Ahead of the Cartier Awards, David Ord reflects on the 2018 Flat season and also mulls over defeats for some rising stars of the jumps game.
SO, HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
It’s the Cartier Awards on Tuesday night and, in the swanky surroundings of the Dorchester Ball Room, the Horse of the Year will be crowned.
Despite the wonderful Alpha Centauri being on the shortlist it looks a straight shootout between stablemates Roaring Lion, Stradivarius and Enable which is a reflection on a magnificent 2018 for John Gosden – but also a nod that things did not pan out quite the way we expected.
It seemed inconceivable at the time of their big-race success but none of the heroes and heroines of the 2018 Classics were to win again.
Saxon Warrior went chasing a Triple Crown but that dream ended at Epsom on the first Saturday of June and defeats in the Irish Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International and QIPCO Irish Champion followed.
He went down all guns blazing to Roaring Lion in the latter having had it teed up to perfection by two stablemates but sustained an injury and his racing career was over.
He was destined to return to a mile in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot and it might be – after all the mid-summer excitement – that it was his best trip.
Billesdon Brook struggled to make any impact in the Coronation Stakes, Nassau or Sun Chariot after springing a 66/1 surprise at Newmarket while Forever Together finished second in the Pretty Polly and Irish Oaks in her only two starts post Epsom.
I know I’m being harsh on picking up on Kew Gardens’ failure to add to his William Hill St Leger gains – he was never going to get competitive in the Arc having been shuffled too far back from a wide draw. He’s around again in 2019, and so thankfully is Masar.
He was brilliant in the Investec Derby before sustaining a leg injury when being prepared for a tilt at the Coral-Eclipse. Charlie Appleby will be licking his lips at the prospect of picking a programme for him at four – where no doubt Kew Gardens will loom large too.
But it wasn’t only the Classic crop that left us a little underwhelmed this year.
The campaign started with high hopes that Battaash and Harry Angel could blaze a trail through the sprint programme but it didn’t work out that way.
We looked on track when the former won the Temple Stakes on his reappearance and Harry Angel the Duke Of York but from there the wheels came off – and between them they were to taste success only once more, courtesy of Battaash’s traditional demolition of inferior rivals in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood.
It opened up a void that others struggled to fill. Merchant Navy came from Australia with a tall reputation but was bound for Coolmore’s breeding operation soon after making it two from two on his European jaunt in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot.
The Ballydoyle boys then took the Darley July Cup with US Navy Flag who benefited from the switch back to sprinting to thump Brando and co. All roads then led to the Everest in Australia where a deluge before racing and a slow start did for his chances.
He’s only beaten one rival in two subsequent starts there.
Alpha Delphini and Mabs Cross served up a Coolmore Nunthorpe thriller at York – the latter gaining ample compensation for her agonising defeat by landing the Prix de l’Abbaye at ParisLongchamp.
It was a golden autumn for northern sprinters with Sands Of Mali making all and running his rivals ragged in the QIPO British Champions Sprint at Ascot having been touched off by Eqtidaar in the Commonwealth Cup over the same course and distance in the summer.
It’s not yet clear whether he’ll be around in 2019. Battaash will but the division has exciting new blood heading into it in the shape of Middle Park Stakes winner Ten Sovereigns. He could be ready to claim the crown.
Stradivarius did just that with his remarkable season in the stayers’, winning the Yorkshire Cup, Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, Goodwood Cup, Lonsdale Stakes and QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup. Throw in the £1million Weatherbys Hamilton bonus and you have a campaign to savour.
It was at Ascot where he faced his stiffest test, seeing off Vazirabad, Torcedor and Order Of St George in a pulsating contest.
The third home rolled into Goodwood for the re-match but even under an enterprising ride couldn’t take his revenge. Sadly the other two weren’t around to test his mettle again – and neither were the potential rising stars Withhold and Magic Circle, who were pointed at the Melbourne Cup before we’d even made it to Royal Ascot
They were missed.
Roaring Lion looked in danger of being lost himself in the spring, thumped at the hooves of Masar in the Craven and finishing fifth when racing solo stands’ side in the Guineas. It’s a testament to the genius of Gosden and the remarkable skills of Oisin Murphy and the whole team at Clarehaven that he blossomed into the colt he did.
For me he has to be Horse of the Year for a campaign that took in the Craven, Guineas, Dante, Derby, Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion, QEII and Breeders’ Cup Classic.
At times this year we struggled to find a horse to hitch our wagon to – a flagbearer through the summer months – and the son of Kitten’s Joy galloped to our rescue.
We needed him because things didn’t pan out, at first at least, for stablemates Cracksman and Enable.
They went into winter quarters with seemingly the middle-distance programme at their hooves but we had to wait until the autumn for signs of the 2017 magic
In Enable’s case that was down to a knee injury sustained in the spring. She returned to win a second Arc and a Breeders’ Cup Turf despite not seemingly being at her brilliant best. She’s a remarkable filly and what a boost it would be if connections opted to race on next season and bid for a historic third win in the Paris showpiece.
Cracksman on the other hand was undone by fast summer ground and the lure of the fairer sex before a return to rain-drenched Ascot turf saw him again get the ratings gurus purring with a second wide-margin win in the QIPCO Champion Stakes.
A striking performance – but we expected him to dominate the summer in a way he was unable to. He now heads off to the covering sheds at Darley as the best son of Frankel from the great champion's early crops.
But with Too Darn Hot, Quorto and the aforementioned Ten Sovereigns waiting in the wings thoughts quickly turn to the next generation.
The mile division in 2019 could be a golden one but as we saw this year, things don’t always pan out the way we expect.
I suppose that’s the beauty of the great game.
So, 2018, you were good. But not great.
FALTERING START FROM THE RISING STARS
I touched upon Samcro’s defeat in last week’s column and now Footpad and We Have A Dream have failed to sparkle on their seasonal reappearances.
Connections will be more worried about the overreach the former suffered than his tired fall as Saint Calvados shone at Naas. Harry Whittingham’s charge is a serious talent when able to freewheel but the vanquished favourite will be back.
Perhaps he will now be tried over further before the major spring festivals come along? A potential clash with Altior in the Tingle Creek is much less likely but a crack at Might Bite in the King George? Well we can all dream.
It’s back to the drawing board with We Have A Dream, who was ridden as though fitness was no concern in the Elite Hurdle but ultimately finished a tired horse in finishing third to Verdana Blue and If The Cap Fits.
Maybe he did need it more than connections suspected and it’s too early to write him off as the latest project to be struck down with 'difficult second season' syndrome.
He too will stay further and might just be the sort to test the mettle of another leading novice from last term, Laurina, in the Coral Ascot Hurdle.
It would be nice if we saw more of these big clashes before the spring. The game needs them.
It will be a case of cat and mouse with the established stars – but if the fallibility of those looking to fill their hooves means we’ll see more adventurous campaigns than would otherwise have been the case, we all might just be the winners.