Happy New Year? The Top 10 Duels for 2018

Looking ahead to next year, Jamie Lynch sets up the top 10 showdowns to look forward to that could define racing in 2018.

Happy New Year? The Top 10 Duels for 2018

Looking ahead to next year, Jamie Lynch sets up the top 10 showdowns to look forward to that could define racing in 2018.


Okay, hands up, this is a late rewrite, from three promotional paragraphs about the humdinger head-to-head between Buveur d’Air and Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle, the Ryanair Hurdle putting a stop to all that as Faugheen cut a sorry figure, one of many high-profile victims of the curse of Christmas in Irish racing.

On The Blind Side
On The Blind Side Picture:Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

But it brings a whole new dimension to a season which revolves around Cheltenham, now racing towards us, spoken of in weeks rather than months, because the question that overarches many of the main events becomes whether you acquiesce to the Leopardstown complications or ignore them, in favour of the value that comes with prior knowledge: the prior knowledge that Sizing John had looked the best staying chaser, or that Monalee had looked a natural chaser, or that Mengli Khan had looked the leading novice hurdler, or that Yorkhill had looked a monster in a mask.

There’s no right answer, there’s no general answer, as it’s a matter of individuals and interpretation, but the unscripted Christmas drama has changed the climate, changed the markets and changed Cheltenham, and that in itself might be no bad thing.

Enable Picture:Pat Healy Photography


The most undefined of all the duels in the list, but the rocky road to the Champion Chase feels like a must-see soap opera for early-2018. Ever since the last Festival, this was the hottest ticket in town, for the supposed sexiest shootout of this season between Douvan and Altior, but both have played their own game of hide and seek, Altior gone with the wind and Douvan just gone.

Battaash Picture:Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

More positive recent bulletins about Altior make it less of a coin toss that he returns in time for Cheltenham, and, if he’s as good as new, it would take an amalgamation of the best of the rest – Politominortonpad – to beat him: the proficiency of Politologue, the dynamism of Min, who still has lessons to learn after Leopardstown, and the fire of Fox Norton, extinguished by something other than the trip in the King George.

The ‘pad’ part of Politominortonpad belongs to Footpad, who has been springy and scintillating in equal measure so far over fences, leaving the impression he could cope if the Champion Chase was tomorrow. Such a policy with a novice would be very un-Mullins-like, however, but Sceau Royal being on the scene for the same owners may just raise the possibility of Footpad diving into the deep end.

Winx Picture:Racing and Sports


On ratings, On The Blind Side Horseform is the leading novice hurdler of the season so far, yet in the billing he’s coming second, to the supposed second coming, Samcro. And it’s not just hype, Samcro weighing in only 3 lb behind On The Blind Side without coming off the bridle as yet, hence he’s got the Timeform large ‘P’ (and if there was anything bigger he’d have that too).

To keep things interesting, thank God we’ve got On The Blind Side and Samcro in the same orbit, both gravitating towards the Ballymore at Cheltenham. On The Blind Side probably needs Samcro like a hole in the head, but Samcro needs a horse exactly like On The Blind Side for some sort of barometer of brilliance.

The Samcro story is going to snowball all the way to Cheltenham, and this development, tied in with destiny, makes him a headline act for 2018.


It’s not really until post-Cheltenham that these strands become magnified and meaningful, at which point it tends to be overblown, but even a cynic like me would admit to getting drawn into the final-day dramas for the handler honours in Britain and Ireland in recent years. And everything is poised nicely for another spring showdown, on both sides of the Irish Sea, as told by the respective markets, little to split Mullins and Elliot in the Irish race or Henderson and Nicholls in the British one.


In the green-and-gold corner, marrying together the brilliant boy and glamorous girl, there’s Espoir d’Allen and Apple’s Shakira, both unbeaten over hurdles, and barely off the bridle. They’re looking a formidable duo for JP to strike, and possibly split, remembering the Franchoek/Binocular Festival fork.

Splitting the Aces is easier said than done when there are other high-value cards emerging all the time, especially We Have A Dream and Stormy Ireland, the former freakishly professional and the latter professionally freakish, based on the early evidence.

The juvenile division is often a season-long game of catch-me-if-you-can, where a go-getting youngster lays down an early marker that the others spend their time chasing. But the beauty of this crop, and the reason why it’s a developing drama for 2018, is that there are already four juveniles who’ve done something unusual in some way or another, quality and quantity amongst the assembling cast, making for a climactic conclusion.


We’re thinking of the classics here, and thinking of 2017, when O’Brien won every British classic bar the Oaks, in which only Enable stopped him. The shape of the ante-post markets for next year forecast the same sort of storm.

Ballydole has the top three in the betting in both of the Guineas at Newmarket as well as the two classics at Epsom; and it’s odds-on O’Brien will also have the favourite for the St Leger by the time that comes around.

It’s strength in depth rather than stand-bys surrounding a single star, more quantity than quality, a collection of could-be-anythings, chief amongst them the unbeaten Saxon Warrior, market leader for both Newmarket and Epsom, though at odds of 8/1 and 5/1 respectively, reflective of the open climate. Which ones from Ballydoyle surge up, and which ones from Britain stand up, is the heat for the fire of the 2018 Flat season.


If we could pick just one dreamy duel to come off in 2018, then this would be it. Same age, same stable, same stratosphere in ratings, but very different in approach. While Enable Horseform’s ascent was speedy and sustained, Cracksman Horseform was a late-bloomer, a little too late for a date in the Arc at Chantilly. But the Arc at the renovated, revamped Longchamp in 2018 is a perfect setting for a perfect shootout.

It may happen before then, given when the King George comes, or it may not happen at all, given how racing goes, but everybody bar one person is desperate for them to get it on: Frankie Dettori.


The story in the 2017 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot was as much about the second’s defeat as Big Orange’s win, and that was because Order of St George, before and since, has largely had it all his own way in the static staying scene, but it promises to be more vibrant this time around, thanks to the new wave, the 2017 crop of 3-y-o stayers who went above and beyond the call of duty, such as classic-winning Capri, Orange-eating Stradivarius and Aussie-annoying Rekindling.

Creativity shines brightest between order and chaos. Order is in place, the young blood are bringing the chaos.


Their first meeting didn’t go at all to plan, Battaash Horseform getting too hot and bothered before the Nunthorpe at York, where Lady Aurelia also paid for seizing the initiative so far out. Both can bomb out, but both can bomb on, recording speeds that no other sprinter around – and not many in history – can compete with, and if these fiery flash-and-burners can spark at the same time then we’ll have fireworks, most likely in the King’s Stand.

There’s another sprinting showdown in the pipeline, over six furlongs, with Australian champ – and Everest winner - Redzel making noises about coming to Royal Ascot, where Harry Angel will be waiting for him.


Redzel may be the top sprinter in Australia, but he’s a long way off the top performer, that accolade belonging to the wondrous Winx, who’s the best-known racehorse in the world and therefore the most important.

Every move she makes in 2018 will be advertised and analysed, and, whether or not that encompasses a trip to Europe, one race she’s currently running is an historical one against the legendary Black Caviar, who holds a record of 25 consecutive wins. Winx Horseform is on 22, and surpassing the sequence of Black Caviar would be a considerable chapter in the fairytale she’s single-handedly writing.


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