David Ord on a jarring Breeders' Cup Classic, the dilemma facing the connections of Samcro and a golden spell for the Juddmonte team.
Sad sights in Classic
There were two unedifying sights in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday night.
The first was that of Roaring Lion backing out of it down the far straight as the dirt flew and his career ebbed out with a whimper. It was an understandable gamble from connections, though, and this image will quickly fade to be replaced by his summer splendour at Sandown, York and Leopardstown and autumn tenacity in the Ascot mud.
But Christophe Soumillon's 18 strikes of Thunder Snow down the stretch at Churchill Downs will linger much longer.
Here was one of Europe's marquee riders giving his partner no time to respond to one strike before administering another, and becoming seemingly unbalanced in the saddle in his increasingly desperate efforts.
Whip rules are different in America - but this was excessive use under any jurisdiction. It made for terrible viewing.
Thunder Snow wasn't responding - having looked a huge threat turning in he was going backwards, not forwards - inside the final furlong and yet his rider continued.
There was no ban but widespread condemnation, although not - publicly at least - from the Godolphin team.
Compare the ride to those from the protagonists in a epic stretch duel for the preceding Turf. Frankie Dettori (six), Ryan Moore (six) stayed within the British guidelines as Enable and Magical fought out a historic battle. It was a breathtaking race and one that will be remembered for all the right reasons.
Accelerate's gutsy Classic success won't be.
I'm confident that when used correctly the air-cushioned whip isn't harmful, but its use in the sport continues to have to be justified outside of our own parish.
Rides like that aboard Thunder Snow, whatever local rule-makers say, make that more difficult.
Where now for Samcro?
So just how bad was Samcro's run at Down Royal on Friday?
On bare figures, Timeform and Racing Post Ratings have his length-and-a-half defeat at the hooves of Bedrock, giving five pounds, as a career-best. But all of his other performances have had potential attached to them. The question was 'what more was in the tank?'
On Friday, it was emptied.
Now there are extenuating circumstances. A small field, good ground contest against two race-fit rivals was always going to be a test - whatever the betting market suggested.
And the way he travelled - and particularly jumped - to the second last will have delighted connections. More concerning, though, was his flat-footed response soon after that obstacle when Bedrock swept past.
Iain Jardine deserves great plaudits for his placing of the winner - and Rachael Blackmore for the ride - for after taking two lengths out of his much-vaunted rival in a matter of strides, the race was over.
Samcro was switched and tried to close him down but the immediate impression was he lacked the toe of the winner. A worrying aspect of the performance, given it was his first step on the road to the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
The bookmakers were quick to react and Gordon Elliott's charge was out to 5/1 for the Cheltenham showpiece from 5/2. His brief foray at the head of that ante-post market was over - for now at least.
His trainer understandably wasn't waving the white flag - or disguising his disappointment either. Samcro is expected to strip fitter for his initial outing and connections hope for softer ground when he contests the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in a couple of weeks.
All of a sudden that race becomes pivotal to the whole jumps season. The question Samcro now has to answer is 'does he have the basic speed to win a Champion Hurdle?' At Down Royal it was hard to argue he did - at Punchestown the sharpness and extra gear need to be in evidence if he is to continue on his current path.
And if he comes up short again, where does that leave connections? Having ruled out a chasing campaign at the end of October, could there be a quick re-think? Or does he stay over timber and go up in trip for a season?
There's a Grade One-laden programme that leads all the way to the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle in March and if there was even a whiff that connections were considering this option, he'd surely replace Faugheen at the head of the market.
It's not even been mooted yet, but there may be much for Elliott and the O'Learys to ponder in the weeks ahead.
Golden era for Juddmonte
Before Coolmore ripped up the rule book, golden eras for the major studs were cyclical.
However, for decades now John Magnier's magnificent operation have not only housed the behemoths of the stallion world but also a band of broodmares with Classic-winning progeny scattered throughout their pages. It's been hard to compete.
But Juddmonte have done just that. And it's not just the peerless Frankel.
Kingman, their brilliant champion miler of 2014, has made a sensational start to his stallion career. Midday won three Nassau Stakes and a Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, Workforce an Investec Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and Arrogate a Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup.
Then along came Enable, who added Saturday's Breeders' Cup Turf to her two Arc wins and carved her place in racing folklore.
It wasn't their only success at the World Thoroughbred Championships either, as Expert Eye defied the storms of Thursday to cut down Catapult and win the Mile.
The renaissance of his trainer Sir Michael Stoute has been one of the stories of the season - and the Juddmonte loyalty to their band of trainers a long-term theme.
There would have been celebrations too at Newspaperofrecord's stunning win in the Juvenile Fillies' Turf. There's no direct involvement in Chad Brown's superstar, but Lord Grimthorpe and the team had the foresight to buy her half-sister Classical Times in the summer. She'll join an already star-studded broodmare band.
The question now is whether Enable does likewise or stays in training at five. The Prince will decide. He can ponder that particular dilemma with the conviction that somewhere in the legions of two-year-old and yearlings at his disposal, another flag-bearer is very likely waiting in the wings.
Up and running...just
'The jumps is back' is a popular hashtag on Twitter and on Monday last week it seemed a fitting one as we looked ahead to the clash of Thistlecrack, Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux in the Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Sadly the dry autumn meant that - despite Jonjo Sanderson's brave watering efforts - the three big guns stayed in their stables as Definitly Red struck a welcome blow for the north in beating Black Corton in a decimated field.
Make no mistake, we need rain.
The Countryfile weather forecast (presenter dresses down with an open-neck shirt, and in the winter sports a casual jumper) is the gospel I go by and while there are the odd showers in the week ahead, nothing particularly substantial.
With the November Meeting at Cheltenham looming large, immediately followed by the clash of Native River and Might Bite in the Betfair Chase, now is the time for a deluge.
The big guns are primed and in an era when they are campaigned all too sparingly before the riches of the spring, the last thing we need is ground issues preventing their return.
Only when the weather gods consent to play the game will the jumps truly be back.