Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 16 November 2019

Those holding aces should put cards on the table

Wealthiest owners have an obligation to minimise late withdrawals from feature races, writes Ian McClean

Gleneagles with Ryan Moore after their Irish 2,000 Guineas triumph
Gleneagles with Ryan Moore after their Irish 2,000 Guineas triumph

Ian McClean

Fading appearance seems to have been a theme for the week, certainly in the UK. From a sporting perspective the questionable non-appearance within less than a week of champion three-year-olds Golden Horn and Gleneagles for the two most prestigious championship races of the British summer calendar definitely devalued the experience at both Ascot and Goodwood.

Given that connections chose to eschew both prime midsummer engagements, the horses' future appearances now lie squarely in the hands not just of the Rain Gods, but of the Light Drizzle Gods based on the current formula. Aidan O'Brien went even further by withdrawing his best two-year-olds from the group-race Richmond, Vintage and Molecomb after declaration time, all of which left the week with the gnawing feeling that the undercard was getting the upper hand on the main events.

Whether an elongated five (Goodwood) or seven (Galway) day Festival, there is inevitably going to be some element of padding, but in an era where racing's trump cards reside more and more in the hands of the wealthiest few, it behoves that those holding the aces at least consent to putting those cards on the table at minimum when the pot (£1m in the case of the Sussex this year with the new Qatar sponsorship) is at maximum. It speaks volumes when two of the main Group race features of the week at Goodwood (Sussex and King George Stakes) - not Galway - were won by a gelding.

Racegoers have been getting complacently cosy with the 'Duel on the Downs' moniker in recent seasons at Goodwood, but with the late scratching of Gleneagles they had to content themselves with the jewel on the downs instead, as French grey Solow seemed to have been granted just that - a solo - by the defection of his main rival.

However, Qatar racing nearly got its money back as Arod made a valiant attempt to make all, only to be overhauled inside the last furlong by a five-year-old grey gelding that has become a revelation just in the last year. In fact it was just over 12 months ago he finished sixth of eight over two miles at Longchamp. For a horse by Singspiel out of a mare that had won over two miles, competing at that distance would have seemed straight out of the owner instructions manual.

Trainer Freddie Head then scratched his head, dropped the gelding back to about a mile and in the last year has reaped the harvest of eight straight wins, including four Group Ones in three countries. Without any breeding-shed palpitations, Solow is a package neither precious nor complex that you can simply point and shoot in any direction. His parting shot of this campaign will be Ascot's QEII in October.

Quick Jack may not possess Solow's speedy brilliance but he trumps even him for versatility. His Galway Hurdle saunter, in a race that looked like Rubik's Cube beforehand, masks the fact that he had given best only to the subsequent Ascot Gold Cup winner in the Chester Cup the time before.

Stablemate and hero of last year Thomas Edison might just have got Quick Jack off the bridle had he not somersaulted the last, but instead Jack won the most coveted and competitive summer hurdle breaking less sweat than in a morning canter back in Arodstown. With nine winners in 2013 and six last year, trainer Tony Martin was in danger of becoming the Dermot Weld of the Galway Festival.

However, the Meath handler ran into a slow start last week, without a winner until Thursday, and whilst celebrations after the Hurdle were not quite in the Michael Winters class of unbridled euphoria, they were still an octave or two higher than any parallel event on the Sussex Downs.

Speaking of Jack, Mick Channon's Malabar rewarded the drop in class from Group One company to usurp the colts in the Group Three Bonhams Stakes at Goodwood on Friday and the trainer will be turning to his son for inspiration for her next outing. "My son Jack is working for Graham Motion in America and he says there are decent races for her at Belmont and Saratoga and the American fillies aren't that good," he said. "We're thinking of going there to test his judgment." Methinks the Channon Jack will be feeling a bit more pressure than his Quick counterpart did on Thursday.

One certainly feeling no pressure will be Richard Hughes, who also had to wait until Thursday before getting off the mark at his beloved, and very final, Glorious Goodwood. His victory on the Hannon-trained Gibeon in the opening handicap ironically earned the now ex-jockey a two-day suspension. Hughes could have countered this ultimate act of redundancy by producing his very own and permanent self-certificate.

The ultimate self-certificate, however, came with the passing of the legendary Sir Peter O'Sullevan last week and amongst all the richly deserved panegyric appeared many instances of his often self-deprecating good humour. I had the pleasure of interviewing the great man back in 2001 for this column when still a sprightly 83 (he not me) in conjunction with the new sponsorship announcement of the 'Ireland the Food Island' Champion Stakes.

"Now there's a mouthful," was O'Sullevan's opening gambit as we settled into the chairs. Amongst a very wide-ranging and indulgent menu of topics ranging from horse welfare to betting coups was the usual best-you've-ever-seen question (Ribot and Sea Bird, by the way). I then asked him to nominate the most underrated horse he could remember. After a suitably long reflection and with a deadpan look, he finally replied "Attivo". Class is permanent. Even in memoriam.

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