Sunday, October 4, 2015

Golden Horn Takes the 2015 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

Longchamp, known to be one of the world’s most distinguished racetracks, sits on the banks of the Seine River in Paris.   The racetrack, the host of over half the Group I’s in France, is unparalleled by any other in its country.  Longchamp puts on display a genuine racecourse, made up of four racetracks with an astonishing forty-six starting points.  It holds the world’s second richest race on turf: the cherished Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  The most important race in France, the Arc’s roster of champions features the turf’s greatest heroes such as Ribot, Sea Bird, Alleged, and All Along.  One of its most revered victor’s was Sea Bird’s four year old daughter, Allez France, who was undefeated at the time she won the Arc.

Time has not changed the quality of the equine muscle that charges over the Parisian turf.  In 2015, the name Golden Horn blared over as the newest champion of the Arc. 

Golden Horn’s Arc was arguably his most impressive race, facing the most challenging field of the year at Longchamp.  The ground came up as good for the big race, favoring Golden Horn.  Breaking from the fourteenth stall, he found himself in the back early on, but moved closer on the outside before the first turn.  Frankie Dettori placed him in second, on the heels of Treve’s pacemaking stablemate.  He seemed comfortable throughout the majority of the race, although at the first downhill turn, he appeared somewhat rank.

Without any persuasion, he kicked into his fastest gear coming out of the final turn and claimed a slim but distinct lead.  Golden Horn stretched into commanding stride, fighting the surges of eventual second and third placed Flintshire and New Bay.  He moved towards the wire with forceful leaps and he displayed his easy movement.  With power and purpose, Golden Horn passed the final post with a strong final time of 2:27.23 for 1 ½ miles.  Denying the fourth placed Treve a historic third consecutive Arc win, Golden Horn gave trainer John Gosden his first win in the storied Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and jockey Frankie Dettori his fourth.

Dettori remarked after the race, “I really believed in this horse and he put it to bed like a superstar.  It was an amazing performance. I scratched my head all week about what to do, but I knew I was on the best horse so I wanted to make use of him and show the world just how good he really is.

“He's probably the best horse I've ridden.”

Having dominated all the major races in Europe, the brilliant dark bay’s connections may direct their attention stateside to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships depending on how Golden Horn recovers from the French classic.  Prior to the Arc, owner Anthony Oppenheimer commented, “It's entirely up to the horse. If the horse comes second or third in the Arc and is still in good condition I think the Breeders' Cup is a definite possibility on the turf. I don't feel he needs to run as a four-year-old.”

Golden Horn’s record is evidence of his remarkable capabilities.  The son of Cape Cross captured the attention of the racing world when winning the Epsom Derby (Gr-I) by a convincing 3 ½ lengths then took the Coral Eclipse Stakes (Gr-I) by the same margin over talented older males, such as The Grey Gatsby.  The only loss of his career came in the Juddmonte International Stakes (Gr-I) on good to soft ground.  He fell ¼ lengths short of the 50-1 upset filly, Arabian Queen.  Frankie Dettori, regular rider of Golden Horn, explained the loss, “The horse was more keen than usual today.  He was going to the King George and missed it so came here a bit fresh today. I was expending a lot of energy trying to hold him and he couldn't use his turn of foot in that ground at the end.”

In his next outing, however, Golden Horn returned victorious.  On yielding turf at Leopardstown, he won the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (Gr-I) by one length over Found.  He defeated an immaculate field:  behind him were Group I winning Found, Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Gr-I) victor Free Eagle, Pleascach who was victress of this year’s Group I Yorkshire Oaks, in which she defeated Covert Love.  The stateside Secretariat Stakes (GI) winner Highland Reel, defending Irish Champion Stakes winner The Grey Gatsby, and fan-favorite multiple Group I winner Cirrus des Aigles rounded out the field. 


Monday, June 22, 2015

'An Undeniable Effort' in International Racehorse's Newest Issue

Please enjoy the newest issue of The International Racehorse Magazine. It includes my article, "An Undeniable Effort" which features Kentucky Derby and Belmont runner, Mubtaahij. You can find the article on Page 86. Many thanks to photographer Tom Ferry for the great images that accompany the feature!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Royal Ascot 2015: Snow Sky Clear in the Hardwicke

Another Royal Ascot meet has drawn to a close.  Contenders new and old have captured triumph or have fallen to defeat.  Racing enthusiasts have discovered new young stars to follow from Royal Ascot’s juvenile contests and have savored the bold efforts from the sport’s veterans.  This year, racegoers witnessed Ryan Moore sweep nine wins – the most won by any jockey during the meet.  Fan favorite rider, Frankie Dettori, broke though the fifty win milestone. 

While Undrafted’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes (Gr-I) victory for America took center stage, the Hardwicke Stakes (Gr-II) should not be disregarded.  The field featured well-known names such as Red Cadeaux, Hillstar, Eagle Top, Postponed and defending champion Telescope.  However, it was the improving Snow Sky at 12-1 who would claim this contest.

Owned and bred by Khalid Abdullah of Juddmonte Farms, Snow Sky had won only once at two and twice at three.  During the 2014 season, he won a listed race and the Gordon Stakes (Gr-III).  Snow Sky also finished fourth in the King Edward VII Stakes (Gr-II) during last year’s Royal Ascot meeting, and later that season, he crossed the wire third in Kingston Hill’s St Leger Stakes (Gr-I). 

Prior to his Hardwicke win, Snow Sky had only started once in 2015.  The four year old was first to pass the final post in the Yorkshire Cup (Gr-II).  In this 1 ¾ mile event, he triumphed by ½ length over the respectable Brown Panther.

Though the forecast warned of rain, the concluding day of Royal Ascot was unaffected until the final race of the card, and the turf was rated as good to firm for the Hardwicke.  The Sir Michael Stoute trained Snow Sky ran an unconventional race.  Usually a come-from-behind horse, Snow Sky established the pace.  Despite this change in running style, the four-year-old was comfortable to lead the field through the 1 ½ mile journey under threatening skies.  With a light, elegant stride, the colt navigated the slopes and turns of Ascot Racecourse.

Coming out of the final turn, jockey Pat Smullen loosened the reins on Snow Sky, and his mount opened up on his rivals.  Under urging, he continued to draw away with a strong turn of foot in the final quarter mile.  Hitting the wire an authoritative 3 ¾ lengths ahead Eagle Top, he galloped out with verve.  His final time for the event was a good 2:31.51.

The Juddmonte racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, said, “I was chuffed to bits. He got into a great rhythm and then started to stretch them. The way he has won today I think it was a pretty exceptional performance.”

After enduring a tragic week, Stoute secured his first winner of the meet.  Three of his runners had been pulled up during the week, one ill-fated Stravagante suffering a fatal injury in the King Edward VII on Friday.  The trainer remarked, “Snow Sky is a very progressive horse and I was really impressed the way he settled it off the home turn. I thought he was going to be a Melbourne Cup horse so he's not entered in the King George, but we'll have to have a think now. He's won a few quid today.”

Piloting Snow Sky for the first time, Smullen commented, “The plan was to make it to the three pole and wind it up from there. I was worried he might get picked off by a horse with a turn of foot but I didn't realize I was on a horse that was so good himself.”

Friday, June 19, 2015

Royal Ascot 2015: Ervedya Crowned in the Coronation

On the penultimate day of racing at Royal Ascot, the meet has not lost its opening spark and exhilaration. Among the most exciting victories was by His Highness the Aga Khan’s homebred Ervedya in the Coronation Stakes (Gr-I).

Likely one of the most talented three-year-old fillies this season, the Jean-Claude Rouget trainee has had a bright racing career. Ervedya suffered her only defeats in her last two starts at two. She was third in the Prix Morny (Gr-I), beaten only by a 1 ½ to The Wow Signal on very soft ground at Deauville. Then, the Siyouni daughter was second in the Prix Marcel Boussac – Criterium des Pouliches (Gr-I). She fell 2 ½ lengths short to Found on good ground at Longchamp. It was her first start at a mile.

The bay filly is unbeaten in her three starts as a three-year-old. She made her 2015 debut in April’s Prix Imprudence (Gr-III). Running on the straight at the seven furlong distance on very soft ground at Maisons-Laffitte, she was first of thirteen by 1 ¾ lengths as the favorite.

One month later, she stepped back up to one mile in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (Gr-I) at Longchamp. On good-to-soft grass, Ervedya went off as the favorite of fourteen. She conquered the field by ¾ lengths.

Ervedya added the Coronation Stakes to her record at Royal Ascot on day four. Facing the likes of Lucida and favored Found, the French raider broke quickly but was promptly pulled to the back by regular jockey Christophe Soumillon. Ervedya fought her rider’s restraint as she ran third to last in the nine horse field. However, she settled into her position far off the pace.

Coming around the turn, Soumillon opted to guide her through the field rather than taking a wide route. Ervedya did not respond to his command immediately, but gradually worked her way through her opponents. She came to the lead and battled to overcome the vanguard horses at the wire. She won by a neck over Found, while Lucida crossed the wire third. Ervedya’s final time for the one mile contest was 1:38.46, which is fast by the standard.

Following the race, Christophe Soumillon stated, “I was lucky to find a gap in the middle. I knew she maybe didn't handle the [course] so I didn't want to make a run on the outside and I knew that Aidan O'Brien's filly would be on top of her form as she was last year in Longchamp.

“When I saw [Found] in a good position I knew it was better to stay behind her and I think it's maybe why I won. I think if I had come on the outside I don't know if she would have quickened the way she did and stayed on. We didn't know if she would handle the track here but she did. She shows she can go on any ground, at any trip, on a straight track or a bend. She's perfect.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Royal Ascot 2015: Curvy is in Vogue

During today’s racing at Royal Ascot, top jockey Ryan Moore equaled the record of most wins by a rider in one meeting.  Achieving eight victories, he equaled the wins of Pat Eddery and Lester Piggott.  Of Moore’s eight winners, notably six have run in the Coolmore Stud colors.  One of Moore’s mounts that contributed to the win on the meet’s third day was Curvy in the Ribblesdale Stakes (Gr-II). 

The daughter of Galileo was purchased for 775,000 guineas as a yearling at Tattersalls, but, as a juvenile, Curvy was well-beaten in all three of her starts.  However, this Coolmore filly is undefeated at three in her four career starts.   She won her 2015 debut by three lengths over ten furlongs on a yielding course at Navan.  Then one month later on May 17, she won a handicap over the same course and distance, except this time the grass was rated as good.  She won by a half-length over Dragon Fei as the favorite.  In her penultimate race, she faced males in the Group III Gallinule Stakes at the Curragh.  Racing again at ten furlongs, Curvy won by a neck over Giovanni Canaletto in the seven horse field.

The David Wachman trainee made her next start in Royal Ascot’s Ribblesdale Stakes.  She jumped up to the twelve furlong distance for her most difficult challenge yet.  With Ryan Moore aboard for the first time, Curvy broke from post position three and strode eagerly into third.  Moore pulled the rank filly slightly further back into fourth around the bend, where she settled into a comfortable stride between horses.   

Into the stretch, the pace quickened and Moore navigated the filly to the inside.  However, lacking room, Curvy shoved into Pamona on the outside and impeded her chances.  Once clear, Curvy offered her best effort and drew off alongside the favored Irish 1000 Guineas (Gr-I) victress, Pleascach.  Her final time for this event was 2:30.04, the second fastest in the last decade.

Moore stated after the win, “Curvy will have to take her chance in Group 1 company. She got the mile and a half well and we'll see what the race throws up.”

Her trainer remarked, “They went no gallop and it was a messy race. A stronger gallop would have suited us but she's done well to win it the way it was run. Ryan gave her a good ride so it's happy days.”  Wachman continued, “I enjoy it, the trick to this place is to not bring too many, pick the right ones and then hope they're good enough.”  He commented on the promising filly's future, “She could possibly go for the Irish Oaks but she got a free entry in the Irish Derby when she won the Gallinule and that was the plan, here then the Irish Derby, but we'll have to see what the colts are doing.”


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Royal Ascot 2015: The Grey Gatsby Shines Across the Pond

The Grey Gatsby wins the 2014 Irish Champion Stakes - Photo courtesy Jason Doyle
What is an iron horse? Is there such a figure in existence today; a fighting spirit clothed in horse flesh? Such a horse would not need to win to prove that this valiant fire burns within. This warrior, faced with walls of challengers and imminent defeat, would show the willingness, capability, and heart to battle on and dare all odds. The iron horse is never weak – in victory and in defeat they show us their courage every time.

Though The Grey Gatsby was faced with defeat in Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Gr-I) at Royal Ascot, he showed the courage to overcome his circumstance and offer a valiant second place effort. He was defeated by less than a nose.

The Mastercraftsman son faced an intimidating field in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Gr-I). With Jamie Spencer on board, The Grey Gatsby would have to overcome the likes of Free Eagle, Western Hymn, Galileo Chop, and Ectcot. All contenders were primed for to take this prize, even the New Zealand-bred 20-1 shot Criterion and Japan’s Spielberg looked as if they could provide a challenge to the favorites. Unfortunately, America’s hero, California Chrome, was scratched due to a minor foot bruise sustained during training at Newmarket.

In the Prince of Wales’s, The Grey Gatsby broke on the rail and settled into fifth place between horses. He strode comfortably throughout the early stages of the race, and gradually moved away from the inside. However, around the final turn, he was in very tight corners between horses.
Into the stretch, jockey Jamie Spencer attempted to angle the four-year-old out for a final kick, but he could not find daylight. Under Spencer’s urging down the home straight, The Grey Gatsby responded boldly and fought Western Hymn to his outside for running room. In the final yards, the tenacious colt found an open path and shifted into high gear. The Grey Gatsby destroyed Free Eagle’s leading margin with a couple strides and reached his foe’s side. His final kick was too late – he was a short nose at the wire.

“Over the first two furlongs I thought they were going to go a gallop, but they sort of half pulled up.” The Grey Gatsby’s trainer, Kevin Ryan, said. “Jamie gave him a fantastic ride though. It was a fantastic race and he's back to his best.” He continued, “I knew we had him in great shape and I was confident he'd put up a good race. I'm not disappointed. People think I probably should be, but I'm not. I've got the horse back to his best and we look forward to more big races.”

A Great Record

The Grey Gatsby started seven times as a three-year-old, winning three times and placing second on two occasions. The Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes (Gr-III) was his first outing of 2014, and in this race, he was second beaten two lengths by Toormore. In all starts leading up to this race, he had been ridden by Graham Lee, but Jamie Spencer got the leg up in this outing. Less than two weeks after his tenth in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas, The Grey Gatsby won the 10 furlong Betfred Dante Stakes (Gr-II) by ¾ lengths with Ryan Moore aboard for the first time.
The Grey Gatsby first came to the world’s attention when winning the Prix du Jockey Club (Gr-I) by three lengths last spring. In the 11 furlong event, he was opposed by fifteen rivals and raced in midfield on the rail. Angling out into the stretch, he closed on the leaders with a ¼ mile to spare and led entering the final furlong. The Grey Gatsby drew away to win with a three length margin over Shamkiyr and a final time of 2:05.58.

Next time out, he was sixth-best in the Grand Prix de Paris (Gr-I) contested on very soft ground at Longchamp. Prior to that race, he had never been tested at the 12 furlong distance. However, The Grey Gatsby rebounded to offer a runner-up effort two lengths behind Australia in the Juddmonte International Stakes (Gr-I). 
In his following start, he turned the tables on Australia, winning by a neck in the Irish Champion Stakes (Gr-I). The seven horse field included a top class cast of horses such as Trading Leather, Mukhadram, and Al Kazeem. 
In the Irish Champion Stakes, jockey Ryan Moore kept The Grey Gatsby in the rear of the field throughout the early fractions. Having conserved ground and energy, The Grey Gatsby burst forward one furlong from the wire and pursued Australia, who was well in the lead with a strong drive. In the 1 ¼ mile contest, the nearly white colt tackled the favorite in a matter of strides and got his neck in front passing the final post. On good to firm ground, he completed the race in 2:03.18.

The Irish Champion Stakes was The Grey Gatsby’s final start as a three-year-old. He made his 2015 debut in the Dubai World Cup undercard’s prestigious Dubai Turf (Gr-I). In the nine furlong contest, he was easily defeated by Solow, but gave a respectable effort. The Grey Gatsby returned to Europe in the Curragh’s Tattersalls Gold Cup (Gr-I) over 10 ½ furlongs, and finished a solid fourth as the favorite in the six horse field, beaten a meager two lengths by Al Kazeem.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Royal Ascot 2015: Solow Soars in the Queen Anne

Solow gallops to the post in the Prix d’Ispahan - All photos courtesy Laura Battles
Ascot Racecourse was built by the order of Queen Anne.  The British royal matron had discovered a plot of land when traveling by carriage and thought it would be perfect as a horse racing venue.  On August 11, 1711, Ascot had its first race.  Over three hundred years later, Royal Ascot inaugurates every new meet with the Queen Anne Stakes (Gr-I) on the straight mile.
 In this year’s Queen Anne Stakes, Solow added himself to its prestigious list of winners.  Leading up to Royal Ascot, Solow’s trainer, Freddie Head, felt “very confident” about the horse’s chances.  He stated, “He’s very well, as well as he was in Dubai, and things couldn’t have gone better.  It’s a tough race but I’m very confident. There’s no doubting he’s a very good horse. He’s not met many good horses so we’ll find out how good he is."

As the favorite in the Queen Anne, he broke awkwardly from the closest to the rail.  However, he quickly settled into his regular stalking position.  He strode comfortably in third, tucked behind the pacesetter, Toormore.  
As the pace quickened, he angled out, but was hesitant to pass Toormore.  When he overwhelmed that foe, he fought off the impressive late surge of the only filly in the field, Esoterique, who carried three pounds less.  Under urging, he triumphed by an assertive one length with a final time of 1:37.97 for the straight mile.

Following the Royal Ascot opener, jockey Maxime Guyon exclaimed, “This is the boss! It is amazing. I think he is the best I've ridden and when you can win at Ascot it is amazing.”

Freddie Head added, "It is beautiful. He is so easy to train, he's the number one. I thought in the race they were always going pretty slowly and I was a bit worried."

Solow victorious in the Prix d’Ispahan

A five year old, Solow made his 2015 debut in a conditions race on Chantilly’s PolyTrack course.  Competing at eight furlongs, the grey gelding was ridden by Wertheimer and Frere’s newly retained jockey, Maxime Guyon for the first time.  Olivier Peslier had piloted Solow in all but one start prior to this event.  He was the favorite of the six horse field, and, as predicted, won by four lengths over King Air.

Just twenty-five days later, Solow took a large step up in class to the Dubai Turf (Gr-I), formerly known as the Dubai Duty Free, on the Dubai World Cup undercard.  However, the five-year-old was prepared since he had already won multiple Group contests.  In the ten horse field, all broke alertly and Solow strode into sixth or seventh on the backstretch.  Just off the pace on the outside, Guyon put his mount under slight restraint.

Coming around the turn, Guyon tucked Solow behind horses to save ground. Edging the colt back to the outside approaching the home straight, he gave the Singspiel son encouragement to make a bid for the lead.  Solow effortlessly reached over Meydan’s grass.  Within a few grand leaps, the long-strided grey was taking thelead.  He slowed his pace to pair with his final foe, but he passed easily when Guyon went to the whip.  Solow took command to draw off to win with a 4 ¼ length margin over the highly regarded The Grey Gatsby.  His final time for the nine furlong contest on good ground was 1:47.79.

Guyon remarked after thevictory, “He’s a very good horse and was very easy to ride. He won very easy tonight. It is my first Group 1 win in Dubai so I am very happy.”

Trainer Freddie Head commented, “He’s a great horse who is improving all the time,” said Head. “I knew he was very well. This was biggest test yet as he was running in his first Group 1 and he showed what a good horse he is.”  It was the French trainer’s first victory on the Dubai World Cup card.  He added, “He’s among the best I've ever trained for sure. It took a long time coming but now we have him 100%.”

Two months later, Solow returned to French racing in the Prix d’Ispahan on Longchamp’s good turf.  Running at 9 ½ furlongs, he was made the favorite in the betting over defending champion, Cirrus des Aigles.  Solow broke from the rail and settled into a relaxed, slow stride in third.  Throughout the early stages of the race, stages of the race, the four horse field created their own peleton.  

It was an uneventful contest.  The pace quickened as the horses neared the home straight, and Solow angled out as they entered the stretch.  Never whipped, he passed Cirrus des Aigles in second and then the leader.  Solow, under an easy hand ride, drew off with his natural stride.  His winning margin for this contest was 1 ½ lengths over Galileo Chop.  Solow’s most intimidating competition, Cirrus des Aigles, had finished last due to losing part of his shoe during the race.

Following the race, Head commented, “He's a very good horse and it's mad to have a horse who is so adaptable, who goes on any ground and who always runs his race. He's won making all and being held up.”  He continued, “He has such a long stride and he has the ability to maintain a gallop at 1,600 meters pace and then to accelerate."