Now that the Triple Crown is in the books, it gives me some time to catch up on some of the other action in the racing world that took a backseat during the last five weeks of racing.
Royal Ascot finished up its meet last week and it was all that was promised. The amazing thing about the meet is that it starts out with probably its biggest race – The Queen Anne S. (Eng-G1) going a mile down the straightaway. Last year, GOLDIKOVA (Ire) (Anabaa) just held off the late rally from Richard Hannon's Paco Boy (Ire) by a diminishing neck.
This year, Hannon, former drummer for the Troggs of "Wild Thing" fame, showed up loaded with CANFORD CLIFFS (Tagula), who won three Group 1 stakes last year going a mile and opened up this season with a win in the Lockinge S. (Eng-G1) at the distance. The betting was such that the two top choices were virtually inseparable but after Goldikova took the lead with a furlong to go, she could not withstand Canford Cliffs' final rally and went down to defeat by a length.
It was a spectacular victory by Canford Cliffs and he will be tough to beat the rest of the year. Unlike last year, Hannon seems much more agreeable to come over for the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) so we should see him at Churchill Downs on event day. Goldikova lost nothing in defeat but the question of whether she has lost a step at the age of six has to be raised. She won her seasonal debut in a Group 1 in France going nine furlongs so we'll have to see if she has lost a step or is Canford Cliffs really this good?
Hannon is a household name in the United Kingdom but rarely ships here. What makes his success remarkable is most of his horses were publicly purchased for modest prices and have outrun their pedigrees.
One amazing sidebar to Goldikova's defeat was the fact that Olivier Peslier was two pounds over the assigned weight of 123 pounds! I'm not one to give dieting advice, but it's unbelievable that a proven rider like Peslier could not make weight for a trainer like Freddie Head who had to make weight his entire career as a jockey.
Two races later on Tuesday was the St. James's Palace S. (Eng-G1) which was supposed to be another procession for the electrifying FRANKEL (Galileo [Ire])) who was undefeated in six career starts. Named after the late Bobby Frankel by his former employer, Juddmonte Farms, he lived up to expectations in his previous start when capturing the Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1) at Newmarket by six crushing lengths.
Frankel is a very head-strong colt that seems to do better when allowed to do his thing without any restraint but in the St. James's Palace he was wrangled back to fourth early. He sat impatiently behind his pacemaker and swooped to the lead when they came out of the turn. He opened up a commanding lead like he did in the Guineas, but instead of drawing off he started to sputter in the deep stretch.
It never looked like Frankel would lose but he actually appeared vulnerable in the final yards for the first time in his career. He has the ability to bottom out a field, but it will be interesting to see how he does when he meets the likes of Canford Cliffs or other older milers down the road.
On Wednesday, Royal Ascot was the scene for the race that I waited for since last November when I had the pleasure of watching Australian super-horse SO YOU THINK (High Chaparral [Ire[) run twice in four days. The winner of five Group 1 stakes Down Under, he was third in the two-mile Melbourne Cup (Aus-G1) in November and sold two days later to the powerful Coolmore/Ballydoyle operation in Ireland for a reported $60 million.
Now with Aidan O'Brien, So You Think won a minor Group 3 stakes race to begin the year and then romped in the Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-G1) going 10 furlongs to secure his first Northern Hemisphere Group 1 score. He was pointed all along for the Prince of Wales since being purchased and was the most subject of rock-star interest on the part of the bettors and bookmakers in England.
Since showing up at Ballydoyle, he was the subject of rumors that he might be the best horse they have ever had; or at least had trained better than anyone. Considering how many superstar horses have come out of that operation, it was mind-boggling to think that he's better than Giant's Causeway or Galileo, but that was the word being whispered. Finally, Tom Magnier, son of Ballydoyle leader John Magnier, went on the record that So You Think was regarded by Aidan O'Brien as the best they ever had and was doing things in the mornings they could not believe.
So it was with unbelievable expectations that So You Think went to the gate for the 10-furlong Prince of Wales. His main competition seemed to be from REWILDING (Tiger Hill), who was coming off a terrific win in the Sheema Classic (UAE-G1) at Meydan last out, but that was going 12 furlongs and this was at 10.
For some reason, O'Brien entered a rabbit, Jan Vermeer (Montjeu [Ire]), and when the gates opened, So You Think was prominently placed by Ryan Moore. Jan Vermeer broke a bit slow and was on the outside for the first quarter-mile and when they went into the first right-hand turn, he cut over and impeded So You Think, who had to check severely and threw his head up.
Now, instead of settling in behind a rabbit that he didn't need in the race anyway, So You Think was fighting Moore during the middle furlongs. Like Frankel the day before, he took command coming out of the final turn and opened up on his rivals. It looked like victory was assured but on the outside was Frankie Dettori grinding away on Rewilding.
Racing's two biggest rivals were battling it out in the stretch -- Coolmore on the inside and Godolphin on the outside. With each stride Rewilding was cutting the margin down but So You Think was battling gallantly. Finally, after 24 cracks of the whip, Rewilding was able to surge at the wire and get up by a neck. Both horses were fantastic and it was racing at its best with both horses using all their reserves in the drive to the wire.
After the race, the stewards at Ascot gave Frankie a nine-day suspension for violating the whip rule, but I don't think he was complaining. It was a big win for Godolphin over their bitter rivals and Frankie did what he had to do. O'Brien took full blame for the defeat and indicated that he had not trained So You Think hard enough since he had been fooled by his brilliant workouts at home.
Rewilding will most likely be pointed for a start in the Prix de ’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) in Paris in October. He likes to run fresh so it's unlikely he would wheel back in four weeks and come here for the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1). Since Coolmore has so many 1 1/2-mile horses at their disposal, So You Think might be kept at 10 furlongs so there's a chance that he would come here for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) on the dirt. He's already proven Down Under and Coolmore is trying to boost his race record in the Northern Hemisphere. I'd be surprised if he ever loses again.
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