was in 1970.  Oh So Sharp won the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger in 1985, they called it the Fillies’ Triple Crown, but it didn’t have the same resonance.

Nashwan won the Guineas and the Derby in 1989, but he side-stepped the St Leger.  Sea The Stars won the Guineas and the Derby in 2009, but John Oxx’s horse was never going to tackle the St Leger. 

Camelot went mighty close in 2012, the Guineas and the Derby in the bag, he was thwarted in the Leger by Encke.  Perhaps the Camelot near-miss has whetted the appetite of Coolmore and Ballydoyle for a Triple Crown winner. 

It is not a coincidence that the Triple Crown has not been won in almost 50 years.  And it isn’t just because the St Leger is not a race that trainers automatically target with Derby winners.  The 2000 Guineas and the Derby are massive in every sense, including commercially, and only Nashwan, Sea The Stars and Camelot have won both in that time.  El Gran Senor went close, Dancing Brave went close, but even they came up just short.  It is not easily done.

It is a massive ask of a thoroughbred, to win a Classic over a straight mile in May, another Classic over a turning, undulating mile and a half in June, and another over a mile and six and a half furlongs in September, four and a half months after the Guineas.  He requires not only a rare combination of class and pace and speed and stamina, but also an unusual soundness of body and of mind.  He also needs to have a trainer in his corner who is up to the challenge.  It could happen.

Triple Crown talk in America too

Not only is there Triple Crown talk in Europe, there is also Triple Crown talk Stateside.

It was a shame that Mendelssohn’s bid for Kentucky Derby glory was weakened by the weather and just about scuppered when he was hampered a couple of strides after he had left the starting stalls, but Justify was impressive in winning the race.  Bob Baffert’s horse raced up with the fast pace under Mike Smith, but he kept on really strongly all the way to the line to win by two and a half lengths, disarming the Curse of Apollo in the process. 

There are many differences between the American Triple Crown and the British Triple Crown.  Two obvious ones.  Firstly, the final leg of the American version is run five weeks after the first leg, not four and a half months after it.  And secondly, the longest leg is 500 meters longer than the shortest leg, two and a half furlongs, not six and a half furlongs.

It doesn’t mean that it is easy to win the American Triple Crown, and a certain type of horse is required to win three Classics in the space of five weeks.  There were three American Triple Crown winners in the 1970s, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, but there wasn’t one after Affirmed until American Pharoah in 2015.

Bob Baffert trained him too.

Rascal a contender

A potential challenger to Saxon Warrior at Epsom emerged at Chester on Wednesday when Young Rascal won the Chester Vase. 

William Haggas’ horse did well to win too.  He was caught on heels a little as they raced around the home turn, and James Doyle had to take him wide in the home straight in order to negotiate some racing room for him but, once he did, he finished off his race well and ran out a cosy winner.

It is solid form.  The four horses who followed him home were rated, respectively, 103, 104, 106 and 108, and the Intello colt beat them well despite not having the run of the race.  It was just his third run too, it was a significant step up on his impressive maiden win at Newbury last month. 

He will have to step forward significantly again if he is going to emerge as a genuine challenger to Saxon Warrior, but he has a likeable attitude and there is every chance that he will step forward again at least a little.


Not a nursery

The Caragh Nurseries Handicap at Naas on Monday was not the first nursery of the season.  It was a five-furlong handicap, for three-year-olds and up, which was sponsored by Caragh Nurseries, where, apparently, there is a fantastic stock of trees, plants, hedging and shrubs to be found.  Check the racing calendar again in August for other nurseries.


© The Irish Field, 12th May 2018