Friday 27 April 2018

Monday Outlook: Don Cossack looks Golden contender

Elliott's exciting chaser hardly breaks sweat in Down Royal feature

Don Cossack and Bryan Cooper sail over the final fence on their way to victory at Down Royal
Don Cossack and Bryan Cooper sail over the final fence on their way to victory at Down Royal
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Saturday's feature chases on either side of the Irish Sea couldn't have been more contrasting in nature.

On one hand, at Down Royal, we had a deeply uncompetitive and one-sided Grade One graced by a heavyweight Gold Cup contender. On the other, at Wetherby, we had a well-contested Grade Two that served only to underline the strength of the Irish staying chasing ranks.

Cue Card has always been an extremely good horse on his day. The problem is he doesn't have too many of them, notwithstanding that Colin Tizzard is adamant a trapped epiglottis was the cause of his tame efforts last season.

His game Charlie Hall victory for Paddy Brennan highlighted that Coneygree is surely the only horse that isn't trained in Ireland that can win the Gold Cup next March. Silviniaco Conti returns over hurdles at Kempton today but his Cheltenham record is damning.

In beating a fellow previous Ryanair Chase winner in Dynaste, Cue Card was scoring for a first time in two years. The Grand National hero Many Clouds was further back among a field populated largely by handicappers. A Betfair Chase might be within the remit of the first two, but they are second tier horses when it comes to elite Gold Cup material. End of.

Don Cossack is a real contender, though it was regrettable to see such a lopsided renewal of the Champion Chase.

That just four runners lined out for a €140,000 Grade One doesn't augur well for the months ahead.

Willie Mullins has yet to unleash any significant firepower and we know how much of a deterrent his big guns are for the connections of other horses, so the issue of uncompetitive graded races is a general trend that could get worse rather than better.

Then again, Gordon Elliott's muscle is clearly increasing in terms of both quantity and quality. While Mullins waits in the wings, he has made hay with a raft of short-priced favourites. The pick of them are Gigginstown Stud representatives, the likes of Tycoon Prince, No More Heroes and Death Duty all winning like proper horses.

As his wont, Henry De Bromhead has also produced some deeply exciting chasing prospects. He has a particular flair with old-fashioned, bold-jumping types.

If watching Sizing John soar from fence to fence doesn't stir something inside you, then you should probably reconsider your recreational pursuits. Again, he didn't turn a hair in landing long odds-on status, but they are high-calibre prospects with the potential to make a major impact.

Of course, De Bromhead also has Gigginstown's Identity Thief to go to war with over hurdles. After a stylish Down Royal success on Friday, he even spoke of him as Champion Hurdle material, so it will be fascinating to see how much substance there is to that theory.

Competition levels will intensify yet and it wasn't a bad weekend of racing, although we would reiterate that a swollen programme book comprising too many graded races is detrimental to the sport's appeal. Indeed, when you see the recent raft of odds-on shots in run-of-the mill maidens and so on, it is surely time to consider slashing more than just the quality events.

The number of horses in training, owners and licence-holders continues to plummet, so reducing the number of races would increase competition. However, a decision like that is inevitably compromised by the massive media rights sums paid to tracks for each meeting.

Granted, the manner in which the main players can spread their riches has done no harm to the broader Irish influence at the major festivals in Britain, but it does prompt a degree of indifference from the floating voter and wider media.

Saturday's big race was a case in point. The three-miler lacked any real significance, other than to remind us that Don Cossack is alive and very much the mature practitioner that he fleetingly looked unlikely to become.

Right now, apart from Coneygree, he is the most complete package.

Moore flies in to Paris for Vermeer

It's just as well Gleneagles didn't run any slower than he did in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The dual 2,000 Guineas victor's frustrating season concluded with a dismal show behind the incredible American Pharoah. He clearly didn't enjoy racing on dirt, but there was no shortage of consolation for Coolmore, given that they own the iconic winner's breeding rights.

"You won't see many things in your life to rival what he has achieved," Aidan O'Brien said after witnessing American Pharoah (below) crush the opposition. The first Triple Crown winner to add the Classic to his repertoire, American Pharoah left plenty other seasoned professionals in raptures after his six-and-a-half-length demolition.

On Twitter, Johnny Murtagh echoed O'Brien's sentiments: "I don't think I have seen a better horse, what a performance. Awesome."

Just hours after landing a thrilling Breeders Cup Turf with Found at Keenelan, Ryan Moore was driving last week's Doncaster runner-up Johannes Vermeer (5/2) to a head victory in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in Paris. Following Hit It A Bomb's Juvenile Turf success on Friday night, then, yesterday's win capped a superb few days for the insatiable duo, as well as further heightening expectations for Ballydoyle's seemingly indomitable 2016 Classic crop. Idaho couldn't add to their exploits in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, keeping on to be fourth .

American Pharoah is undoubtedly the Flat horse of the year. It's not fair to compare him with Frankel or Sea The Stars simply because the latter duo's feats don't carry the caveat of having been achieved with the help of medication that is outlawed in other racing jurisdictions.

It's different in the US and that remains an entirely unsatisfactory situation, but that is unlikely to change any time soon.

There is no doubt in this correspondent's mind, though, that American Pharoah is by some way the best US Flat horse in modern times. Nothing could lay a glove on him at his best, and it is a tribute to Bob Baffert's skills that he brought him back after his Travers Stakes defeat to post the awe-inspiring performance that he did at the end of a long season on Saturday night. Earlier, in employing more positive tactics than had previously been the case on Found to ruin Golden Horn's swansong in the Turf, Moore had secured O'Brien's 10th Breeders' Cup winner. Again, the drugs issue raised its head here, with many observing that O'Brien adopted a "when in Rome" policy of running all his horses on Lasix, the controversial anti-bleeding drug that is banned in Europe.

Connections of Golden Horn opted not to, and, while it is clearly not a level playing field, it is also wrong to conclude that it necessarily had a material impact on the result. Further proof of that is to be found in the Sprint, with the winner Runhappy, trained by rookie handler Maria Borell, running entirely clean as a matter of routine on the insistence of his owner James McIngvale. He broke the track record to boot.

Found's success was both overdue and deserving, the hardy Galileo three-year-old having already run creditably in the Irish Champion Stakes, the Arc and the Champion Stakes. Moore, however, was out of luck on Legatissimo. David Wachman's classy filly stumbled out of the gate and laboured in the soft ground when running second to Stephanie's Kitten.

Moore moves on to Australia to ride Snow Sky in the Melbourne Cup at 4.0 tomorrow morning, our time. Another day, another continent - another Grade One?

Brooke keeps his head at Ayr

It was a decent weekend for Irish riders in Britain, with Noel Fehily and Aidan Coleman starring on Saturday with respective trebles at Wetherby and Ascot.

Paul Moloney and Barry Geraghty also got among the winners, Geraghty bagging his first major victory for JP McManus since succeeding AP McCoy aboard Pendra at Ascot.

Fehily and Coleman's fellow Cork-born colleagues Brian Harding and Gavin Sheehan both scored at Carlisle yesterday, where Saphire Du Rheu enhanced its Hennessy Gold Cup credentials under Sam Twiston-Davies. The riding performance of the weekend, though, surely goes to rider Henry Brooke. At Ayr, Brooke's tack began to loosen aboard Plus Jamais with a circuit to go in the handicap chase. Brooke, who once nearly completed a race with neither a bridle nor irons, somehow kept it together. In the final throes, he caught the lead bag before it fell off, held it aloft as he crossed the final fence and rode out to finish third.

Despite other cloths visibly being lost, he weighed in within the margin for error, which was the least he deserved. It was an heroic effort so it would have been an injustice had he been disqualified.

Numbers Game

100 Joseph O'Brien's win-runs percentage as a handler after Minella For Me, his first runner in his own name, won at Rockfield point-to-point in Roscommon yesterday. It was also a final winner for senior rider James 'Corky' Carroll, who announced his retirement on dismounting John Nallen's€50,000 King's Theatre gelding.

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