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York review

This week’s Ebor meeting at York was like no Ebor meeting that had gone before.  It rained, but that wasn’t it.  It often rains on the Knavesmire. (The clue is in the name.)  Enable wasn’t there, and she was missed, but that wasn’t it either. It may feel like she has been part of racing’s tapestry forever but, actually, Enable has only been to York twice. 

The crowds weren’t there, and that was it. Behind-closed-doors is not new any more, but there are certain race meetings at which the dearth of people is felt more acutely than at others: Royal Ascot in June, Galway in July, York in August. 

The horses were there though, the performances were there. Ghaiyyath was monstrous in winning the Juddmonte International on Wednesday. 

The field was the deepest field that the Godolphin horse had faced since he disappointed in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. In Magical and Lord North, he was taking on two top class older middle-distance horses, and there was the added element of the Guineas winner Kameko, who was competing for the first time over 10 furlongs, a distance that was thought to be potentially his optimum. But none of his rivals got close. 

William Buick knows Ghaiyyath intimately at this stage, and the rider quickly had his horse into that relentless, metronomic gallop that gets rivals out of comfort zones.  There was a point, around about the two-furlong marker, when Magical challenged on the far side and Kameko went for a gap up the rail, but when Buick went for his horse on the run to the furlong pole, he picked up smartly and went away again. 

Ghaiyyath is binary. The form book tells you that he is all or nothing. If he doesn’t win, he doesn’t place. But the 1s far outweigh the 0s these days. He now has nine 1s on his CV from just 12 attempts and, significantly, the last four entries are 1s. 

Of course, last year’s Arc was the biggest disappointment.  He just had to go too fast too early on the soft ground that day in order to get to the front of the field, and he weakened quickly from the two-furlong marker.  But his last two performances, his Eclipse win, his Juddmonte International win, are probably the two best performances of his career.  He looks like a better horse now as a five-year-old than he was at any other stage of his life.

Charlie Appleby’s horse has options now: the Irish Champion Stakes, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Champion Stakes. It would be great to see him at Leopardstown next month for the Irish Champion Stakes, and that is a real possibility. But he has unfinished business in the Arc, and that could be his ultimate objective now.

For all that he looks like a better horse this year than last, both physically and mentally, the Arc would still be a step back into the unknown. He is a dual Group 1 winner over the Arc distance of a mile and a half, but it may still be that his best distance is 10 furlongs. Also, his racing style doesn’t make it easy for him. He has won six times since 2018 and, on all six occasions, he has made all or most of the running. And, as we saw once again last year, it is not easy to make all or most of the running in the Arc.

Love was brilliant again in winning the Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday. Aidan O’Brien’s filly was fully expected, she was long odds-on, but she couldn’t have done much more than she did. She travelled smoothly through her race for Ryan Moore in the slipstream of early leader Manuela De Vega, she moved easily into the lead three furlongs out, and she careered away from her rivals under just a hands-and-heels ride.

That’s three from three now this season, a Yorkshire Oaks to go with her Epsom Oaks and her 1000 Guineas, and four career Group 1s thus far. And it looks like she is getting better. 

It was a pity that Enable wasn’t there, it would have been fascinating to see how the match between these two fillies would have panned out. We may get to find out though in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. That race is Enable’s express objective, it’s the reason why Prince Khalid Abdullah kept her in training this year as a six-year-old, in order that she could go back to Longchamp in a bid to create racing history and win the Arc for the third time.

The Arc is also the logical target for Love. As a three-year-old filly, she will receive all the weight allowances but, more than that, she is a top class and still progressive young filly who had the pace to win a Guineas and the stamina to win an Oaks and a Yorkshire Oaks.  

Once again, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is shaping up to be the race of the season. As well as Enable, Love and Ghaiyyath, it looks like top class stayer Stradivarius, triple Gold Cup winner, is going to take his chance in the race this year. And there are others in the mix, like Prix du Jockey Club winner Mishriff, Prix de Diane and Nassau Stakes winner Fancy Blue, and Epsom Derby winner Serpentine. The fact that the Derby winner is a 20/1 shot at this stage in some ante post lists provides an indication of the quality of the potential line-up.

© The Sunday Times, 23rd August 2020