Mike Cattermole reflects on the magnificent career of Goldikova, while explaining why he failed to complete a day’s commentary at Lingfield.
Goldikova, who died this week at the age of 16 due to a suspected heart attack, has to go down as one of the all-time great racemares.
Her consistency at the very highest level was astonishing and her achievement of 14 Group Ones - including a Breeders’ Cup Mile hat-trick - is a European record that may stand for a while yet.
I spoke to her trainer Freddy Head over the weekend. He admitted: “It is quite sad for all of us. She was very dear to me, she was a great racehorse.”
Head, 72, revealed that the first time he was aware that Goldikova was out of the ordinary was when winning the Group 3 Prix Chloe in July 2008. He reflected: “She improved a lot from the spring and she won that day very easily. I thought then she was something special.”
Prior to that, Goldikova had placed second in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches and third in the Prix de Diane, both behind Zarkava.
Head added: “Miesque was a very good two-year-old, very fast, and more precocious than Goldikova.”
Fascinatingly, he went on: “Maybe Goldikova caught up to the level of Miesque but then Miesque did not meet a filly like Zarkava who for me was one of the best racehorses I have seen in my life.”
High praise indeed.
Head insists that although Goldikova acted on any ground, “she was a much better filly on good ground. She lost two out of three in the (Prix Jacques le) Marois because of the soft ground.
“The time she won the race (beating Aqlaam six lengths) was maybe her best performance, she broke the course record, absolutely smashing it.”
With 17 wins from 27 starts, Goldikova was placed on nine other occasions and the only blip on her record was a seventh place in the Prix d’Ispahan of 2009 and I wondered what the story was behind that oddity.
Her trainer explained: "Again, it was down the soft ground and it was also her first start as a four-year-old but I was taken by surprise by that run. I wondered if we had done enough with her and if she had trained on but then we went to the Falmouth Stakes and she was back."
I ventured whether Head was in favour of the top fillies and mares taking on their male counterparts at level weights in the top races but the suggestion was swiftly dispatched by the Chantilly racing legend.
He said: “I don’t think I would change anything, no. For centuries it has been like that, so why change it?"
The past year has been a quiet one for the former six-time champion jockey who admits that the past 12 COVID-dominated months has not been too bad.
“We are able to race and train as usual but I don’t go to the races as often as I used to. Apart from that, nothing has changed."
It was a quieter year, however, on the winners front.
“The past year, I had nothing special, apart from Call The Wind who got the year off to a good start when winning in Riyadh," he said.
“But I had nothing really good. This year, it is a bit early to tell about the two-year-olds and as for the three-year-olds, I am not sure, maybe one or two (might be ok).”
In his day, Don Poli was a top-class staying chaser who will be remembered for winning at two Cheltenham Festivals in the colours of Gigginstown Stud and for finishing third in a Gold Cup.
However, his deterioration was obvious after his return from nearly two years off in December 2018 and it was no surprise that he was soon put on the transfer list by his powerful connections.
Shrewdly, Don Poli was entered at Goffs Aintree Sale in April 2019 with an entry in that weekend’s Grand National as an added temptation. He was just nine at the time but his future was obviously behind him.
I attended that sale in a working capacity for Goffs and guessing what he would make was an interesting exercise. I reckoned no more than £30,000-£40,000 as he had potential as a hunter chaser. So, there was a genuine sense of disbelief when he was knocked down to trainer Philip Kirby and owner Darren Yates for £170,000.
The Gigginstown camp would have celebrated but I was astonished and felt for Yates, who is relatively new to the game as an owner, especially after he was, predictably, beaten miles in that National. I just hoped that he might end up giving his new owner some pleasure under his new trainer.
Long story short, he ended up winning again twice, but only in point-to-points a year ago after joining permit holder Nick Pearce.
Even a spell with Dan Skelton could not reignite the fire and I was relieved for all concerned, and I very much include the horse here, when he was finally retired this week.
The team at Ffos Las came in for a bit of criticism last Friday when the meeting was abandoned just minutes before the first race was due off.
The West Wales venue is such a long way away for most, and money and time would have been wasted travelling the horses to and from the track.
The owners would have suffered, as well as the racecourse for being out of pocket but at least they tried.
It’s such a delicate balance to strike as all attempt to keep the show on the road in these tough times.
I joked last week that my close-up comment for 2020 ended with “virtually pulled up run-in.”
Well, ironically, and to my horror, I actually pulled up at Lingfield on Monday when I failed to complete a day’s commentary.
For weeks now, I have been suffering from BPPV, or vertigo, which, by the way, is not a fear of heights but an inner ear condition which causes dizziness and nausea. To describe it as very unpleasant is an understatement.
Unfortunately, it has been affecting me most adversely when lying down so that my sleep has been awful. After weeks of this double-whammy, let me say that you start to feel not quite yourself.
I have been trying to battle on but last Monday, it all caught up with me when I almost passed out just before the third race. Reluctantly, I called for the racecourse doctors and who could not have been more attentive and helpful. The whole team, including Julie the nurse, were just lovely.
Tests were undertaken to show that there was nothing seriously wrong with my heart etc (thankfully) and I spent the rest of the day recovering in the medical room while Luke Harvey stepped in (sorry, guys) for the fourth race, followed by Simon Holt coming to the rescue from his home around 10 miles away.
Seriously, Luke and Simon were both fantastic, both kindly checking up on me throughout the afternoon.
Ian the doctor insisted that I was in no condition to drive home so my wife Monica came down to pick me up and brilliantly managed the situation to bring a co-driver in - Casey, her ex-husband’s second wife, who is in our bubble. I know, you couldn’t make it up.
So, Monica drove me home in my car and Casey followed in Monica’s.
I have been told by my doctor to take some rest, take some time off and give myself the chance to try and recover. I have also booked in to see some specialists.
I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to offer sympathy and support, from colleagues, friends and strangers.
Thank you to all of you, it has been a big boost. Fingers crossed.