To unleash one middle-distance star could be regarded as luck; to unleash two begins to look like good planning. Royal Ascot's final day in 2014 provided the stage for the revival of one of British flat racing's class acts, Sir Michael Stoute.
Stoute's victories with Telescope in the G2 Hardwicke Stakes and Arab Spring in the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap showcased their trainer's best asset: the patience required to nurture a top-class middle-distance colt. This is the facet of training that is most likely to be eroded by the influence of our commercial age of fast horses and quick returns.
As a strategist, Stoute is able to pass up today's opportunities for greater things next year, to take his time with horses who need that provision, but may not have the opportunity for it were they housed in other stables. He looks at the right line, not the bottom line.
Of course, everyone knows that patience is a virtue with Thoroughbreds. In the vast majority of cases, it would be better if they were not racing regularly as juveniles. Academic research suggests that a constrained regimen of exercise is beneficial to the point of better preparing bone and, to a lesser extent, tissue for the stresses of a racing career. But the racecourse is hardly the place for this controlled and suitable exposure; some horses can take it, many cannot.
However, with the necessity of foundation for Classic races the following spring, and all the commercial pressures besides, 2-year-old racing is here to stay. And, for most trainers, pressing on with a horse is imperative; you need to have developed a strong reputation for reliability before most owners extend you the luxury of time.
Telescope is an example of a horse only just finding his strength as a 4-year-old. Raced twice as a juvenile in September, 2012, he was ante-post favourite for the Derby at Epsom until developing an infection in an external abrasion before his intended prep. Rather than rush the horse back to the races, Stoute told Harry Herbert, chairman of the colt's owners' group Highclere Thoroughbreds: "Let's reorganise the horse and let him find his way back in his own time."
Meanwhile, Arab Spring, a contemporary of Telescope, was unraced at age two and appeared just once as a 3-year-old in May, 2013, but went wrong. Speaking in the Ascot winners' enclosure, Peter Reynolds, general manager for owners Ballymacoll Stud, said: "Michael takes these horses along slowly. It's a fantastic training performance, the way he has brought him on."
Arab Spring will apparently take another baby-step forward to run in a Listed race next, but Telescope is likely headed for Ascot's G1 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July. These targets are disparate in terms of class, but the two horses may be closely matched in ability.
Let's take a look at the exciting dimensions of Telescope’s win in the Hardwicke and Arab Spring's victory in the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap from a technical perspective. Telescope's time of 2 minutes and 27.45 seconds was only marginally slower than that of former stablemate Harbinger's 2 minutes 27.37 seconds in 2010 - the fastest since the Ascot track was refurbished and realigned in 2005. Harbinger went on to win the King George easily, but winning times are too heavily influenced by the speed of the track to make them a reliable measure of ability in the abstract. Another dimension is needed.
Sectional times provide that dimension. Sad to relate, British racing still isn't sufficiently forward-thinking to finance the relatively meagre sum required to enlighten the industry and the public as to the wonders of horsepower. So we have to turn to the stopwatch instead.
Telescope's Hardwicke win over 1 ½ miles can be split into two sections using the three-furlong pole. Allowing for the accuracy of hand and eye, it is safe only to relate to one decimal place that Telescope came home in 37.0 seconds for the last three furlongs, compared with 36.5 seconds for Arab Spring. Subtracting from their respective final times, this implies that Telescope ran the first nine furlongs of his race in 1 minute and 50.2 seconds while Arab Spring took 1 minute and 52.4 seconds.
Using a large sample of fast times over 1 ½ miles at Ascot, we know that Telescope put up a better all-round performance than Arab Spring because he ran 2.2 seconds harder to the three-furlong pole, yet lost only 0.5 seconds in time from that point on - far less than might be expected if the two horses were equal in merit.
However, an important term in the equation between the two is weight carried. Arab Spring had to contend with 9 pounds more because he was racing in a handicap, a factor that brings the two performances closer in merit. (You can - and should - read excellent analysis of all sectionals data from Ascot from Timeform's Simon Rowlands.)
Interestingly, we can add to Rowlands' analysis the final furlongs for each horse, which were nearly identical in 13sec. So, Arab Spring must have accelerated more sharply from three furlongs out down to the furlong-pole, but their speeds were merging by the line. Telescope and Arab Spring both have the priceless ability to accelerate at the end of middle-distance races - this capacity hidden on this occasion owing to the uphill nature of the finish at Ascot - but the numbers suggest that Telescope is the significantly stronger stayer, and Arab Spring may own a much greater capacity to drop back to a mile and a quarter, making him an extremely valuable commodity for international races at this globally preferred distance.
British racing seems to be well stocked in the middle-distance category already in 2014. The Derby one-two Australia and Kingston Hill should go on and compete for all-aged prizes, as should the impressive Oaks winner Taghrooda. In addition to Telescope and Arab Spring, Royal Ascot showcased top-notch 5-year-old The Fugue and two very progressive 3-year-olds at a lower level in Eagle Top and Cannock Chase, the latter trained by Stoute.
Between 2002 and 2010, Stoute averaged more than 100 winners and nearly £2 million in win-purses in Britain. Yet, over the next two seasons, these numbers dropped sharply to 61 and £600,000. There was conjecture that the game had passed him by, that the best horses were being funnelled elsewhere in a competitive environment that now features a new generation of trainers and two sheikhs from Qatar with vast wealth lavished in other places.
With his 70th birthday coming in 2015, perhaps Stoute's operation is less attractive to new money and influence. But he's never been a man to actively court business or attention - as anyone who has tried to interview him will have found out.
What will never change is Stoute's atomic understanding of the middle-distance horse. They can't be rushed, they can't be made a vehicle for seething ambition. They often need time and patience to build strength and stamina, and a campaign that matches their ability at each stage.
We might be living in the pop-art age of training, but the old masters will always have store: Stoute won the Royal Ascot trainers' title with unmistakable flourish.