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.










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