Mike Cattermole reflects on the Longines World Racing Awards, where the brilliant Ghaiyyath was recognised along with leading 2000 Guineas hope St Mark’s Basilica.
Some very good horses around, but few outstanding ones.
That seemed to be the conclusion at the unveiling this week of the Longines World Racing Awards for 2020.
In fact, it seems there was only one outstanding performer in Ghaiyyath who topped the worldwide rankings with a rating of 130 – the benchmark generally recognised for being regarded as a tip-top performer – and some 4lb clear of Authentic, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Kentucky Derby hero.
The handicappers reckoned he reached that mark when beating Magical in the Juddmonte International at York, which was judged, not for the first time, as the best race run anywhere in the world.
It was hard not to be impressed by Ghaiyyath last season as he notched up a brilliant and unique Group 1 hat-trick in the Coronation Cup, Eclipse and Juddmonte.
He was capable of some spectacular stuff on his day but he was never a crowd favourite but he never could be because last season there was not much of a crowd to watch and admire him.
Even before last season we had also not been able to easily build any rapport with him but that also wasn’t his fault.
He ran three times here as a two-year-old, ending with a win in the Group 3 Autumn Stakes, but only once at three, when winning a Group 2 in France in September. In fact that was the beginning of six consecutive runs all overseas, including his 14-length romp in the Grosser Preis Von Baden, which seemed to divide opinion.
I was among the believers but a disappointing run in the Arc next time did not do much for the argument at the time. It turned out that he was not the most straightforward so Charlie Appleby deserves all the plaudits for finding the key to his immense talents.
Yes Ghaiyyath, the world champion no less, was a very good racehorse indeed but circumstances meant that we could never form a loving bond with him, more one of admiration and that, for the most part, from afar.
The Aidan O’Brien-trained St Mark’s Basilica, a colt who cost 1.3m guineas as a yearling but whose name few would have heard of until well into last summer (he only made his debut in July), was officially the champion two-year-old of 2020 following his win in the Dewhurst Stakes from stablemate Wembley (joint second on the list).
So the seemingly expensive purchase price for the half-brother to Magna Grecia has turned out to been fully justified, whatever happens to him at three.
However, the juvenile class of 2020 fell some way behind the standards set by the leaders of the previous two years in Too Darn Hot and Pinatubo respectively.
Both those colts had won the Dewhurst too of course and it reminded me that it is now 40 years on since Storm Bird, trained by Vincent O’Brien, and To-Agori-Mou topped the Free Handicap (as it was called then), 4lb clear of the rest, after their 1-2 in the Dewhurst of 1980.
Both were tipped to dominate the following season’s Classics and top races but although the Guy Harwood-trained To-Agori-Mou duly won the Guineas, it didn’t work out well for Storm Bird who was attacked in his box at Ballydoyle before the season started and had his mane and tail hacked.
Little went right after that, big targets came and went and he finally made a belated reappearance in France in September, intended as a prep for the Arc, but he was well beaten and promptly retired.
I say it didn’t work out for Storm Bird but his lack of action turned out to be largely an irrelevance for his owner Robert Sangster and his partners, O’Brien and John Magnier. They cashed in on an extraordinary $30m valuation on the son of Northern Dancer.
The cash wasn’t immediately forthcoming, however, but that’s another story and led to the trio being given Ashford Stud Farm in Kentucky as part of the payment.
Looking down the class of 1980 reveals a colt called Shergar, some 12lb off the top on 8st 9lb and 5lb below the colt who had beaten him decisively in the Futurity at Doncaster, Beldale Flutter.
As Shergar strode majestically through that 1981 summer, Beldale Flutter held the label of the only horse to have beaten him for most of that year.
Trained by Michael Jarvis, he too suffered very mixed fortunes as a three-year-old, being well beaten in the Guineas after a promising reappearance at Newbury, only to put himself right into the Derby picture by winning the Dante Stakes at York.
Then, just the week before the big rematch with Shergar at Epsom, he was involved in a freak accident on the Heath at Newmarket when he got loose and, of all the horses out there exercising, only collided with Moorestyle the champion sprinter (what were the chances?), before coming down on the road and injuring his knee.
Jarvis deserved massive credit for bringing him back after almost three months off to win York’s Benson & Hedges Gold Cup before he flopped in both the Arc and Washington International.
That was then so who knows will the fates hold for the class of 2020 I wonder?
It was pleasing to see the return of the dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air from a year off at Haydock last week but he really should have seen off the likes of Navajo Pass, especially in receipt of 3lb.
Nicky Henderson expressed his satisfaction but it is hard to see him as a serious contender to regain his title with just over six weeks to go. At the age of ten, perhaps he is just past his best.
Which is why it is more puzzling to see the struggles of Defi Du Seuil, another JP McManus-owned star and already a dual Cheltenham winner too. At eight, he should be at the peak of his powers, but his comprehensive defeat behind the brilliant First Flow (surely got to taken very seriously now) in the Clarence House at Ascot must be troubling Philip Hobbs.
That’s now three below par runs in a row since comfortably defeating Un De Sceaux in last year’s Clarence House.
At least there was a glimmer of hope for Defi at Ascot (faded only before the last) but at Thurles on Wednesday, Gordon Elliott’s two-time Grade 1 winner Battleoverdoyen was beaten out of sight behind Allaho and was found to be blowing very hard post-race.
They are not machines.
Stride & Son, the West Sussex auctioneers, are selling a number of trophies, pictures, photographs, books, form books, indeed all sorts of memorabilia once owned by the late John Dunlop, who died in 2018.
The auction takes place on February 4 and 5 and you might have to take a little bit of pot luck as many items have been put together in different batches. Some trophies include those for the winning trainer, many of them for top races.
There are also portraits of many of the Dunlop stars and an especially nice photo of Lester Piggott posing on Circus Plume, the 1984 Oaks winner, outside Castle Stables.
Occasions like those were the only times that Dunlop had any top riders anywhere near his yard, with one notable exception being Brian Rouse who was allowed to sit on Quick as Lightning in a piece of work before they won the 1980 1000 Guineas.
I find auctions of personal items rather melancholy affairs. These were important possessions for many years to a person that lived a life.
It just goes to show we never really own anything at all, just have them on loan for a limited time until the next custodian takes over.
So, if you fancy being the next trustee to some genuine pieces of turf history, the details are on www.stridesauctions.co.uk.