Things We Learned » Classic victory not easy

Classic victory not easy

A European horse can win a Breeders’ Cup Classic.  It’s not easily done, but it’s not impossible either.

There is no doubting the arduousness of the task.  John Gosden won the Classic in 2008 with Raven’s Pass, but that was at Santa Anita, when the Classic was run on Pro-Ride, a surface that mirrored the qualities of Polytrack more than it mirrored the traditional American dirt on which this evening’s race will be run.  The Aidan O’Brien-trained Henrythenavigator finished second in the 2008 Classic, and the American superstar Curlin finished a tired fourth. 

Raven’s Pass aside, only one European-trained horse has won the Classic since it was first run in 1984: the Andre Fabre-trained Arcangues, who was returned at 133/1 when he won it in 1993.  And many have tried.  Even the great Galileo could finish only sixth in 2001.

You can see the difficulty.  The Classic is run in America, at the end of the season, on a surface that is alien to most European horses.  Roaring Lion, for example, for all his achievements, will be racing on dirt for the first time this evening.

Also, the Classic is often an after-thought for European trainers.  That’s natural.  You campaign a horse through his season in Europe and then, if he is good enough, you allow him take his chance.  It’s different for the Americans.  The Classic is often the primary goal.  They train towards it.

There is hope though.  European horses have gone close in the Classic.  Swain was beaten just a length by Awesome Again in 1998.  Giant’s Causeway was beaten just a neck by Tiznow in 2000.  Sakhee was beaten just a nose by the same Tiznow in 2001.  And Aidan O’Brien has had this evening’s race in mind for Mendelssohn for a while.  It is not an after-thought.

It will be fascinating to see how it pans out.

Lots of promise

It took Blow By Blow a little while to find his racing and jumping rhythm on his chasing debut in the WB Gavin & Co Irish EBF Beginners Chase at Galway on Sunday.  Gordon Elliott’s horse was out to his left on occasion, and he wasn’t helped by the attentions of a loose horse on the run to the two fences in the dip first time, but he warmed up as the race developed and, in the end, he ran out an impressive winner.

It was a more than satisfactory start to the Gigginstown House gelding’s chasing career and, as rider Jack Kennedy said afterwards, he will probably be better in a better race and when he doesn’t have to make his own running.  He should benefit nicely from this experience.

It was a good start to a chasing career that promises lots in a race that is an extraordinarily strong pointer to the future.  Presenting Percy won the race last year, and Pat Kelly’s horse went on to win the Porterstown Chase and the Galmoy Hurdle (no kiddin’) and the RSA Chase, and is now favourite for the Gold Cup.  Don Cossack won it in 2013, and he won the Drinmore Chase a month later before going on to equine superstardom in subsequent years.  

Lyreen Legend won the race in 2012, with Carlingford Lough back in third.  Last Instalment won it in 2011.  Jessies Dream won it in 2010.  China Rock won it in 2009.  Blow By Blow has big shoes to fill, but he has all the potential that he needs in order to fill them.

Matter of time

It was really only a matter of time, you felt, before, injury or anything untoward notwithstanding, Richard Johnson wrested the lead in the British National Hunt jockeys’ championship back from Harry Skelton.  Those who waded in at 10/11 or 5/6 in August can feel fairly happy with their work at this juncture. 

It is interesting, however, that the trainer who has supplied Johnson with the majority of his winners this season so far is Gordon Elliott, not Philip Hobbs. 

Johnson’s stats for Elliott were enhanced further at Cheltenham on Saturday when, from two rides, Dinons in the novices’ hurdle and Cubomania in the novices’ chase, he had two winners.  That brought the rider’s total for Elliott for the 2018/19 season to date to 29, 10 more winners than he has had for any other trainer.

Those stats may change now as we move into the teeth of the season, but for now, they are quite remarkable.  Those 29 wins have come from just 57 rides.  That’s a strike rate of over 50%.  And 15 of the 28 losers finished second or third. 

Sprinters of 2018

Back to sprinters, the sprinters of 2018.   We have visited them in the recent past.  Before Arc de Triomphe weekend, to be precise.  Before the Prix de l’Abbaye.  Up until that point, there had been eight Group 1 sprints run in Europe in 2018, and they had produced eight different winners.  We sought clarity in the next two sprints, the Prix de l’Abbaye and the British Champions Sprint Stakes.  We looked for one horse to announce himself or herself as distinct from the others, to come clear of the pack, but we didn’t get it.  We got two new Group 1 winners. 

That’s 10 out of 10.

Blue Point won the King’s Stand Stakes, Eqtidaar won the Commonwealth Cup, Merchant Navy won the Diamond Jubilee, U S Navy Flag won the July Cup, Polydream won the Prix Maurice de Gheest, Alpha Delphini won the Nunthorpe, Havana Grey won the Flying Five and The Tin Man won the Haydock Sprint Cup.  Then Mabs Cross won the Abbaye and Sands Of Mali won the British Champions Sprint Stakes. 

Ironically, neither Harry Angel nor Battaash are on that list.  If you had been told in May that there would be a list of 10 Group 1 sprint winners this year and that neither Harry Angel nor Battaash would be on it, you would have needed some convincing.

So who will be champion sprinter?  Maybe Mabs Cross, because if the bob of the head had gone the way of Michael Dods’ filly in the Nunthorpe, she would be a dual Group 1 winner.  Maybe Merchant Navy, because he didn’t race after his Diamond Jubilee win.  He wasn’t beaten thereafter.  Maybe Blue Point, because he put up the biggest performance in winning the King’s Stand.  Maybe Sands Of Mali, because he is the most recent.

Or maybe Havana Grey or Lost Treasure will win tonight’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint and stake a serious claim.

Imagine this

Imagine going along to Anfield one morning just as the football season was getting into full swing and watching Liverpool train.  Imagine being allowed out onto the pitch with a camera to film, as long as you made sure that you didn’t get in the way of any of the shooting or passing drills.

Imagine having a chat with Jürgen Klopp about the season ahead, his hopes for his team, his thoughts on specific individual players.  Imagine chatting with Mo Salah and Sadio Mané and Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino at different stages throughout the morning.  Then going into the manager’s house and having a cup of tea.

That was Wednesday morning at Willie Mullins’.

© The Irish Field, 3rd November 2018