Post-race thoughts: Juddmonte International 2015

Wow, wow, wow – where do we start with today’s Juddmonte International? There are plenty talking points for me; past, present and future on a whole host of issues. Firstly, however, it would be rude not to congratulate owner Jeff Smith, trainer David Elsworth and jockey Silvestre De Sousa.

‘Tilting at windmills’ is how you’d probably have described Arabian Queen’s pre-race chance in the Juddmonte, but the daughter of that classy and tough mare Barshiba shocked the racing world today when scoring at 50/1, turning over the unbeaten Derby hero in the process.  She was tough and battled on well and she deserves plenty credit.

Fair play to her owner Jeff Smith, too, who, on At The Races at Windsor on Monday, gave a reasoned account of why he was running his filly in this race. Reason justified, Jeff!

I’m also delighted for Silvestre De Sousa to land another Group 1 race, having been unfairly dismissed from his Godolphin position a couple of seasons ago.

(Godolphin’s overall management has improved in the last year or so, but what went on in seasons past with their jockeys was mind boggling at times. Even one of the greatest riders ever, and still one of the best in the world, Frankie Dettori, lost his job and it’s no surprise the Boys in Blue struggled after, for many seasons, although, that was the just another element of why the organisation was in total distress.

Things are getting better for Godolphin, however, the appointment of James Doyle and William Buick as stable jockeys was and is a clear indicator they mean business. It’s also a massive plus some of their stallions, most notably Dubawi – who sired Arabian Queen – are now starting to produce genuine top-class horses, year after year.

Add in the improving Shamardal and a potentially exciting young roster (Dawn Approach, Farhh, Night Of Thunder and Slade Power et al) and overall, things are looking better. It’s now up to their trainers to get results and help make the top end of flat racing more competitive.)

Anyway, well done Silvestre De Sousa. Hopefully this is the year he lands the champion jockeys’ title, it’s certainly looking good at the moment. It would be a welcome success for him after his earlier Godolphin dismissal and there is no doubt in my mind, if he were still there ahead of Doyle or Buick, Godolphin certainly wouldn’t be any weaker for it. He has shown great character to bounce back.

Speaking of Godolphin, they may also add Golden Horn to their improving stallion ranks. He is a son of Cape Cross, a current Darley sire in the twilight years of his stallion career, so I’m sure they’ll be pushing for his services. I’d be amazed if contact hasn’t already been made with Anthony Oppenheimer.

Golden Horn’s defeat today is what made the Juddmonte result such a shock. Obviously. John Gosden’s horse was an unbeaten Derby winner coming in, but his reputation as a race horse took a massive dent today having been beaten by a filly officially rated 21 pounds inferior to him. Maybe time will tell he was beaten by a good horse.

Golden Horn ran like the best horse in the race, but was still beaten and on the face of it it’s disappointing. In Frankie Dettori’s hands he was far too keen, though, and me writing this is black and white won’t do that statement justice – he was VERY keen! He looked to finally settle turning into the straight with 4.5 furlongs to run, but the race was just about to start in earnest soon after, and he had wasted valuable energy in the early stages.

On the softest ground Golden Horn had encountered since his debut win in September of last year, he simply had no more to give close home and was outstayed by a rival who stole an early march on him, off what may have been a slightly more than fair gallop, having utilised her energy much better.

It looked like a combination of factors beat the Derby hero, but the main problem was his enthusiasm. This combined with the holding ground blunted his rhythm and brilliance. It was a catalogue of ‘errors’ that turned him over. While that is the case, it’s still disappointing he didn’t pull it out of the fire, but hey, that’s racing, and that’s why we love it, nothing is a given.

Funnily enough, Golden Horn missing the King George at Ascot probably contributed to his loss today. He was just too fresh and well having not run since early July. It’s still a shame to see connections getting stick for missing that engagement due to ground deemed too soft. It was obvious the owner wanted to run, but the weather Gods simply didn’t shine. It was just bad luck.

I think they made the right call at the time. A month’s worth of rain fell at Ascot the day before and no one could predict Postponed’s winning time being of a good to soft calibre on ground officially described as “soft”. And even though a decent ground time was produced, it doesn’t mean it is ‘decent’ going.

I would argue that the ground at Ascot that day, and indeed at York this afternoon, was tacky, sticky and holding – the worst ground possible for horses to run on – having received plenty of sun and wind the day after their respective deluges.

Yes, the times show the ground is fine, it’s not heavy or soft, but it’s not what these horses (Golden Horn, Gleneagles) need to show their very best and we want them to do that.

You’ll then hear, “well, a good horse will go on any ground”. What a load of nonsense that statement is. Different horses have ideal preferences for a host of different reasons, but yes, some horses do seem more adaptable than others.

“But Frankel went on anything” you’ll then hear them cry. Indeed he did, but Frankel was the best of all time and blessed with a fluent, long stride to handle quick ground, while his massive feet came in handy for his Champion Stakes win on heavy going. All horses aren’t built like Frankel, I’m afraid.

And one horse who certainly isn’t built like Frankel is Gleneagles, whose connections again came in for criticism today, similar to the above regards Golden Horn, for missing another high profile engagement. Was it really a surprise he missed today’s race given the rain? Not for me.

For a horse considered to be a top-class miler, who wants summer fast ground to be at his best, stepping up to ten furlongs for the first time in his career on rain softened and tacky ground was never going to happen. Again, the elements and their timing weren’t particularly kind. It was more bad luck. Let’s not forget, when Coolmore confirmed him for the race, at the time, the weather forecast for York was set fair.

(Just for the record, I think Gleneagles has every chance of staying ten furlongs on quick ground.)

Gleneagles was never going to run in France last Sunday either, given the soft going, but connections did make an error not even declaring the son of Galileo for the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Unlike today, they never gave him every chance to run there.

Having a trusted mole close to home at the Sussex course meant they knew the exact amount of rain that fell at the track, from a trusted source, unlike at York, where they were relying on a course who were desperate for them to run.

Coolmore’s British representative Kevin Buckley is a nephew of Goodwood’s clerk of the course Seamus Buckley and his reports may have scared them off.

To be fair, the same band of rain that hit Ascot’s King George meeting, which was a full month’s worth of rain in a day, hit Goodwood on that Friday and then further rain fell in Sussex on Sunday, if memory serves.

In hindsight, a mistake was made not declaring for the Sussex Stakes with Gleneagles, but it’s understandable given the rain that fell in the lead up to the Festival. One things for sure on this ‘horses missing big races’ debate racing is having, all the clashes we wanted would’ve happened only for the unlucky and untimely falling of rain. That’s life!

While that is the case, it would also be irresponsible of me not to mention horse’s stallion careers are being managed within this debate. Gleneagles and Golden Horn are two huge stallion prospects now, so their race records are important. Is this a new thing? No. Is it disappointing we, as race fans, miss big clashes? Yes, hugely, but in the major cases this year, I think it’s entirely understandable.

And even if we couldn’t understand the reasons horses missed certain clashes we as race fans wanted, we don’t get a say. We don’t pay the bills, we didn’t make the investment and no matter how much bad-mouthing goes on in social circles or on social media platforms, that’s the way it is.










O’Brien Criticism Unfair

Today (11 May) we saw yet another over reaction to a Joseph O’Brien ride on a Coolmore horse, trained by his father and boss, Aidan. Geoffrey Chaucer, having his first run of the season, carrying a penalty and for the first time racing on soft ground, finished third behind favourite Fascinating Rock and the runner-up, Ebanoran in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown.

Sent off 7/4 second favourite, the son of Montjeu ‘could only manage’ third, a place behind his market position, having a luckless trip as they came into the straight. Having jumped slightly gingerly he was keen in the hands of Joseph O’Brien early, and off a slow pace allowed to stride ahead of his nearest market rivals.

Sitting in front of Fascinating Rock and Ebanoran off the early dawdle Joseph could be said to be in a better early position than the aforementioned pair. With his mount still keen, he managed to get some cover and also covered less ground (than the eventual winner and runner up) as he was down the inner.

Half a mile from home, off the still slow pace, Geoffrey Chaucer now sat third and two to three lengths ahead of his main market rivals. Joseph in pole position, right? Turning and heading into the straight Joseph still sat quietly as he let (seemingly) inferior horses quicken the pace. He could’ve gone with them, I agree, but he always looked confident of picking them up (which proved right) and it seemed he had other worries, namely Fascinating Rock and Ebanoran.

Joseph shot through a gap down the inner, just after the two pole, and the race was now in full swing. Declan McDonagh had played his full hand and made an early, and brilliant move, to try and steal the race.

Like Joseph O’Brien, Pat Smullen, who sat last for much of the way, played his hand late. It now looked a three horse race with Ebanoran getting first run and Fascinating Rock and Geoffrey Chaucer chasing.

Just before entering the final furlong, Declan McDonagh’s early move had now put him in pole position and with him getting first run, and with a brilliant bit of race riding, he shut the door of Geoffrey Chaucer, causing Joseph O’Brien to take a big pull and lose momentum. (He may have shut the door too firmly here, however, as horses clipping heels was a distinct possibly, but nonetheless, it was a good move, especially if you had backed the Oxx horse.)

This now made Fascinating Rock favourite to grab the second spot as he was now in full cry trying to chase down the enterprisingly ridden Ebanoran. The trio had a set-to with 150 metres left to run with Ebanoran leading and the staying on pair of Fascinating Rock and Geoffrey Chaucer in second and third, respectively. A length and a half separated them at this stage.

Fascinating Rock had clear sailing down the outside, but McDonagh’s early move, along with a manoeuvre by Pat Smullen, before one out, meant Geoffrey Chaucer had nowhere to go and was down the inner – Ebanoran directly ahead of him with Fascinating Rock laterally direct.

So while staying on to good effect, Joseph O’Brien’s mount really had nowhere to go and 50 metres from home, without ever looking like getting there (his troubled passage obviously no help) Geoffrey Chaucer once again had to be snatched up as the eventual second lugged off the rail.

Ebanoran would go on to win by a head, but later be demouted, and rightly so, by the stewards. Geoffrey Chaucer would finish two-and-a-half lengths third with a troubled passage.

People should also remember, the awarded winner was having his third start of the campaign and the runner-up, his second – so both had race fitness on their side and the pair also received three pounds from the O’Brien horse. Given the circumstances, Geoffrey Chaucer has run a fantastic race.

Given my evidence and the topic of the piece, there are a trio of points I’d like to make.

1. Joseph O’Brien did not give his mount a ‘bad ride’, but, in my opinion, was the victim of circumstance today. Brilliant race riding by Declan McDonagh and a positive moment from Pat Smullen saw Geoffrey Chaucer put further behind on the back foot. His passage was severely compromised by the above moves, moves beyond Joseph O’Brien’s control. Add to this, the son of Montjeu having his first run of the year, on the softest ground he’d have encountered, in race conditions, and, giving the front two three pounds – it was a big effort from the pair, but today just wasn’t ‘the day’.

2. ‘The day’ I speak of will no doubt be a Grade One race somewhere. The Derby, and Irish and French equivalents is when the kitchen sink will be thrown at Geoffrey Chaucer. It will be thrown at him by his trainer in getting him to peak fitness, something he would not have been today. It will also be thrown at him by his jockey on the given day. This is also something that did not happen today, I do agree.

Joseph could have chosen to chase the lesser horses in today’s race earlier, but chose not to. Keeping the horse on the bridle for as long as possible was the objective ensuing an easy as possible race, on soft ground with extra weight. Mission accomplished!

Is this the right thing to do where punters are concerned? Of course not and Ballydoyle often flirt with the ‘schooling in public’ rule – insistent on not giving their horses hard races in preps, but for as long as I’ve been following racing, this has always been the case. If you’re a punter following the game and haven’t cottoned on to this by now, I’m sorry but I have no pity for you.

Instead, and I’m a keen punter myself, use this knowledge to maybe lay (a game I don’t often partake in) and back against early season/first time Ballydoyle horses. They’re so hyped given their lodgings/pedigrees that they make markets for other horses. Use this knowledge is what I’d say.

3. The final point I’d like to make is, it’s always easy to put the boot into jockeys, as people unfairly did with Joseph today, but how about a round of applause for Declan McDonagh’s near winning ride on Ebanoran? It was he that put Geoffrey Chaucer even further on the back foot when he aggressively shut the door on him in the straight. In the end he lost the race, sadly, which makes this point a bit counterintuitive, but I thought it was a fine effort.

I’d also like to point out how much Pat Smullen gave the eventual winner to do, not one of his best, but he somehow got the win.


So many questions to answer

At the start of the weekend just gone it was announced that Sam Twiston-Davies, the third choice fully fledged jockey at Ditcheat would take the ride on the game’s greatest staying hurdler ever, Big Buck’s in the Cleeve Hurdle and also in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Many were left pondering the reasoning behind the choice as it came as a shock decision to some, me included. Some thought Ruby Walsh, the former retained rider at Ditcheat may keep the ride given his fabulous and unbeaten hurdling relationship with the horse despite his ‘new’ and exclusive job with Willie Mullins. If not Ruby than surely Paul Nicholls’ new number one Daryl Jacob would come in for the ride?

Obviously now, neither have taken the opportunity, for various reasons, and Tony McCoy, a former winning partner on Big Buck’s also couldn’t commit given his rapport with J.P McManus. Paul Nicholls’ number two rider, Nick Scholfield was also shunned leaving Sam Twiston-Davies to pick up a fabulous spare.

Two days passed before Paul Nicholls (  and owner Andy Stewart (  had their say on the decision and why it was made.

Their respective pieces came, after much debate on social media/racing forums, in a bid to quash speculation about the decision. Nicholls gave his version of events in his regular Betfair column, a piece he was obviously happy with integrity wise given he retweeted it from his own Twitter account while Andy Stewart apparently gave Jim McGrath of The Times an exclusive, presumably via phone.

I’m sure Paul Nicholls and Andy Stewart felt they would ‘put the record straight’, but for me it still leaves many questions to be answered and now has actually added a few more.

While many will feel I’m a little ‘wet behind the ears’, but until proven I think we should believe Nicholls’ and Stewarts’ accounts on the matter. I’ve haven’t spent as much time in the game as most, but I’ve always found Nicholls to be straight, a lot straighter than most. Stewart I can’t commit on as I simply don’t know.

Let’s start with questions from the Nicholls column first given the chronological order of events.

Has Daryl Jacob lost his bottle?

Daryl has never given me the impression that he was mad keen to ride Big Buck’s”, said Nicholls in his Betfair piece. Why though? “Daryl explained how he viewed the ride, almost as if he saw it as something of a poisoned chalice”.

I honestly thought he’s the one horse in the yard you’d be itching to get on especially after the Exeter gallop, Daryl where you said “He looked good as well in the parade ring beforehand and it will do him the world of good, just sharpen him up a bit. He looks great and he felt good there today”.

I can see where you’re coming from with regards your poisoned chalice comments, but do you really think anyone will blame you should Big Buck’s be beaten given the serious nature of the injury he sustained, at the age of 11? Of course you’ll get people talking through their pockets and some uneducated comments, but you’re surely used to that by now?

You’re a well-spoken and an educated man. Would you really turn down a great chance to ride your second ever Grade One Cheltenham Festival winner, in a Championship race, which would be your first such success? It seems you have.

And what makes it even more staggering is how potentially uncompetitive the World Hurdle could be, or maybe even is when you compare the current line up to Big Buck’s.

Solwhit won’t be back. At Fishers Cross, the likely pretender to the crown from last year has been a huge disappointed. Annie Power is not certain to run and has trip concerns. Similar sentiments apply to More Of That. Boston Bob? Please! Reve De Sivola, how many times have you beaten him before? And finally, we know Big Buck’s is better than Celestial Halo. The rest simply aren’t even good enough to be mentioned. Or does he feel Zarkandar could turn him over?

Yes Big Buck’s will be 11 and coming back from injury, but we’ve already seen what Paul Nicholls can do with top class ageing horses and Big Buck’s is every inch the mould of a Kauto Star in terms of raw ability. Of course it’s a worry, but you ride for a master of his craft.

In terms of his injury you’ve already stated how happy you were with him, post-Exeter gallop so what’s changed?

Jacob knows more than us?

(I will say the above (question one) could well be harsh should this second point comes to fruition and if so I do apologises).

Jacob knows more than us, this really shouldn’t be a question – its fact. Being Ditcheat’s number one jockey Jacob is at H.Q on a regular basis and so sees the progression/struggles of the Nicholls string on a day to day basis.

Is it possible that Jacob’s has gone cold on Big Buck’s from what he sees at home? Is the unbeaten hurdler not showing the same old sparkle at Ditcheat? If this is the case you couldn’t blame Jacob for shying away from the ride.

If true than I’d have to agree the ride really is a “poisoned chalice” and totally understand Jacob’s coldness.

The problem with this however is Andy Stewart has publicly said Nicholls is happy with Big Buck’s: “Those who know him say he is still as good as when we last saw him on a racecourse” and surely the brilliant stayer wouldn’t be risked if not shining at home?

Why was Scholfield shunned?

Paul Nicholls said in his Betfair column “And if people say that Nick should have been the next choice of jockey for Big Buck’s, then they are barking up the wrong tree there, too”. I couldn’t agree less, Paul. Surely people should ask why the stable’s number two is not next in line given Ruby, AP and Jacob ruled themselves out?

I’d have thought Nick would’ve jumped at the chance of riding Big Buck’s especially in the World Hurdle where there would be no “second meeting” for him to be at especially given you have four or five possibles for that particular race.

And I imagine that the prospect of riding our horses at Doncaster on January 25, if needed – in the Skybet Chase, and possibly Hinterland and others there too – suits him just fine”. Doesn’t sound like you’ve asked your number two rider, theoretically your now number one in this instance, what he thinks?

It would be interesting to get Scholfield’s thoughts on this without his employer effectively putting words in his mouth.

How long will Nicholls and Jacob now last? Is Twiston-Davies next in line?

Nicholls putting out his Betfair column on the issue was a massive PR blunder for me. Usually so good at keeping things behind closed doors Nicholls has gone from one extreme to the other.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m a massive Nicholls fan, but surely publicly tearing into your number one jockey is not good for team morale? It can’t be good for the trainer/jockey relationship and it can’t be good for owners while it could also have serious effects on the riding confidence of Jacob. And so, stable success.

All the above can only go one way. Down. And it must get you thinking of how long the pair will last because I know if I was Jacob I wouldn’t be happy. That said, it can all be sorted by the pair so my questions could well be premature.

Should, and I’m not saying it will happen, Nicholls and Jacob part ways you’d have to think Sam Twiston-Davies is next in line. Nicholls obviously rates him highly. The 21-year-old was given the plum ride on Tidal Bay back in November despite his three previous rides for Nicholls coming up short. Jacob was injured at the time however.

Is Paul Nicholls ruthless? Yes. Is he right to be? Yes.

People will allude to the fact that Paul Nicholls is ruthless given the current situation and past history. Former jockeys of his, Joe Tizzard and Sam Thomas, were quickly shown the door when not coming up to what Nicholls obviously deemed, scratch.

People will say Nicholls is ruthless and maybe even have stronger words to be said, but I’d remind you horse racing is a competitive sport and a business. Nicholls is a competitor and has a family to feed and look after. (I know he’s not short of a few quid, but that’s not the point).

Should jockeys not come up to scratch for him he feels he will be letting himself down, his owners down and his business/family down. It’s not nice when people get shown the door, but is it wrong? Absolutely not if people are not performing. (This can’t be said of Jacobs this season).

Tough and difficult decisions have to be made in this game, and I won’t shy away from them”. I believe Nicholls when he says this and I commend him for it.

This similarly ties in with Andy Stewart too as one of the phrases that stuck out from his piece in The Times was “business decision”. Like Nicholls Stewart is a competitor and wants the best for his horse. Is that so wrong? No.

I know I wouldn’t want Jacob riding my horse given his frame of mind, if all said is true.

It’s been a manic few days with this story and we have yet to hear the thoughts of Jacob himself or Scholfield so there may be more to come.

Sorcerer out foxed by his apprentice

Before events even began on the Downs we saw shots of Jim Bolger and Aidan O’Brien conversing in the Epsom parade ring.  While small talking, little did Bolger know what had been plotted up by his former apprentice, in the hope of unshipping the unbeaten Dawn Approach. Hope from the Coolmore/Ballydoyle team quickly escalated once the four o’clock showpiece got under way. After the opening seventeen or so strides Dawn Approach’s chestnut head could be seen thrashing about running free– an early bump from Mirsaale not doing his chances any favours. From here, it steadily got worse for the 2000 Guineas winner and his followers as his ‘head banging’ now resembled a deadly predator in attack mode, a Great White Shark.

In essence, it was the exact opposite the Godolphin runner wanted to do. Equine instinct had now kicked in and he was running on ‘fear’ – it was fight or flight and with horses, the majority of the time it’s the latter. While he was battling with Kevin Manning it probably looked quite horrific to the non-racing type, viewing. Even some of the professionals felt he was ‘out of control’. Very few of the game’s most loyal watching, would’ve liked seeing it either. Even Aidan O’Brien himself. But as the race progressed some felt from very early on O’Brien knew what was taking place. Ryan Moore, the winning jockey had the Birdseye view of the plan in progress though. Ten furlongs from home he could see the protracting tug of war between Dawn Approach and Manning continuing as he looked on from rear.

For the first time in a number of years a tug of war, a battle, call it what you will, didn’t take place for the early lead. I was surprised, but it eventually dawned on me what was in operation. I will admit it though, at first, I was completely oblivious to the Ballydoyle tactics. Once the opening climb was complete Joseph O’Brien on the stable’s number one Derby hope were leading. I couldn’t believe it. “Madness” I exclaimed. Where was the Ballydoyle pacemaker I asked? In third, with the handbrake on was the answer.

Meanwhile my questions regarding the pace were being answered by the on course commentator. “Galileo Rock in fourth place, as the pace steadies down”. Now, finally, I knew what was taking place before me. It was brilliant, masterful and surprisingly going perfectly. Battle Of Marengo was leading off a slow pace, the very position you should be in, in such circumstance while Dawn Approach continued to run out his own puff. It was perfect, but unheard of nearly. All the talk pre-race was how the Derby field and in particular Ballydoyle, would run the sting, the stamina out of Dawn Approach, but the plan was always to let Dawn Approach run the sting out of Dawn Approach. It was working a charm.

In race credit I gave to Kevin Manning too. He let his uncontrollable mount go to the lead before coming down Tattenham Corner. It’s was a justified decision as the favourite, still a little keen, settled much better when taking up the running. Maybe he was getting tired too mind. Granted it was far from ideal, it was a last roll of the dice by Manning in the hope of bagging his second British Classic of the year. It wasn’t enough though. At the three pole it was all over for Dawn Approach. He had now been re-headed by Battle Of Marengo and was back peddling as now the 2013 Epsom Derby started in earnest. And it did so without its favourite.

The main Coolmore objective had now been achieved, through Ballydoyle. Winning the race itself merely would’ve capped off a fine day at the office for the Tipperary based organisation. Godolphin not winning the Derby with their already 2000 Guineas winner is exactly what John Magnier and co would’ve taken pre-race, if offered to them. This, regardless of a Coolmore owned runner winning. What eventually prevailed in the final three furlongs was just deserts for a master plan.

Hitting the two pole Ballydoyle horses now held the first two in running and three of the first five. Battle Of Marengo just led from Ruler Of The World with 66-1 stable rag, Flying The Flag still pitching. The latter’s position a further testament to how well his stable’s plan had gone.

The one pole came and still the Ballydoyle big two held sway, but now Ruler Of The World, the eventual winner had hit the front. He stuck on gamely, quickened well in fact and ran out a nice winner.  It’s a shame other events from the race have brushed his win somewhat under the carpet. In truth it’s grossly unfair as he’s won the race, the Derby for God’s sake, on merit.

The son of Galileo, a half-brother to the classy Duke Of Marmalade hadn’t even seen the racetrack as a juvenile. He had his first run in a Curragh maiden on the seventh of April and 56 days later, with just one run in between, won the greatest flat race of them all. Not only did he win it though, he did it the hard way. Held-up off a slow pace and wide throughout he still managed to score in impressive fashion while eighty percent of the first five home all raced far more prominently than he.

While many leading figures in the media have already moved to call it ‘a poor Derby’, which I find a preposterous call at this stage, I do hope Ruler Of The World goes on to prove his worth. The unfortunate circumstance of the race, regarding the favourite and the master class tactics employed by his trainer mean Ruler Of The World has been somewhat overshadowed. He will now have to continue winning top level prizes to get further recognition.

While I have recognised the winner’s feat there were many more winners on the day. Aidan O’Brien and his team deserve huge praise for how they went about claiming the race. Some will probably find it underhand and sneaky, but that brilliant plan met more than its objective. In getting their biggest rival’s horse beaten in the world’s greatest race they too managed to secure victory. It was a double result for Coolmore and a stroke of genius by Aidan O’Brien. He may well have just laid the blue print to getting horses beaten in future races under similar conditions. It all seems so easy, but it’s the first occasion I’ve seen it done and come off and it was achieved on the biggest stage of all.

Camelot shows true colours

In black and white Al Kazeem’s brushing aside of Camelot in Sunday’s Tattersall’s Gold Cup was a shock. The market suggested the Group One contest, held in Camelot’s back yard should have been a cake walk. Look a little closer though, at the formbook and it should’ve given you a more accurate picture. Aidan O’Brien’s 4-11f shot had merely more than three pounds in hand of the British raider on official ratings, but yet was significantly shorter in the betting. On race day the on track prices were substantial in their difference, but were even greater when the first ante-post book opened. Paddy Power were to the fore in getting the maiden market up on the race and went 1-3 Camelot, 3-1 Al Kazeem. This can be expected given the field number decreased, but the market still had it wrong on the day. The final SPs overrated Camelot and his chances. You may say it’s easy with hindsight, but Camelot wasn’t/isn’t the horse many thought, as highlighted in a previous piece ( on this site and his loss on Sunday has now shown his true ability.

Camelot’s failings are not the most significant story to come from the race. The most interesting development was, had breeders, punters and the sport’s fans been led down the garden path by Aidan O’Brien? Or maybe was it just a case of the master of Ballydoyle getting it wrong? Maybe something else?

Last season comments like “he’s the best I’ve ever trained” were heard coming from the lips of O’Brien. A staggering comment with huge weight behind it given some of the greats that have gone through the Wexford man’s hands at his Tipperary base. Dylan Thomas, Galileo, George Washington, Giant’s Causeway, High Chaparral, Rock Of Gibraltar, Rip Van Winkle just some of the big names in a blast from the past. Closer to 2013 Excelebration, the highest rated horse O’Brien ever trained, and So You Think are others to add to an extensive and classy list. We were told all aforementioned stars played second fiddle to Camelot in terms of ability. On what we’ve since seen it’s hard to believe Camelot would even claim a box of the seven or eight in Ballydoyle’s famous Millionaire Row in the old main yard. We know Camelot doesn’t rank close to some of Aidan’s greats, but what led the master horseman to say such things? That is a question I’d like answered. There are a number of possibilities for me.

One, in his homework Camelot is simply breath-taking. The Coolmore/Ballydoyle operation are avid followers of sports science, an area which now holds massive importance and is ever growing in racing. State of the art GPS systems are now part of the Ballydoyle way with any one horse having its distance, speed and heart rate monitored (among other things) during exercise riding and/or work – with all data being stored. Is it plausible that the figures on Camelot were simply irresistible at home with him failing to show his true ability on the track? It’s something only O’Brien can answer.

Two, maybe O’Brien simply got it wrong? Again it’s something only he can answer, but he has come clean in the past when he feels he didn’t get something right. At last year’s Royal Ascot meeting he stated he felt he didn’t train Aussie superstar So You Think to the best of his ability. Many feel this may have been a smokescreen for breeding gains though which leads me into the third possibility.

Three, was this talk of Camelot being the best simply a hype job to add extra on to his opening stud fee? Not that he cares about us, but many in the world of twitter and those among the media feel this is the obvious answer. This necessarily not making it right though. I must say I find it hard to believe Aidan can get a horse so wrong. I also honestly find it hard to believe he’d lie given he seems such a nice, down to earth and genuine man. Was O’Brien the pawn used by Coolmore to help them succeed in achieving a possible goal, inflating a fee of a future stallion? After all, its business and Aidan does work for John Magnier and co.

It really is a hard one to weigh up and only Aidan O’Brien himself has the answers. We may learn these in time, but one thing is for sure, Camelot is not the best O’Brien has ever trained and whatever the reason for those comments the racing public will now tread carefully on future opinions expressed from the Irish champion trainer.

Much tougher tasks await

It was great to see last season’s triple Classic winner Camelot back on track when he won the High Chaparral European Breeders Fund Mooresbridge Stakes. He took the Curragh Group Three contest in fine style, visually as he went on to bet stable mate Triumphant by a length and three quarters. His nearest market rival, Parish Hall was a further head behind in third with a 91 rated animal fourth, beaten just under three and a half lengths. It was a satisfactory return especially after his hard 2012.

He had a tough campaign as a three-year-old which yielded three Group One wins from eight to twelve furlongs. He was thwarted by Mahmood Al Zarooni’s Encke in his historic Triple Crown bid before flopping in unsuitable ground in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – a race I still can’t believe connections let him, and St Nicholas Abbey for that matter, run in. Shortly after, he was later diagnosed with colic and underwent a serious and life threatening operation. You can see why it was great to have the Epsom Derby winner back on track and healthy today.

That said his tough life story shouldn’t cloud our thoughts on him as a race horse. We will still have to call it as we see it and in doing that I really think Camelot will need to step it up if he is to reach the lofty heights connections have set him. The 2012 Classic generation were an average bunch, something that is common knowledge. Camelot was the best of them, but he still doesn’t seem to be any great shake. He’s been kept in training to bag major races over 10 and 12 furlongs with connections publicly stating 10 to be his optimum trip.

He currently holds favourtism for races like the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. He’s heavily to the fore in the Coral Eclipse betting at Sandown too. While he’s undoubtedly a horse of huge class I honestly think he’ll come up short against plenty top horses in Europe. Domestically he’ll thrive as the competition just doesn’t seem to be there unless he should clash with Dawn Approach.

At this moment in time, over 10 furlongs, horses like Cirrus Des Aigles, Snow Fairy, Farhh, Pastorius and now, Dawn Approach – especially in receipt of weight, would have his measure. Should he step-up to a mile and a half the likes of St Nicholas Abbey, his stable mate and the Japanese pair (should they met of course) Ovferve and Gentildonna may well prove too much for him. This year’s Classic crop may add further disturbances to Ballydoyle’s plans for him.

Plenty will be answered in due course, as the season progresses. I may well be wrong and if so I’ll hold my hands up but until we see more from Camelot in terms of raw form the jury is still out for me. He’s not a horse I’d be afraid to take on at the top meetings this year especially with any of the above named. His real acid test will come this season against his elders and the 2013 Classic generation. I’m not sure he’s up to it, but only time will tell.