David Ord on the retirement of Too Darn Hot and Caylx, plus Mark Johnston's achievement at the Qatar Goodwood Festival that somewhat went under the radar.
Stars of 2018 exit stage left
In less than a week John Gosden has lost his two colts who went into winter quarters with genuine pretensions of being crowned champion three-year-old.
In the case of both Calyx and Too Darn Hot they head to the covering sheds after racing careers that left us watching on with a slight sense of unfulfilment.
That may seem harsh on the latter – it’s hardly his fault he went into the spring as a red-hot favourite for the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and a colt with seemingly the season at his hooves.
After all he'd produced the best Dewhurst winning performance since Frankel in 2010 and a two-and-three-quarter length defeat of Advertise, with Anthony Van Dyck a length-and-a-quarter away in third, reads even better now than it did at the time.
The excitement was over what was to come. In truth, he shouldn’t even have been a two-year-old, let a alone a champion. A son of Dubawi and the prodigiously talented Dar Re Mi, he's a full-brother to So Mi Dar and Lah Ti Dar from the family of Rewilding. It’s a middle-distance pedigree.
But he was different from day one. He came to hand early, winning his maiden at Sandown in August and his trainer admitted he could have pushed the button even earlier given the urge.
The Solario, Champagne and Dewhurst followed but Classic aspirations fell by the wayside in the spring. He sustained an injury to a splint bone in the build-up to an intended reappearance in the Greenham, which his owners sponsored under the Watership Down Stud banner, and two weeks before Newmarket it was confirmed there’d be no Guineas bid.
Instead connections trusted his pedigree and stepped him up to ten furlongs for the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York. Inside the final two furlongs at the Knavesmire, the petrol tank began to empty and Telecaster wasn’t for passing. In a flash his unbeaten record – and Investec Derby aspirations – were gone.
Nine days later he was back, to the surprise of many, for a tilt at the Irish 2000 Guineas. It was a gamble but an understandable one. Given what happened at York, this was his final chance of winning a Classic.
It was a roll of the dice and one that came up short as Phoenix Of Spain dominated at the Curragh. Suddenly, in the space of a few May days, the champion was on the canvas and being counted out.
Defeat in the Ascot rain followed when Circus Maximus wasn’t for passing in the St James’s Palace Stakes.
To add insult to injury stablemate King Of Comedy passed Too Darn Hot in the final 50 yards to take second. While the Dewhurst winner was heading off for a winter break, that Clarehaven colt was signing off his two-race juvenile campaign being tuned over at 8/15 in the November gloom at Redcar.
It was seemingly easy to explain. Too Darn Hot had lacked the physical stature to make even the usual development from two to three and the others had not only caught him up – but passed him. His best days were behind him.
But connections weren’t ready to throw in the towel. They regrouped, dropped him to seven furlongs in the Prix Jean Prat at Deauville and he was a Group One winner at three – producing, on hard figures at least, the performance of his career.
"I had a lot of confidence going into France as his homework was brilliant. He'd showed us he had come back to himself after going through a hellish spring," Gosden said on the Newmarket heath a week later.
"It's been fairly well publicised my mea culpa throughout the year with this horse and he showed what he's good at in France. He's a very, very quick horse and we stupidly tried to stretch him out off a severely interrupted preparation after missing the Guineas. I think we have him back in the right place.
"Finally, finally we're letting the horse do what he wants to do, run and show his speed and class. He's an extremely fast horse with bundles of natural speed and we were trying to take that away from him."
And onto Goodwood. A first Group One win at a mile in the Qatar Sussex Stakes and revenge over Circus Maximus. The emphasis on speed suited the winner, who travelled like the best horse and was value for more than the half-length winning margin.
Gosden was in no rush to commit to further targets but Frankie Dettori was all about the Breeders’ Cup Mile – which the trainer conceded would suit Too Darn Hot down to the ground.
But then on Monday evening came news of the injury setback, subsequent surgery and curtailing of the racing career. As a stallion prospect he's fascinating given his middle-distance bloodlines, Group One laden CV and, above all, precocity at two.
That's something the breeding industry craves and is also offered through Calyx, over whom there's a real sense of regret at the news of his retirement.
Here’s a real case of what might have been. Two injury setbacks restricted him to just four career starts spanning two seasons. He won three of them, most strikingly the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2018.
Again there was substance to the style with Advertise (yes, him) and Sergei Prokofiev in the frame, and the way Calyx quickened clear of his field marked him out as the most exciting winner of the Berkshire showpiece for a few years.
But then came a season-ending setback in July and he wasn’t seen in competitive action again until the Merriebelle Stable Commonwealth Cup Trial Stakes back at the Berkshire track during Guineas week. He looked a Group One colt in a Group Three race that day as he thumped his rivals by four lengths and more.
Sadly, he never got the chance to prove it. He met with defeat when sent off at 2/13 for the Armstrong Aggregates Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock and was found to have suffered a pastern injury soon afterwards.
Even last month connections were talking of an autumn return and the QIPCO British Champions Sprint at Ascot but instead it's the short flight to Coolmore and a new career that beckons.
Let's be fair – as he was as a racehorse – he couldn't be in better hands. The marketing team will go to town over a brilliant two-year-old with speed to burn, a son of Kingman out of a Group winning dam, and closely related to a Group One sprinter.
Boxes galore are ticked. On the racecourse circumstances mean they weren’t. For the definite flashes of brilliance we saw from Calyx, he never got to race in a Group One contest let alone win one.
Here's hoping his sons and daughters get a clearer shot at fulfilling their potential.
Glorious achievement for Johnston
The Qatar Goodwood Festival served up many stirring stories over the week, led by Khadijah Mellah’s remarkable Magnolia Cup win and the success of Deirdre for Japan in the Nassau Stakes.
But one that somewhat sneaked under the radar was Mark Johnston leapfrogging Sir Michael Stoute to become the most successful trainer in the Festival's history. He did so courtesy of six winners in the week, carrying him to a 13th leading trainer award. The first came in 1998.
Over the years he's become synonymous with the meeting and while he expressed a few concerns on the eve of this year's renewal that perhaps this year's team wasn't the strongest or freshest he’d sent to Sussex, the winners kept rolling by.
Sir Ron Priestley, Mrs Bouquet, Nayef Road, Homespin, Governor Of Punjab, and King’s Advice. He struck with two-year-olds, three-year-olds and older horses, in handicaps and Group races.
Day one saw Dee Ex Bee and Visinari, the flagbearers for the week, eclipsed, but it proved a temporary blip.
The Kingsley House outfit ended Goodwood with two potential William Hill St Leger candidates in Nayef Road and Sir Ron Priestley and a Sky Bet Ebor favourite in King’s Advice.
And if you want any evidence of the talents – bordering on genius – of Johnston and his team it’s the last-named.
He arrived in Middleham after a career in France and Germany with a handicap mark of 71 and a dancecard that boasted three wins form eight starts.
In the space of six months in the new hands he's landed nine of his ten starts and his official rating has rocketed to 113. That's 42 pounds, or three stone, of improvement.
The progress has been made through racing, winning at Lingfield, Kempton, Wolverhampton, Thirsk, Ripon, Goodwood (twice) and Newmarket.
His only defeat came on the Tapeta at Newcastle when he was shuffled back early in the Betfair Exchange Northumberland Plate and had running left in him at the finish when sixth behind Who Dares Wins.
In last week’s Qatar Summer Handicap he was headed by Outbox, who was reopposing on more favourable terms having chased him home at Newmarket, but stayed on strongly to regain the initiative in the final 100 yards and win by a neck.
Tough, tenacious, progressive, battle-hardened, always winning.
A remarkable horse. A remarkable trainer.