Weekend Review: British Champions Day
Dave Ord, Michael Shinners, Ben Coley and Ian Ogg take a look back at British Champions Day and what we learnt from the weekend.
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What do you make of this season's milers following Olympic Glory's victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes?
Ben Coley: Olympic Glory should finally get the credit he deserves after smashing the opposition on Saturday. Ignore his reappearance at Longchamp and he's never been out of the first two in 10 starts, nine of which have come in Group company, and he looks to be improving still. Clearly, Dawn Approach's season rather tailed off and Toronado was a disappointment when tried over 10 at York, but the pair treated us to a thriller in the St James's Palace and on their day are clear well above average. The Breeders' Cup Mile is setting up to be a fascinating race, especially if Moonlight Cloud gets the nod - she might still be the best Europe has to offer at the trip granted decent ground, with Saturday's winner clearly at his best with give underfoot.
Michael Shinners: It's been a long season for a number of the milers and Saturday's race seemed a race too far for a least one of them. Dawn Approach looked awesome at the beginning of the season in winning the 2000 Guineas and then did brilliantly to win the St James Palace at Royal Ascot, considering his flop in the Derby. His form seems to have regressed since then and I don't quite think he has been as good as many thought he would be. There is liitle between Dawn Approach and Toronado, however the Hannon colt is on a recovery mission after disappointing in the Juddmonte International. Perhaps the Breeders Cup could cement him as the leading 3-y-o year miler. As for Olympic Glory, you had to be impressed by his performance, but prior to that run he looked more of a quality Group Two horse.
Ian Ogg: I'm a little underwhelmed. It all started so brightly with the early clashes of Toronado and Dawn Approach but the wheels have come off both of their seasons (although the former may well get another chance). Olympic Glory was undeniably impressive on Saturday but I'd want to see more evidence before hailing him as the heir apparent.
Dave Ord: The blinkers clearly had the desired effect with Olympic Glory who, on bottomless ground, travelled with more zest than usual and readily came clear. Whether he'll be quite as effective on quicker ground at Santa Anita in the fall is another question. In truth our champion miler probably ran 30 minutes later in Farrh. His Lockinge win remains the dominant performance in the division and despite spring and early summer heroics of Dawn Approach and Toronado's Sussex romp, I doubt any of the three-year-old's could handle the Godolphin colt.
What do you make of the decision to retire Dawn Approach?
BC: Six races in six months as a juvenile followed by a further six races in six months this year mean he's had a busy career, and it seems fair to think we'd seen the best of him when he won the 2000 Guineas in such impressive manner. Given his bloodlines it was always likely he'd be sent off to stud and, with opportunities to add to his CV few and far between, I'd have thought this is the right decision.
MS: His retirement doesn't surprise me at all. He achieved his main early season objective in winning the Guineas and, although his form slightly tailed off, he can still be described as a very good horse. The Bolger operation are a very shrewd operation and I don't doubt that we will see some of his offspring making their mark in years to come.
IO: He's gone out on a low note and I had, initially, thought that connections would be keen for him to redeem his reputation while I'm struggling to think of any Godolphin horses to compete in the top mile races next season. Whether connections feel that we've seen the best of him or were concerned that his temperament would worsen, I don't suppose that we'll ever know but presumably they felt that keeping him training wasn't a risk worth taking.
DO: You can't accuse them of ducking many dances with him this season can you? It's probably the right call. He goes to stud a four-time Group One winner and it's difficult to think of anything else he can really achieve next year to add to the value. A top flight win at ten furlongs could potentially have been possible but he's done more than enough to ensure he'll be supported by the leading breeders - expect many of the Darley and Shadwell broodmares to be heading in his direction next year.
What did you make of the Champion Stakes and what can we take out of the race?
BC: The first three, all genuine Group One horses, pulled six-lengths clear and it looks to me like each ran to their current best given the circumstances. On reflection, Cirrus Des Aigles might just be a pound or two short of his lifetime best but that shouldn't detract from the performance of Farhh, who battled so bravely for a horse whose career has been beset by injuries. It was a fine ride from Silvestre de Sousa, too, and he goes to stud with a deserved Champion Stakes to his name. Cirrus is an extraordinary animal, whose career timeline isn't one of a champion racehorse, and while he briefly had to wait to deliver his challenge he had every opportunity to go past Farhh only to find a younger, far less exposed horse that little bit too good. The third ran as well if not better than can have been expected given the drop in trip and lack of an end-to-end gallop, and helps complete a race in which the three best horses filled the first three places. Connections of Mukhradram will probably regret switching tactics given that he could've sat close to a steady pace and would likely have finished closer but he looks to fall into the gap between Group Two and Group One class.
MS I thought that it was one of the races of the season. The first three all ran fabulous races for differing reasons. The winner showing his is a quality perfomer and was probably a "good thing" for the Thirsk Hunt Cup a few years ago. The second Cirrus Des Aigles running a fantastic race and showing that even at 7 he can compete at the highest level. The horse I took most out of the race was Ruler Of The World who upheld the Derby form and will be a tough nut to crack in all the Group One's next year.
IO: It was just the shot in the arm that the day needed with a rousing finish between the right horses to the day's feature. It was encouraging for fans of the Derby to see Ruler Of The World run so well while I though that there were plenty of positives to take from the run of Hillstar and he's one to look forward to next season.
DO: A fantastic horse race first and foremost. What a training performance from Saeed bin Suroor to bring Farrh back from his long absence to deliver on the big stage again - and over a trip many thought stretched him. There was certainly no place to hide in the final quarter of a mile as Cirrus Des Aigles and Ruler Of The World threw down their challenges. The second is a fantastic racehorse and it's good to see him back at around his peak - while surely the third will be winning big prizes next year - when he finally gets an end-to-end gallop again. Mukhadram (exaggerated hold up tactics) could nick one of these Group One pots from the front next year and Hillstar has yet to justify his trainer's confidence in him - but could do so returned to a mile-and-a-half.
It wasn't all about Ascot with a top-class meeting at Cheltenham; did anything take the eye there?
BC: I was at Cheltenham on Saturday and it was a card which lacked a little star quality. Sametegal travelled powerfully and did well to concede weight in the two-mile hurdle but his chief rival on paper found the race coming too soon following a ready Chepstow win and the form is nothing special. Credit to Philip Hobbs for getting Balthazar King in top shape to win the three-mile race for the third year running, while Alan King's Balder Succes looked set to collect but for taking off a stride early in the novices' chase and can gain compensation if none the worse. The handicap eye-catcher for me was Tartak, who made a debut for Victor Dartnall which suggested even at 10 he has a decent prize in him. He's dropped to a good mark, the difficulty is that he just lacks for toe when races over two and a half miles kick into gear so it may be worth trying him over three miles again. If he were mine I'd be tempted to go for a three-mile veterans chase at Newbury where he'd take some beating on Saturday's evidence.
MS: All my attention was on Ascot, although I did glimpse up at the television to see Balthazar King winning "his race" for the third year. On quick ground he has to be a contender for the Cross Country race in March.
IO: I was at Ascot but I did stop to watch the first as I was quite keen to see how Kings Palace. He'd been on the radar since being sent off at odds-on to win a decent looking Ascot bumper in December, he lost that day and the horse that beat him, Captain Cutter, is one to keep on side despite his own form tailing off. That said, his reputation could well precede him to the track.
DO: I too missed the Cheltenham action but the 'to do' list for the week includes catching up on the replays. The one race I did see was Third Intention's win in Friday's novice chase. He's a very good horse and one who I still think we haven't seen the best of. He'll be well served by an end-to-end gallop.
BHA handicapper Matthew Tester suggested that the best two year olds may have already been put away for the season; is there anything in Saturday's Racing Post Trophy that you think can challenge that assertion?
BC: It's probably fair to say that the greatest achievers thus far have been put away for the season, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that Saturday's race often unearths a top-class performer rather than offering the platform for one to add to previous top-grade successes. Aidan O'Brien's Kingsbarns and Camelot both arrived at Doncaster with just a maiden win to their name while St Nicholas Abbey had come from the Group Two Beresford Stakes, which this year produced Geoffrey Chaucer, who I had been looking forward to seeing until discovering he too misses the race. In his absence it's interesting that Ballydoyle have supplemented Century, who beat a well-touted horse of John Oxx's on debut. He's as short as 20/1 for the Derby and looked a colt of potential at the Curragh.
IO: There's no doubt that it would have been preferable to see more of Kingman while it's hard to get too excited about the O'Brien candidates given that Australia seems to be their number one juvenile. Hopefully, Toormore will turn up at Doncaster and put down a marker, albeit one that will carry a footnote regarding the absentees.
MS: One horse who I expect to make an impact on Saturday is Pinzolo for Godolphin. He has looked progressive and showed great guts and determination to win at Newbury.
DO: The 2013 crop of juveniles have done little to quicken the pulse. Kingman and Australia both still represent a little hype over substance. War Command represents the best bet in the Guineas for me at this stage after his workmanlike Dewhurst win on ground that wouldn't have played to his strengths. A wide-margin Racing Post Trophy winner on Saturday would appear a distinct possibility given the rain we're having in Yorkshire at the moment - but the queue to pick holes in the form is already forming.
There were three prominent Champion Hurdle contenders in action on Sunday, how do you rate their claims at this stage of the season?
BC: Although Hurricane Fly managed it last season, regaining a Champion Hurdle crown is close to impossible so straight away I'll put Rock On Ruby down for something like a gallant fifth after a less than ideal return to action. The New One beat him doing handsprings and while he may well be further forward than Harry Fry's horse, already it's very difficult to see how Rock On Ruby will reverse that form. As for the winner, the sky is the limit and his combination of stamina and a blistering turn of foot should make him very hard to beat if all goes well between now and March when, unlike some, he won't mind too muich which way the ground goes. Our Conor's return was predictably less informative and only when he jumps an obstacle will we get any sort of clue as to his true wellbeing. If pushed at this moment in time, I'd make The New One the one to beat but clearly it's very early days and I wouldn't be rushing to take 9/2 given the potential strength in the line-up.
MS: The New One was impressive and showed that he is going to be a major force this season in the Champion Hurdle. We shortened him up into 9/2 from 7/1 and expect him to be a major player at Cheltenham in March. Rock On Ruby ran as I expected, as I don't think Kempton is his track. He seems to come alive at Cheltenham, although I think he will do well to be placed in the big race as next year's renewal looks set to be one the best races at the festival.
IO: The New One was undeniably impressive but I wouldn't be in a rush to consign Rock On Ruby to the scrap heap just yet. There are several reasons (lack of a run, lack of headgear etc) to think that he wasn't going to be at his best on Sunday and he can be given another chance. Our Conor did enough on his pipe-opener on the Flat to off encouragement for the season ahead and it will be fascinating to see if he can live up to the rich promise of his brilliant Triumph Hurdle success.
DO: The New One clearly underlined his, Rock On Ruby looks a gear short nowadays, and we learned nothing new about Our Conor. The latter and My Tent Or Yours are the two horses I'm most looking forward to seeing in the hurdling ranks this season and I do sense a changing of the guard with an ageing - but admittedly brilliant - king currently sitting on the throne. It will be a fantastic achievement - and one of Willie Mullins' finest as a trainer - if Hurricane Fly is able to defend his crown in March.