The past weekend of European racing was one of the best in recent memory, producing countless exciting races and endless talking points. Here are just a few of the most notable takeaways.
Midterm on the way to first-class honours
Japanese racing professionals have pursued the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with the same fervour as Captain Ahab did the White Whale. And so far, with comparable misadventures.
Makahiki’s victory in Sunday’s G2 Prix Niel on Arc Trials day at Chantilly sets up another shot at the elusive behemoth of European racing. The Japanese Derby winner did really well to win a sprint finish on his first start off a long break.
He looks a very good colt and may well better his sire Deep Impact’s effort in the 2006 Arc on October 2 back at Chantilly. The latter did not have the benefit of a prep race when third past the post (subsequently disqualified for a prohibited substance) behind Rail Link.
But take note also of runner-up Midterm, a colt with a big future judging by the way he rallied and stuck on to be beaten only a neck, winning a photo for second with another improver in Doha Dream.
Minding we don’t overreact to defeat
Saturday’s G1 Irish Champion Stakes was given a lofty billing, but it is rare that any such race turns out the sum of its parts. As a spectacle, it certainly did not disappoint, but two top 3-year-olds did not really get a fair shot.
Minding, Aidan O’Brien’s superb filly, seems to have gone from being widely regarded as a potential great to a filly who cannot cut it out of her division, all because she finished only third here to Almanzor.
It’s true that Minding’s Oaks victory wasn’t what it appeared, but she is better than this showing suggests. First, she caught a bump early and did not really get a good set-up in the race, but it is also worth noting that runners like her who stuck to the inside did not fare well.
Harzand, the English and Irish Derby winner, was more obviously knocked about and returned lame. He will be suited by a return to a mile and a half when he comes right, but trainer Dermot Weld faces an uphill battle getting him ready for the Arc.
Rouget’s view on Almanzor looks spot on
After Almanzor had circled the field and fended off Found to win the Irish Champion, he attracted quotes for the Arc and, at time of writing, was disputing second favouritism. This could change after his trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, said he prefers the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 15.
Almanzor’s owner is also involved with Rouget’s Arc candidate La Cressonniere, but, whether this plays into the decision or not, sticking to the same 10-furlong trip as in Ireland looks the right option. While powering to the front on the outside, Almanzor showed top-class acceleration and speed, and he is suited to a good gallop and leaders coming back to him. Ascot looks perfect.
Why Churchill is a clear choice over Caravaggio for Guineas
No reason to hold the back page, but O’Brien has a stranglehold on the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket next May. But there is a fascinating difference of opinion among bookmakers as to which colt is the more likely winner: Churchill or Caravaggio?
Caravaggio has looked a brilliant 2-year-old in winning all four of his starts to date, including the G1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes over six furlongs at the Curragh last month. Churchill also achieved G1 brackets in Sunday’s Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes over seven furlongs at the same track.
Right now, Caravaggio is the faster and better horse, but Churchill is a marginally better prospect for the Rowley Mile next spring. The Galileo colt looks more in need of the extra time to mature than Caravaggio, and he is very likely a stronger stayer too.
Moore may lack faith in Ranger
U.S. Army Ranger, second in the Derby at Epsom to Harzand, disappointed again when turned over at odds on by progressive filly Zhukova in the G3 KPMG Enterprise Stakes at Leopardstown last Saturday. His rider, Ryan Moore, again rode him as if harbouring doubts over the colt’s resolution, arriving belatedly to challenge the enterprisingly ridden winner.
Whenever a beaten favourite finishes well, the tendency is to blame the jockey. But, when as good a rider as Moore repeatedly rides a horse “cold”, there may be information in his actions that suggests caution. U.S. Army Ranger was also thought to have been the best horse in the Derby in some quarters, after he made up a lot of ground in the straight.
It would be interesting to see if the Galileo colt would improve if allowed to stride on. He may not be straightforward.
Improved Alice could be ideal for Breeders’ Cup
Despite setbacks for O’Brien over last weekend – not the least of which was impressive Ascot Gold Cup hero Order Of St George finishing only second in the G1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St. Leger – the great trainer still annexed two G1s with Churchill and the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes winner Alice Springs.
This filly was really impressive and would be a strong contender for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (for which the Matron was a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier) on this showing. She bounced back from a poor run at Deauville to add a second G1 to her Falmouth Stakes romp at Newmarket in July. Just as it seemed the latter race wasn’t all it appeared, Alice Springs again seemed to get the rub of the green somewhat, in that she raced wide on a day when the best footing at Leopardstown seemed away from the inside.
But, her two wins taken together, it is tough to doubt her. She seemed below the very best over her first 10 career starts, but has improved sharply, as O’Brien runners can do. The obvious example among former Ballydoyle inmates is Peeping Fawn, a four-time G1 winner in 2007, but even she wasn’t so exposed as Alice Springs.