|Tuesday, 16 September 2008
: The weather has always been a staple topic of British conversation and its effect on the late-summer Flat racing programme closely mirrored the unrelenting wet weather that resulted in the loss of thirty-five meetings through waterlogging in June, July and August in 2007.
| Aidan O'Brien on track for 25 G1 wins|
Photo by Racing and Sports
Haydockfs three-day meeting in July and Timeform
fs Charity Day at York in June were the biggest casualties that year, but the losses in the latest season have been even more expensive, with York and Haydock again among the sufferers.
The abandonment through waterlogging of all four days of the York Ebor meeting was unprecedented and Haydockfs Sprint Cup card, where it is not unusual for the mud to be flying, was lost to the weather for the first time since fog denied Be Friendly the opportunity of a third successive victory in 1968.
The authorities have procedures in place nowadays to restage abandoned Group 1 races, and Yorkfs three Group 1s, the International, the Yorkshire Oaks and the Nunthorpe were all transferred to Newmarket later in the week (Newbury and Goodwood also salvaged events from York).
Rescheduled races are not always as strong as the originals but the much publicised Juddmonte International clash between the King George winner Duke of Marmalade and the Derby winner New Approach survived intact, despite Duke of Marmalade having made the journey from Ballydoyle to York and back again in the interim.
Duke of Marmalade ran to form at Newmarket, completing a fifth successive win, but the same could not be said of New Approach (spared the trip to York when news of a course inspection reached connections at the airport).
New Approach wasnft at his best on the firm going at Newmarket and also did himself no favours by fighting for his head in the early stages (as he had in the Derby). He managed only third to Duke of Marmalade, beaten also by Phoenix Tower.
Phoenix Tower was briefly impeded by Duke of Marmaladefs pacemaker when he moved off the rail to make way for his stable companion three furlongs out, a manoeuvre which prompted the first BHA inquiry under the rule governing eteam tacticsf, drafted after the 2006 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes when Godolphin claimed that their main challenger was deliberately forced wide by a Ballydoyle runner.
Tributes were paid after the International to Duke of Marmaladefs constitutionthe International was his fifth Group 1 win in as many monthsand his trainer described him as being made out of esomething harder than stone or concretef.
Ironically, Duke of Marmalade missed his next intended engagement in the Irish Champion Stakes (the card was put back a day after heavy rain), for which he was as short as 2/1-on in ante-post betting.
Rumours began to circulate that the egranite horsef had shown signs of fatigue after Newmarket. He was declared at Leopardstownhaving been replaced as favourite by New Approachbut taken out at the eleventh hour, leaving New Approach to record a workmanlike victory in Irelandfs biggest open-aged event.
The wet weekend of the Irish Champion Stakes brought a halt to the one-way traffic in Group 1 races which had put Aidan OfBrien and Ballydoyle on course to better the record twenty-five Group 1s in a season set by American trainer Bobby Frankel.
Ballydoylefs other notable flagbearer, the three-year-old Henrythenavigator
(who beat New Approach in the Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket and the Curragh), failed in his bid the same weekend for a fifth Group 1 in a row in the Prix du Moulin. Some were quick to blame the ground but the going at Longchamp was nowhere near so soft as had been forecast and Henrythenavigator
stayed on better than anything to finish fifth after having only one behind him on the home turn.
OfBrien also saddled the Irish One Thousand Guineas and Nassau winner Halfway To Heaven in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown but she went down in a bunched finish behind the Yorkshire Oaks winner Lush Lashes, while the Ballydoyle sprinters were denied their chance in the original Haydock Sprint Cup.
Halfway To Heaven had also come third in the Poule dfEssai des Pouliches, the form of which looks better and better as the season unfolds. The runner-up Goldikova won the Prix du Moulin to record her third win in a row, while the Pouliches winner Zarkava maintained her unbeaten record when following up in the Prix de Diane (with Goldikova third) and has the credentials of a first-rate contender for the Prix de lfArc de Triomphe.
Ballydoyle won the Arcwhich will be the most valuable race in the world on turf this yearwith Dylan Thomas
, whose success on his eighth outing of the season was a timely reminder that a top horse can have a full campaign and still be at his best for Longchamp in October.
Whether Duke of Marmalade attempts to follow in Dylan Thomas
fs footsteps remains to be seen, though the significant raising of the value of the Arc will surely prove a strong incentive. Coronation Cup winner Soldier of Fortune, fifth in the race last year, provides Ballydoyle with a good second string to its bow.
The Ballydoyle two-year-olds traditionally do well in the late-season championship events (the colts won nine of the ten European Group 1s open to them in 2001) and their number includes the highest-rated two-year-old seen out so far in Mastercraftsman, who has the physical scope to go on improving.
The form of Mastercraftsmanfs victory in the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh looks solid, the runner-up Art Connoisseur (sadly now sidelined for the season) a good winner of the Coventry at Royal Ascot, while the third Bushranger went on to success on his next start in the Prix Morny.
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