Sunday, June 24, 2012

A day or two at the races

It's almost hard to take it in but there can be little doubt that the two days of racing that we were privileged to witness at Ascot this week will be talked about down the ages.

Frankel's jaw-dropping romp and Black Caviar's heart-stopping scramble for the line were the brilliant book-ends to five days of the best racing, pomp and circumstance that Britain has to offer (with apologies to the connections of Dandy Boy, Camborne and Simenon, who did provide three wonderful results after the Diamond Jubilee but there can be no denying that there was really only one horse that most people had come to see on Saturday).

We expect, almost demand, greatness from Frankel but it would have been impossible to predict just how thrilling his latest victory would be and as the first race of the meeting it set a benchmark that no other horse would be able to match, though many tried hard, including Estimate, Fallen For You and the aforementioned Camborne and Simenon.

 Anyone who has seen Black Caviar's races from afar would have been expecting a similar performance from the mare and while she needs nobody to make excuses on her behalf - she is, after all, still unbeaten in 22 starts – there have been plenty of people questioning the manner of her slender victory on Saturday.

As far as I'm concerned, it's irrelevant. She won, and she's the greatest mare, the greatest sprinter on the planet – and she'd travelled halfway round that planet to show us all just how good she is. Comparisons with Frankel are futile. They are different horses, from different hemispheres, who race over different distances. I'm glad neither of them has been asked to relinquish their unbeaten record by racing against the other.

There's plenty of Ashes-related sporting rivalry between England and Australia but in Black Caviar the two nations were united. All bar the connections of those racing against her desperately wanted to see her win and there was as much relief as shock that greeted her head victory over Moonlight Cloud. I can't really remember feeling so affected by a race.

Analysts point to sectional times and ratings to decide who is best, and of course they play their part, but for me it takes all the fun out of racing. The important thing is to enjoy the essence of these great horses, for what they show you on the racecourse – the way in which they compete and the manner of their wins. It's the impression of them that is burned into your memory that matters.

Never mind what happened on Tuesday, I know I'll never see another horse win a Classic in the way Frankel won the 2,000 Guineas. It was one of the most terrifyingly audacious performances of all time, whether it was intentional or not. I suspect it wasn't, as that's not the way of his connections. But it was just sheer unbridled brilliance.

Another great Australian horse who has been at best overlooked and, usually, denigrated by European observers is So You Think. Whatever rating he runs to – and let's not forget he is constantly, unfairly compared to Frankel – there's no question that he has that something special, which not all horses have: presence. And he's won ten Group 1 races in two hemispheres. Anyone who fails to appreciate such an achievement is surely not a true fan of racing.

As I have a particular perverse passion for staying handicappers, I have to nominate Simenon as my horse of the week outside the two superstars. I was fortunate enough to sit next to his trainer Willie Mullins at lunch on Tuesday and he has long been one of my racing heroes. After that I couldn't fail to have a small bet on Simenon on Tuesday. His victory in the Ascot Stakes was impressive, and to follow that up with a similarly eye-catching win in the gruelling Queen Alexandra boosts him instantly onto my list of favourite horses in training.

There's talk of him going out to Melbourne for the Cup and nobody would be happier than me to see such a brave galloper become the third Irish-trained horse to triumph on the first Tuesday of November.

Australians may take a dim view of Willie Mullins following the recalcitrant behaviour of his first Melbourne Cup contender Holy Orders but they would be unwise to write off such a fine trainer, despite the fact that he is of course best known as a jumps trainer (keen followers will have noticed he had a first-time-out two-year-old winner on the Sunday before Ascot).

The pictures through this post (very kindly supplied by visiting Australian Claire Braund) are mostly from the picnic at Ascot on Saturday - a very happy event with many friends and colleagues. After what must have been a draining day for Black Caviar's trainer Peter Moody, the car waiting to take him back to Newmarket wouldn't start in the car park after racing. We were delighted to welcome him and the mare's physio Michael Dodge to our party and we wish them and their very special cargo safe home.

With such an exciting week over, we can look forward to seeing some of our old favourites from this stable race this week - hopefully Kadouchski on Wednesday at Kempton, Silken Thoughts the following day at Yarmouth, while Ethics Girl is pencilled in to make her seasonal debut at either Folkestone or Newmarket on Friday.

It's been a trying week for me on the home front as my dear horse Panto has been laid very low with colic.

I love him like a child and have doubtless been annoying the trainer and the vets with my fretting. We're doing everything we can to get him right and I won't breathe easily again until that is so. He's no Frankel or Black Caviar but he is the horse I love better than any other and life without him is simply unthinkable. Please get well soon, old boy.

 "There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his (or her) horse" – (with apologies to) Surtees

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