Prize-money aside, there’s a myriad of reasons why English racing – so wonderfully showcased to southern hemisphere insomniacs in recent weeks – is intrinsically beautiful.
On top of the list is that the majority of races are run at a strong, rolling gallop which allows the contest to unfold and the best to often prevail. This is in stark contrast to the ugly, stop-start, dash-home races – even the so-called sprints – we endure in this country.
Second, is the beguiling variety of tracks from Ascot to Epsom, which have held court in recent weeks, and now on to Newmarket this week for the July meeting.
Thirdly, it’s the fact that unexpected outcomes are rarely considered possible by the pundits and punters, which is reflected in extraordinary odds offered against many runners who do not fit the formulaic mould of a likely winner.
These three factors – along with the omnipresent influence of the prepotent Galileo (Sadler’s Wells) – came together in the Derby at Epsom last weekend which saw first and third go off at 25/1 and 66/1 respectively despite being trained by Aidan O’Brien (and being by Galileo). The similarly high profile Andrew Balding prepared the 50/1 runner-up.
Serpentine beat Khalifa Sat (Free Eagle) and Amhran Na Bhfiann on the famous Surrey course which rises and falls between 15 and 50 metres. And the winner, who made the pace and simply kept running at a gallop which none of his rivals could sustain, won by five and a half lengths.
While official Derby sectional times have proved beyond my Google capabilities, there’s little doubt he was setting a solid pace. The field was strung out and few of his rivals were pulling.
This, I believe, was no fluke and I’ve happily backed him to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr 1, 1m 4f) at Paris Longchamp in October. Only three horses have recorded wide-margin Derby wins in the past ten years. Workforce (King’s Best) and Golden Horn (Cape Cross) went on to win in Paris, against all comers, while the third, Camelot (Montjeu), was arguably thwarted by heavy ground.
Serpentine was seemingly dismissed in the Derby despite having led throughout to win by nine lengths at his previous start just seven days earlier. Not even the trainer can “bugger it up” in a week as wise old punters told me as a kid. No, I didn’t back him so I’m not claiming that same level of wisdom.
However, I did have a few dollars on Amhran Na Bhfiann at 100/1 each way. Simple logic, which often seems to be missing in the assessment of English racing, demanded that I did.
He’d had one run at three, finishing fourth to Tiger Moth (another Galileo) who then stretched Ballydoyle stablemate Santiago (Authorized) in the Irish Derby. Santiago, like the early Epsom Derby favourite English King (Camelot) had comprehensively beaten Berkshire Rocco (Sir Percy) at his previous start, so there was an obvious link.
So why not Love, the daughter of – you guessed it – Galileo, ahead of Serpentine for the Arc? Why not indeed. She won the Oaks by a greater margin and in slightly quicker time and is certainly not dismissed but may be more ground dependent. She’s unbeaten in five runs on good ground since her debut but has looked vulnerable on softer footing and I suspect the colts are stronger than the fillies in 2020.
The action continued at Sandown on the Sunday, with the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, which has been well covered. Ghaiyyath (Dubawi) was another to sustain a strong gallop to outlast a brave, returning Enable (Nathaniel) with Japan (Galileo) a solid enough third to be deemed to have enhanced the Lord North (Dubawi) form from the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (Gr 1, 1m 2f) at Royal Ascot.
The Royal Ascot form, for better or worse, is gradually being put to the test. It usually takes a few weeks with horses less frequently “backed up” in the UK and often comes to something of a peak at the Newmarket meeting (Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week).
This is my look at some possibly left-field Newmarket nominated horses with Royal Ascot form. Does this obsession with the Ascot form make me money? Sometimes. Would I say it offers an excellent return on the multitude of hours spent doing the videos and follow-ups? Probably not, so take it as you will, but it’s a lot of fun.
Mutamaasik (Dubawi): Thrashed the centre group horses in the Buckingham Palace Handicap (7f) and second and third, that side, have since run well.
Sir Busker (Sir Prancealot): Won the Hunt Cup (1m) consolation with top weight and running fastest closing splits. Third horse has since won a useful race at Haydock; runner-up (Salayel) also ran third in a Listed race yesterday. Previous win sound over in-form Dark Vision (Dream Ahead).
Kipps (War Command): Strong closing splits in the King George V Stakes (1m 4f) behind run-of-the-race winner Hukum (Sea The Stars). Subjectivist (Teofilo), Bodyline (Australia) and the next-time-out heavily-backed Berkshire Savvy (Mukhadram) have since run very well from that race.
Raising Sand (Oasis Dream): Nominated for strong Bunbury Cup and taking on a few others who are mentioned here but was clearly the first home on the slow side in the Hunt Cup (1m) and that form is proving very solid.
Woven (Dutch Art): Second home on the slower far side in the Silver Wokingham (6f); first home on that side has since won.
Maydanny (Dubawi): First home on slower far side in the Hunt Cup consolation.
Dancing Inthestreet (Muhaarar): Excellent behind emerging star sprinter Art Power (Dark Angel) (won again) in the Palace Of Holyrood House Handicap (5f). Had “no” weight but that’s the case again.
Threat (Footstepsinthesand): Suited back in trip and, likely, on firmer ground after fitness testing run fresh in the St James’s Palace Stakes (Gr 1, 1m).