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British Champions’ Day

Cracksman brought the curtain down on his glittering racing career in style on British Champions Day at Ascot yesterday, as he obliterated his rivals with a devastating performance that took him to a six-length victory in the Qipco Champion Stakes.

Off the track for exactly four months before yesterday, the John Gosden-trained colt’s previous two performances had been some way shy of his brilliant best.  He only scrambled home in the Coronation Cup at Epsom in early June, and he was beaten by Poet’s Word in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot three weeks later.

He skipped the King George, skipped the Juddmonte International, skipped the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  That’s Gosden’s patient approach for you.

Anthony Oppenheimer’s horse had looked imperious in victory in this race 12 months ago, and the plan to return to the scene of the most impressive performance of his career made sense.  Ascot in October plays to his strengths: soft ground, stiff track, fast pace.  He had all the ingredients yesterday, and he delivered.

Gosden left nothing to chance.  The blinkers were new, designed to help the Frankel colt concentrate.  And they worked, despite the fact that rider Frankie Dettori had to squeeze him along for a few strides as they raced out of Swinley Bottom, seven and a half furlongs from home.  

But the longer the race went on, the stronger Cracksman got.  Dettori wheeled him to the outside as soon as they straightened up for home, and asked him for his effort.  Once he did, Cracksman’s response was impressive.  His relentless gallop took him clear of his rivals and allowed his rider the luxury of an air-punch 100 yards from the winning line. 

“He won the Prix Ganay in exhilarating style,” said Gosden.  “But he never was quite the same after that.  And he was distracted by the fillies here in June.  His mind wasn’t on it.  We fitted those semi-blinkers today, just to focus his mind.  But he’d been showing me at home recently that he was ready to do what he just did.  He’s a hugely talented horse, and he’s shown it again today.”

Cracksman’s sire Frankel also signed off on his racing career with victory in the Champion Stakes.

“I’m lucky that I have great owners and wonderful staff,” said Gosden.  “And the horses to go with them.  It’s a team effort.”

Yesterday was a truly memorable day for that team, as Gosden also won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes with Roaring Lion and the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup with Stradivarius. 

Roaring Lion had to dig deep in the QEII over a mile.  The Kitten’s Joy colt has excelled over 10 furlongs all season.  He has bagged the 10-furlong jewels this term.  The Dante, the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes.  He hadn’t raced over a mile since he finished fifth behind Saxon Warrior in the 2000 Guineas last May.

The early pace in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was strong, and Roaring Lion was not in love with the soft ground, but he picked up when Oisin Murphy asked him to, he hit the front deep inside the final furlong, and he got home by a neck from I Can Fly, who finished well on the far side.

“It’s very soft and loose out there,” said Gosden.  “And he’s American-bred, he loves good, good to firm ground. He showed a lot of courage.  And Oisin didn’t panic.  He nursed him into  the race and got the job done.  He’s got a lot of heart, this horse.  He was not happy on the ground, but he had the class to get it done. He probably goes to stud now.” 

Stradivarius got the day off to the perfect start for Gosden when he stayed on strongly under Frankie Dettori to win the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup.  The Sea The Stars colt hit the front on the inside at the top of the home straight, and he stayed on well enough to repel the late challenge of the Willie Mullins-trained Thomas Hobson, who was a little short of room along the inside inside the final furlong.

Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore got on the score sheet for the day when they teamed up to win the Qipco British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes with Magical, while the Richard Fahey-trained Sands Of Mali sprang a mild surprise in the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes, making just about all the running under Paul Hanagan, and getting home by a length from Harry Angel. 

© The Sunday Times, 21st October 2018