Kingman lays down Guineas gauntlet
After Kingman stormed to the head of the 2,000 Guineas market at Newbury on Saturday, John Gosden succinctly pointed out that he doesn't do hype.
The brilliant Newmarket handler has long been recognised one of the most eloquent, articulate and intelligent handlers in the business, and it is certainly true that he doesn't engage in the sort of stallion-driven commercial PR speak that is the scourge of the Flat scene. Gosden is an intriguing character, not least because he is simply fascinating to listen to on even the most mundane of topics.
Prior to Saturday, he had been loath to build up Kingman's superlative juvenile turns, aware that others were already guilty of making premature comparisons with the mighty fellow Khalid Abdullah-owned Frankel.
On Saturday, in a Greenham Stakes brimful of quality, the handsome Invincible Spirit colt added further substance to his reputation by posting a smooth triumph that showcased both a mature professionalism and a precocious burst of acceleration.
Gosden knows better than to desecrate what Frankel achieved by uttering inane parallels designed chiefly to inflate Kingman's eventual stud fee, and it is obviously far too early to know if James Doyle's mount will be remotely as good in the white heat of Group One battle. Still, given the way that Kingman quickens, it's easy to see why people have been moved to liken the two colts.
Gosden stressed that fast ground at Newmarket in three weeks' time might mean that Kingman would skip the Guineas, as he had surgery to remove a chip from an ankle at the end of last term. It would be a pity if he were to miss out, but, either way, Kingman is an exceptional prospect.
Australia remains his closest market rival, and all the vibes from Ballydoyle are that he is a colt of real quality, with Aidan O'Brien recently describing the €665,000 colt as "the best horse that we have ever had."
Given what Australia's sire Galileo achieved, not to mention the feats of O'Brien's other iconic champions like Rock Of Gibraltar, Giant's Causeway, High Chaparral and Yeats, that is some statement.
Of course, it's not unusual for him to speak in such glowing terms, with Camelot branded in similar manner, although it's worth noting he failed to win a single Group One in open class.
Like Australia, Camelot was bred to excel over middle distances, and O'Brien's coup of winning the 2,000 Guineas with him in 2012 must go down as one of his best training performances. He went on to follow up in the Derby, an audacious route that Australia also looks poised to follow.
The difference between 2012 and 2014, though, is the respective quality of the Classic generations. Camelot's rivals were considered to be the single worst collective of three-year-old colts in recent history. He was by far the best of a mediocre bunch, and was only denied eternal glory in his bid for a Triple Crown by Encke, a horse that would subsequently test positive for anabolic steroids.
Just how good Australia is remains to be seen, but he seems certain to face far more robust competition. He isn't a particularly impressive-looking specimen, but he strode clear of Free Eagle over a mile at Leopardstown in September. Stablemate Kingfisher, nine-and-a-half lengths back then, was beaten just shy of that when fifth of eight to Fascinating Rock in Saturday's Ballysax.
That Navan race told us little, so it is a pity we won't see Free Eagle until Dermot Weld unleashes him in the Derrinstown Stud trial a week after the Guineas. Weld still won the Ballysax with his recent maiden winner Fascinating Rock, one of nine winners from 11 runners for the trainer.
My initial reaction is that it wasn't a hot edition of the Group Three, with the exposed 97-rated All Set To Go a short-head behind the runner-up Answered. With Kingfisher and Carlo Bugatti well held, it also reaffirmed the sense that the Ballydoyle colts are a mite behind right now.
That said, history tells us that O'Brien has a deft ability to get the cream of them humming in time for Newmarket in May. Given what we witnessed on Saturday, Australia will need to be cherry-ripe if he is to account for Kingman in the Guineas.
AL CO A MULTI-NATIONAL WINNER OF AYR FEATURE
There was no joy for the cross-channel raiders at Ayr on Saturday, with Yes Tom eventually trailing home last of the nine finishers in the Scottish Grand National after briefly leading turning for home.
However, he failed to see out the trip, as did the co-favourite Green Flag, which was still in second place before clambering over the last fence and crawling to the line to eventually be beaten 26 lengths in fifth.
The French-bred 40/1 shot Al Co secured a famous win for the hard-working Welsh handler Peter Bowen under Englishman Jamie Moore, who did well to keep the partnership intact when his mount twice spooked from something inside the rail in the shadow of the post.
Tipperary-born Yorkshire handler John Quinn enjoyed a popular success with Cockney Sparrow in the Scottish Champion Hurdle. The 12/1 shot had finished second to My Tent Or Yours when receiving seven pounds in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November, and her fifth to Quevega at Cheltenham caught the eye of a few shrewdies, with her stamina seemingly stretched.
Dropped back to two miles, she was 16lbs better off with My Tent Or Yours this time when you factored in Dean Pratt's seven-pound claim, and duly took full advantage to sprint home from the last flight. Champion Hurdle runner-up My Tent Or Yours again raced keenly in a first-time hood for AP McCoy, only keeping on at one pace to be third after leading two-out. He is a talented horse that will struggle to ever fulfil his true potential if he doesn't learn to settle soon.
BYRON A RESPECTABLE SIXTH DOWN UNDER
Tom Hogan's Gordon Lord Byron could manage only sixth place in the TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick in Sydney on Saturday morning.
Despite the heavy ground, Craig Williams' mount couldn't land a blow in the six-furlong Group One, which was won in spectacular style by the favourite Lankan Rupee. Hogan's globetrotting stable star will now bid for Group One success on a third continent when tackling the Champions Mile at Sha Tin in Hong Kong on May 4.
BALLYDOYLE FILLIES ENTER CLASSIC FRAME AT NAVAN
If Ballydoyle's colts are taking time to hit their stride, their female counterparts are doing a fine job of compensating, with Dazzling and Palace thrusting themselves into the Classic pictures at Navan.
The stable's recent Leopardstown scorer Bracelet was one of just two winners for the stable prior to Saturday. She was cut to 8/1 favouritism for the Oaks, and Dazzling is as low as 10/1 for Epsom after a taking 5/1 victory in the 10-furlong Salsabil Stakes under Joseph O'Brien.
The elite Rosegreen firm was then denied with a favourite when the colt John Constable was foiled by the Niall McCullagh-ridden Urban Moon (7/2), which got Johnny Murtagh off the mark for the season. Dazzling, fourth on her debut 10 days earlier, then exacted a measure of vengeance on the Murtagh-McCullagh axis in the mile maiden, justifying odds-on status to readily deny Gorteo.
Aidan O'Brien subsequently described her as their "best filly last year", before adding that she would have one more run en route to a tilt at the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
DOYLE AND SEXTON MAINTAIN FINE FORM
Liz Doyle's fantastic season continued at Tramore yesterday when the decisive maiden hurdle victor Subtle Ben (8/1) brought her tally to 16, six more than she managed in a full term before.
The Wexford handler's third win from five runners following a brace at her local track on Friday, it stretched Kevin Sexton's lead over Jody McGarvey in the conditional jockeys' race to two.
Sexton has now ridden 21 winners, while seven-pound claimer Andrew Ring enjoyed the first double of his career by taking the two handicap chases on Notimetoserve (3/1 fav) and Cheap As Chips (5/2) for his boss Philip Rothwell. Philip Fenton also bagged a brace courtesy of handicap hurdler Drive On Locky (Brian O'Connell) and smart bumper winner Bentelimar (Richie Kiely).
TWEET OF THE WEEKEND
I'm very sad to say we have retired Battle Group. He was amazing for us last year but this year he's not been in love with it anymore.
– Dublin-born Johnny Farrelly, who rode successfully for Jonjo O'Neill and David Pipe, announces Battle Group's retirement after the reluctant nine-year-old's antics contributed to a second Grand National false start in eight days at Ayr on Saturday.
8 Number of Irish-trained runners that represent six different trainers at Hexham this afternoon.