Sadly, there is only one place I can start this week’s column. The loss of Pat Smullen at the age of just 43 is both tragic and cruel. It is a stark reminder to us all how precarious life can be.
The timing of his passing is unfortunately poignant. It is almost a year to the day since the memorable Irish Champions Weekend legends race that ultimately raised over €2.5 million for Cancer Trials Ireland.
Pat Smullen won’t be remembered as just another guy, or just another jockey. As many have pointed in a flood of social media tributes on Tuesday night, Pat Smullen was as exceptional out of the saddle as he was in it, which takes some doing.
The braveness, selflessness and dignity he showed during his illness was truly inspirational.
On the track, Smullen was Irish champion jockey nine times and won 25 Group 1 races around the world in a quite stunning career. But he also achieved something very few jockeys do, which was to earn a reputation of reliability, especially so in the big races where the pressure is at its maximum.
He is a huge loss, not just a huge loss to racing.
Eyes On The Arc
Now to events on the track. It strikes me that there is far too much of an overreaction to a horse winning or losing a race nowadays.
Trials day at Longchamp on Sunday is often seen as the most important set of pointers to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe but the way in which some of those races unravelled was so far removed from what the runners will face on Arc day that I’m more than a bit surprised at some of the subsequent bookmaker reaction.
As it turned out, the two horses that benefitted most from Sunday’s card were the two that stayed at home, Love and Enable, who were both tightened up in the aftermath.
That is more understandable than some of the other moves though, most notably the pushing out of Stradivarius and the French filly, Raabihah.
True, both were sent off short prices and fully expected to enhance their Arc claims, but that isn’t always possible when races pan out the way their respective contests did on Sunday.
No horse was more unsuited by the way their race unfolded on Sunday than Stradivarius, who we all know is going to need a strong gallop at a mile and a half.
Stradivarius has more gears than most staying horses we have seen in our lifetime, including Order Of St George who finished fourth in the 2017 Arc, but even this superstar was always going to find it difficult to reel in a Derby winner that got first run off a ridiculously steady gallop.
To my eye, Stradivarius did extremely well to push Anthony Van Dyke as close as he did given the circumstances, and market reaction should, if anything, have been leaning towards taking the positives out of this run rather than rubbishing it as a defeat that means he can’t win an Arc.
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Stradivarius is almost guaranteed a stronger gallop to aim at on the big day and, perhaps even more importantly, we know he is going to be able to operate to his maximum no matter what the ground does, and that is a point that I think may be being overlooked by some.
As for Raabiyah, well the writing was on the wall for her a fair way out in the Prix Vermeille.
Having just her fifth career start, the daughter of Sea The Stars was stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time as connections aim to get her acclimatised to the set of circumstances she will face in the Arc next month.
The race turned into a speed test, which made the task of patiently-ridden Raabiyah almost impossible on the day. It was won by a filly with a better change of gear, but what was not to like about the way Cristian Demuro’s mount came home from the back of the field.
She clearly has nothing like the same profile as Stradivarius, but when it comes to the Arc, she will also benefit from a stronger overall tempo and, given she is by no means fully exposed and gets all the allowances as a three-year-old filly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she posted a big effort on Arc day.
And then there is Mogul. I am having to reassess my earlier opinion that Mogul is one of the most overrated horses in training after his career-best performance in the Grand Prix de Paris.
So now we know his optimum conditions: a strongly run mile and half race on fast ground, and it looks like we still might not have seen the best of Japan’s full brother.
The question is, where should he go next? Aidan O’Brien seemed keen on deflecting any talk of a return to Paris but should the weather in the French capital remain clement in the build-up to the Arc, then Mogul would surely have to be under strong consideration.
Irish Champion Stakes
Races don’t come more exciting than Saturday’s Irish Champion Stakes, which has to go down as one of the best races of the season.
Ballydoyle showed once again that when it comes to executing a game plan, they are peerless. Coercing Ghaiyyath into going a stride quicker than he ideally wanted to by racing on his quarters enabled Magical’s superior stamina to come to the fore and she underlined her toughness by seeing her race out strongly under Seamie Heffernan.
Magical has to be up there as one of the toughest mares ever to come out of Ballydoyle and it would come as no surprise to anyone were she to add a remarkable seventh Group 1 success to her already outstanding CV by winning her end of season target, which will probably be the Champion Stakes at Ascot or the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
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Sacred For Prix de l’Abbaye?
I’m convinced a strongly run five furlongs are the optimum conditions for Sacred who once again gave the impression she has still not been seen at her best. Sacred was chinned by 40/1 outsider Ubettabelieveit in the Flying Childers at Doncaster but she didn’t get anything like as good a tow into the race having elected to come stands’ side with just two others.
This might raise a few eyebrows, but I have a feeling the race that would see her to best effect is the Prix de l’Abbaye at Longchamp. As a two-year-old, Sacred would get lumps of weight off her older rivals and it’s a path trainer William Haggas has trodden before.
In 2000, Superstar Leo won the Flying Childers for the Newmarket trainer before only finding Namid too good in the Abbaye, and Sacred has the ability to go one better.
Chindit Catches The Eye
Finally, a word on what I think was the best two-year-old performance of the season so far at the weekend.
Logic suggests it came in one of the two Group 1 juvenile races at the Curragh on Sunday, but on this occasion, you would be mistaken.
It came in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster on Saturday. Chindit didn’t hack up by any stretch but to my eye he had a good bit in hand over one or two highly touted rivals and Chindit stopped the clock almost a second faster than Wichita did in the Park Stakes later on the card.
Chindit’s laid back nature is going to stand him in good stead going forward, especially if crowds return to the track, although at the moment that looks a good way off.
He appears to have the temperament to match his ability and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he continued his winning run in the Dewhurst Stakes, which is now the target.