Cheltenham may be over, but spring is in the air, BST is around the corner and the Flat turf season is imminent. Ben Linfoot looks ahead to what’s in store.
Too Darn Hot’s Classic campaign
There are few more exciting horses ahead of the 2019 Flat campaign in England than John Gosden’s Too Darn Hot.
By Dubawi out of Dar Re Mi, making him a full brother to So Mi Dar and Lah Ti Dar, he was exciting before he even set foot on a racetrack, a debut starting price of 8/11 an indication of his reputation at Clarehaven Stables.
A sumptuous seven-length victory followed and he didn’t look back, taking in the Solario, Champagne and Dewhurst Stakes in fine style during a fruitful and unbeaten autumn campaign.
He’s 11/8 for the 2000 Guineas, 5/1 for the Derby and 14/1 for the St Leger, favourite for all, but, for a horse blessed with so much speed the big question is will he stay?
There’s plenty of hope on paper, at least, as Dubawi has produced a host of classy mile-and-a-halfers, while Too Darn Hot’s dam stayed well and Lah Ti Dar did, too.
Gosden says he’s most like So Mi Dar, though, a filly that didn’t race beyond 10 furlongs and one that had a similar, striking, turn of foot.
Let’s hope he at least gets the opportunity to prove himself over 1m4f in the Derby at Epsom, something that his mother and sisters never got the chance to do in the Oaks, as fate would have it.
Calyx on the comeback trail
Talking of John Gosden-trained three-year-old colts with ambitions to get to the very top, we must chat about Calyx, as well.
Also blessed with speed, he’s the nearest in the betting to Too Darn Hot in the 2000 Guineas, but instead of going up in trip it’s not difficult to envisage a situation where he drops back to six for the Commonwealth Cup (currently a 16/1 chance, odds that make some appeal).
The way he dismantled the Coventry Stakes field, when racing alone on the stands’ side, was hugely impressive and the runner-up, Advertise, gives the form a solid look considering his subsequent exploits in the July Stakes, Phoenix Stakes and Dewhurst (two-and-a-quarter lengths behind Too Darn Hot).
Of course, the worry with Calyx is the setback that ruled him out of everything post-Royal Ascot as a two-year-old, but it’s very difficult to forget the impression he made in his two starts as a juvenile and his three-year-old campaign remains eagerly anticipated.
Newspaperofrecord’s possible Coronation
When looking forward to this season the things freshest in our minds are the things that happened at the end of last season and the big thing that happened right at the end of last season was Newspaperofrecord.
Chad Brown’s Lope De Vega filly scorched the Churchills Downs turf on her way to an incredible almost-seven-length win at the Breeders’ Cup, and post-race comments from her trainer gave hope that we’d see her in Europe in 2019.
That victory was in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf and she’s only ever raced against her own sex, something she would be able to do at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes.
How we’d love to see her on these shores. However, it’s not looking quite as likely as a widespread news report suggested a few weeks ago.
The story contained quotes from Nick Smith, head of communications and international racing at Ascot, that said: “We had a very encouraging meeting with Chad Brown and he’s very keen to bring Newspaperofrecord to the Coronation Stakes, to the extent he is planning a prep campaign for her very much with Royal Ascot in mind.”
Done deal, you would be right to summise. But, alas, no. A few days later Brown told the Daily Racing Form: “I had a nice visit with their representatives when they were here recently but in no way did we commit to Royal Ascot.”
Let’s hope she gets on the plane, as this lightning quick filly really could take the meeting by storm.
Stradivarius on the million pound hunt (again)
“Following the extraordinary exploits of Stradivarius last year, we are delighted to announce that the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million (WHSM) is back for 2019 and looking to bring even more attention and excitement to the Stayers’ division.”
So says the WHSM press release anyway… I’m sure they were delighted to fork out £1,000,000 in the inception year of the bonus!
Kauto Star did a similar thing when winning the Betfair Million early on in its history, his feat of winning the Betfair Chase, King George and Gold Cup in the same season helping to kill off the bonus as he threatened to win it every year (until 2015, when it was reintroduced by the Jockey Club).
The profile of the Betfair Chase had already been elevated by then, though, whereas the WHSM looks to have the longer term aim of promoting the Stayers’ division and its importance to the modern thoroughbred.
It looks like it’s here to stay, then, for the time being at least, and Stradivarius will be going for the bounty once again.
This time he has eight initial races to choose from as races in Dubai, Germany, France and Ireland have been added to the four British qualifying races staged from March to May.
You would think the Yorkshire Cup will be on Stradivarius’ agenda, rather than a trip to Berlin-Hoppegarten, before the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, the Goodwood Cup and the Lonsdale Cup.
Despite Stradivarius winning the loot the first time it was dangled, this remains a really tough sequence of races to put together without defeat. It would take some horse to win them all two seasons in a row…
Charlie Appleby bids to top last year
2018 was some year for Charlie Appleby.
He won the Derby and the Melbourne Cup and the King’s Stand and the Nassau Stakes. He won 11 Group One races in total. His 88 wins in the UK came at a 28 per cent strike-rate and garnered almost £4,000,000 in total earnings.
How on earth do you top that? More of the same will be the request from above but Appleby has shown improvement in some facet each year and you sense his work in getting Godolphin back to the top of the tree is not done yet.
Already this year he has had 11 winners and eight seconds from just 21 runners in the UK. We are talking horses that are expected to do well in an all-weather game that is not as competitive as the turf season, but still, this looks further evidence that the well-oiled Appleby machine is purring ahead of the return of the Flat.
He could kick off the season with a Lincoln win thanks to Auxerre. But soon he’ll have bigger fish to fry as the likes of Quorto and Line Of Duty tackle their Classic assignments.
And then there’s his established stars like Masar and Cross Counter and Blue Point. Each will bring their own challenges, particularly the first-named who will be coming back from a long absence, unseen since his Derby success.
It’s not difficult to find an impressive stat regarding Appleby in recent times. If he can improve on last year’s success once again then 2019 promises to be a very special year for the Godolphin handler.
Oisin Murphy’s Group One juggernaut
Last year’s champion jockey may well have been Silvestre de Sousa but the undoubted top dog was Oisin Murphy.
Murphy came of age in 2018, riding more winners in the calendar year than any other UK-based jockey and his total earnings north of £6,000,000 tell you that there was an abundance of quality to go with the quantity.
His partnership with Roaring Lion was one of the stories of the season and his victories on that horse contributed to nine Group One wins for the year, remarkable really considering he’d landed just two in his career prior to that, both abroad, both deep into 2017.
By the end of last season he was the go-to man in the big races. His booking on The Tin Man in the 32Red Sprint Cup at Haydock proved that, as he was a horse almost exclusively ridden by Tom Queally previously, but five top-level defeats in a row prompted connections to have a change.
The Murphy Factor ensured it was the correct decision and it will be interesting to see how many more rides like that the 23-year-old Irishman picks up this year.
Of course, he’ll have the backing of Qatar Racing as well, but the quality of his outside rides adds an intriguing element to his upcoming season and they could be vital if he’s to continue his Group One odyssey in 2019.
Second-season sires Kingman and Australia
Kingman and Australia were the most high-profile freshman sires last season and their progress this year with their first three-year-olds hitting the track will be closely monitored.
The former had the more explosive start with the likes of Calyx and Sangarius contributing to 18 wins at 40 per cent, his offspring earning £319,000 in prizemoney.
Australia wasn’t quite as quick out of the blocks, siring 11 winners at 26 per cent for £140,000, but his offspring could well catch up a little this year now they’re three and set to tackle middle distances.
There’s nothing obvious among the Australia progeny that look set to take the racing world by storm, but I am looking forward to seeing what Andrew Balding does with Bangkok.
He’s beautifully bred being out of a Darshaan mare and he ran with promise in three starts as a juvenile, finishing a neck second to the aforementioned Sangarius on debut before close-up defeats in maiden company at Ascot and on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket in September.
An opening mark of 88 might well be tempting given the right handicap opportunity over 10 furlongs or more, and he’s one of many ‘Could Be Anythings’ on a list that screams optimism ahead of the 2019 turf season (perhaps there’s another feature there, in a week or two).
Enable, Sea Of Class and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
And finally… we get to Enable.
The Queen of the turf, John Gosden’s incredible daughter of Nathaniel now sports a record of 10 wins from 11 starts, including seven Group Ones and two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes.
Flat racing often attracts criticism for shuttling off its stars to stud at the end of their three-year-old careers or even earlier, but here we are with a genuine equine behemoth racing on at five.
She has nothing left to prove, but a crack at history – the chance to become the first horse ever to win three Arcs – was enough for connections to keep her in training.
Would she be here if she were a colt? The risks are greater, for sure, with a stallion prospect, so probably not, but Juddmonte will be itching to breed from her and the decision won’t have been taken lightly.
But, three Arcs. Wouldn’t that be something. Hopefully we see her lighting up racetracks around England before her date with destiny in Paris, and a burgeoning rivalry with Sea Of Class is something we can potentially look forward to as well.
Perhaps they’ll be kept apart pre-Longchamp, hopefully not, as the diminishing short neck between them in last year’s Arc suggested there was little between the fillies and maybe, even, that the best horse finished second.
Sea Of Class has to prove herself again at four, though. Enable has done that. Seeing how the pair get on in 2019, on the road to Longchamp and hopefully the rematch, is one of the most tantalising prospects as we look ahead to what this year’s turf season in Europe may bring.