British Champion Series: Review of 2013 Middle Distance Division

Yes, I know it’s about the Flat but this is a taster from new author Ryan Ferris @onharbourwatch who will be writing for us over the coming Winter Jump Season. He’s a great addition to the stable and we’re lucky to have him. Enjoy the read! Photos are courtesy of Michael Harris @mjyharris and Georgia Evans @georgiaaaa_rose. JP The 2013 series has now come to an end, and this is a little look back at the Middle Distance division. The series was contested by 44 horses this season, at 4 difference courses and 7 individual races. A staggering total prize fund for the series of just over £5,700,000 would surely attract high class fields and promote competitive racing? The series started at Epsom Down; the Coronation Cup was the curtain raiser. Only 5 horses went to post; in reality this was a straight match between the admirably consistent Dunaden and the brilliant St Nicholas Abbey who was seeking a historic hatrick in the race. The early pace was even and set by St Nicholas Abbey’s faithful lead horse Chamonix and Chapter Seven. As the early pace setters started to flounder with just over 2 furlongs to go, St Nicholas Abbey breezed effortlessly to the lead with Joey O’Brien barely requiring anymore than hands and heels riding. Dunaden ran yet another big race chasing the whole way without ever threatening. Some moments in racing you will be eternally grateful to have witnessed from the stands, not many sights in racing are as enjoyable as seeing St Nicholas Abbey cruising round the famous Tattenham corner as if he was on rails. He was perfect for Epsom; he had incredible balance, a high cruising speed and an electric turn of foot. This majestic performance is the perfect way to remember a brilliant racehorse. This was to be St Nic’s final dance; and what way bow out of the game. His life threatening injury he picked up in July goes to show how you have to appreciate these moments racing as you never know what’s around the corner. The most important thing is the 6 time Group 1 winning superstar is still with us. He collected just under £5,000,000 in prize money and would be every owners dream. After such a great career I do not think any horse is more deserving of a long retirement. It is not often the Epsom Derby is under threat of being upstaged; but St Nic was some act to follow. There would surely be no need to worry though with the mighty 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach looking to follow in Camelot and the great Sea the Stars hoof prints? Battle of Marengo and Ruler of the World represented Coolmore’s main hopes; France and the great Andre Fabre were represented by Ocovango hoping for a repeat of Pour Moi’s stunning performance. Germany were attempting to win the race for the first time with the mightily impressive Dr Busch Memorial winner Chopin. The race was run at an unsatisfactory pace, Kevin Manning clearly in great difficulty at getting the Guineas winner to settle on the wide outside. He eventually admitted defeat and sent Dawn Approach to the lead a long long way from home. As they turned into the straight Dawn Approach started to fade, Battle of Marengo in the prime position was sent on but a brilliant turn of foot from Ruler of the World saw him take the race by the scruff of the neck. He put the race to bed with great authority, in behind him it was carnage. Ocovango badly impeded and lost all chance. The fairy tale of an Elaine Burke Derby victory never looked likely, but Godolphin’s new recruit flew from the clouds to grab a brilliant 2nd. Galileo Rock plugged on gamely for third. Ruler Of The World As poetic as St Nic’s performance was in the Coronation Stakes, the Derby was quite brutal. To describe the Derby as messy would be kind; but the race was won with an impressive turn of foot from Ruler of the World. It was also a case of showing the importance of having a world class jockey, Ryan Moore was imperious. He chose his moment perfectly, and in doing so left the unlucky Ocovango trapped in a pocket. For as unsatisfactory as the race was, it was magic from Ryan Moore, proving why he is one of the world’s finest. The third leg took us to Royal Ascot for the Prince of Wales’s stakes. In what was advertised as a rematch between Camelot and Al Kazeem after the latter’s comfortable victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh. The Brigadier Gerard winner Mukhadram and the wonderful The Fugue also took their chances. From the opening of the gates Paul Hanagan set about making this a decent test over the mile and quarter. As they rounded the home bend it appeared the front running Mukhadram may be tough to reel in. The 3 time classic winner Camelot still travelled powerfully, Al Kazeem began to make his move and the Fugue was still anchored in the rear of the field. The further they travelled into the straight the harder Mukhadram looked to peg back, Al Kazeem appeared the only danger. A masterful ride from James Doyle saw him take the lead in the shadow of the post. The Fugue ran on promisingly from last to grab third, and Camelot a deeply disappointing fourth. Al Kazeem I think Paul Hanagan could ride for another 50 years and not give a horse a better ride around the Berkshire course. He judged the pace to perfection, and got them all beat apart from the high class Al Kazeem who recorded back to back Group 1 victories for the extremely likeable Roger Charlton team. Al Kazeem showed a lot of heart to chase down front runner, and has rewarded connections greatly for their patience after an interrupted career. There was plenty of debate regarding Camelot’s apparent loss of form, was this due to the colic after the Arc? Or despite it being classic form from 2012, was this just an exceptionally poor crop and he happened to be the best of a bad group? My opinion would firmly be the later. Only 9 horses of the 31 horses he beat in the 3 classics went onto win races; 4 of which were in Group races and only one Group 1 win came from these. The fourth round of the series brought us to Esher for the Eclipse stakes; this was a rerun of the Prince of Wales’s stake with Al Kazeem going for a hatrick of group 1’s, Mukhadram and The Fugue all reposing. Mars was representing the Classic generation after his promising runs in the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby. Declaration of War fresh from redemption in the Queen Anne was stepping back up in trip. Pastorius once again brought Germany to the Champion Series, a very solid horse who had shown a real liking for a softer surface would surely be inconvenienced by the fast going. Mukhadram once again set about making a real test over the 10 furlongs, with Paul Hanagan dictating early. The Fugue & Pastorius were both held up in rear, with the German horse taking a real grip. As they headed up the stiff Sandown finish Al Kazeem loomed travelling powerfully, Mars started to back pedal and Declaration of War really started to find his stride. As James Doyle asked Al Kazeem who appeared to be slightly unsettled on the very quick ground he drifted to rail slamming the door on the game Mukhadram. As Al Kazeem drew clear to take a third group 1, Declaration of War took advantage of Mukhadram being snatched up to grab a fast finishing 2nd. The Fugue showed nothing from rear finishing last. Mars once again ran well without ever threatening to win, he clearly has ability but quite possibly a touch below top class. Al Kazeem after winning the Coral Eclipse Al Kazeem once again showed he is all heart, winning in my opinion on ground he did not enjoy at all. William Haggis’s Mukhadram showed this season’s dramatic improvement has been no fluke, he rightfully should have finished 2nd. This is a horse that finished 5th in the last seasons Cambridgeshire off 101, and was now rated 125. Highlighting the talent of William Haggis at improving horses through handicap company right to highest order. I could not have been happier to clap Roger Charlton into the winner’s enclosure, he seems a real gentleman of the sport and he fully deserves the success of the high class Al Kazeem. Round 5 was Ascot’s summer showpiece The King George V1 & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The lead up to the race was sadly marred by the news St Nicholas Abbey’s life threatening injury. This left the great global trotting French Gelding Cirrus Des Aigles favourite. The Irish Derby hero Trading Leather and Hillstar represented the classic generation. The Sir Michael Stoute colt, had won nicely at the Royal meeting in King Edward VII stakes and Sir Michael had taken the bold decision to supplement him. The admirable globe trotter Red Cadeaux lined up with front runners Universal fresh from his Group 2 win at the Newmarket July meeting and Ektihaam. Germany once again had representation, this time in the form of Novellist. This son of the great Monsun was fresh from 3 straight victories, 2 were at the highest level. He had beaten Cirrus Des Aigles last time out in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud. The opinion was Cirrus had desperately needed this run and was sure to reverse form, questions were asked of the son of Monsun’s ability to handle the fastest surface he has ever encountered. The man of the season Johnny Murtagh was a last minute booking from Andreas Wohler. The early pace was frenetic, Universal and Ekithaam predictably taking each other on for the lead. Despite this the head strong Trading Leather was taking a keen hold in third. Novellist tracked the pace in 4th. Cirrus De Aigles was just in behind travelling comfortably for Soumilon. As they rounded the home bend Ektihaam emptied quickly leaving Universal in the lead, Trading Leather tackled him for the lead. As these two battled it out Novellist; under the imperious Johnny Murtagh cruised by the pair under hands and heels riding. The mighty German horse drew further and further clear up the Ascot straight destroying a solid Group 1 field by an eased down 5 lengths. Novellist The only difficulty Johnny Murtagh faced was pulling up Novellist before completing another circuit of the Berkshire venue. As Murtagh faced this challenge Trading Leather finished an honourable 2nd, with Hillstar running on into 3rd repaying Sir Michael’s decision to supplement the 3 year old. Cirrus Des Aigles despite travelling well; could never quicken, was this the end to the great French gelding career? The time was always going to quick after the early pace; but the announcement of 2 minutes 48.6 seconds took most people’s breathe away. Slashing the course record by 2 seconds under a very easy ride, was simply mind blowing. The clock showed that Novellist had actually quickened inside the final 3 furlongs adding further proof that this was a truly exceptional performance. For me personally this was one of the most devastating performances I have ever witnessed, the ease in which Novellist travelled was poetic and the turn of foot to breeze by the front pair was outstanding. This was a great moment in the career of the exceptionally likeable Andreas Wohler, who said afterwards his family used to come on holiday to see the race. This was a dream come true for the German handler, you would struggle to find a more graceful man in racing, his delight at his charges performance really made the day. In another twist of fortune, fate and destiny Novellist’s owner/breeder generally sell their colts. However the Son of Monsun went through the ring unsold at £100,000 as a Yearling, so they elected to race the colt in their own colours. After the victory the owners in one of the most gracious gestures paid for a page in the Racing Post to thank everyone at Ascot Racecourse; both staff and public for making it such a special day. A real thoughtful touch that I am sure has endeared the German team to many UK race fans. Greatness cannot be earned in one devastating performance, and as we were robbed of seeing brilliant colt take his chance in the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe he will never be able to acquire this status. However I do believe this was a horse with plenty of improvement left in him, and for me he will always be remembered as a special horse. It is rare you see a horse win minor race and instantly fall head over heels, but after watching a replay of this horse winning at Hoppegarten in April 2012 I did. Next on the calendar was trip to the Ebor festival and York racecourse. The Juddmonte International was last year won in breathe taking fashion by the great Frankel himself. The chances of seeing a performance to equal this, was somewhere in the region of impossible. However a high class field were still assembled; Toronado fresh from his Sussex Stakes heroics was to have his first attempt at 10f; Al Kazeem in pursuit of his fourth straight group 1 lined up along with Hillstar and Trading Leather both were stepping down in trip after their brilliant King George performances. Declaration of War was running in his 6th straight Group 1 after bumping into the wonder mare Moonlight Cloud in Deauville last time out. Trading Leather who desperately needed this to be a test over the trip and not a crawl led from the gates, with Al Kazeem and Declaration of War keeping close tabs on him. Toronado never appeared comfortable from the off, he was clearly travelling badly as they rounded the home bend. As they entered the final two furlongs Al Kazeem challenged the long time leader Trading Leather. In behind a confident looking Joseph O’Brien was starting wind up the consistent Declaration of War. Trading Leather was not going down without a fight Kevin Manning getting a real tune from the Irish Derby winner, but as he beat off Al Kazeem’s challenge he had no answer to Declaration of War. Trading Leather was heroic in defeat; but the real likeable Declaration of War grabbed another well deserved Group 1 to add to his Queen Anne victory. Al Kazeem appeared to struggle to perform on the fast Yorkshire ground, but he again ran with credit in 3rd. Hillstar who desperately looked in need of further ran very well in 4th, never looking likely to challenge. The race answered nothing to Toronado’s stamina questions, but merely raised concern for the real poor showing. His breathing once again being the cause; a real shame as his lacklustre performance robbed the race of additional glamour. It was very difficult not to be pleased for a horse of Declaration of War’s attitude; he clearly love racing and thrives on it. Although we may not have seen a superstar, we certainly witnessed 3 of the gamest horses you could wish to own in the first 3. The finale of the series; the UK’s richest ever race the Qipco Champion Stakes. A high class field assembled for the race; a rejuvenated Cirrus Des Aigles after his Prix Dollar romp on Arc winner. The rampant Lockinge Stakes winner Farhh returning for the 1st time since Newbury, the Epsom Derby winner Ruler of the World dropped back in trip from the Arc. Mukhadram, Hillstar and the supplemented Morandi gave the field real depth. The soft going at Ascot would surely favour the great French horse who gave Frankel his biggest test in the race last season. Farhh being by Pivotal out of a Lando mare should really love the soft going, this being the first time he uncounted the ground. Hunter Light who was enlisted for pace making duties for Farhh, tried to ensure a pace that Farhh could settle off. However Farhh was very keen throughout; he took the lead from his stablemate as they exited the home bend and Silvestre de Sousa set about making his way home. He was tracked by Cirrus Des Aigles, and Ruler of the World on the wide outside started to make ground. The three horses representing different generation’s started to draw clear from the field, Cirrus looked to have every chance of winning back his crown. Farhh would not go down without a fight; despite Soumilon and the incredibly strong Ryan Moore’s best efforts they could not find away by. As Farhh crossed the line a delighted SDS punched the air; a performance from Farhh that was a potent mix of class and good old fashioned determination. The race could have gone another circuit, and the Farhh would still have just been holding them. It was a great training performance from Saeed bin Suroor to get the son of Pivotal to win off over a 150 day layoff. In second Cirrus Des Aigles proved his trainer and his biggest fan Corine Barande-Barbe faith in the horse to be correct. He ran an absolute screamer; proving the theory class in permanent and form is temporary. He left some of his early season performances well behind him and ran very close to his best. It was great to see the French trainer delighted with her family pets display; a real rags to riches story that illustrates that Trainers really do love their horses. As for Ruler of the World he has really enhanced his reputation with his performance on Saturday, a strongly run 10 furlongs would look sure to suit. He will certainly be winning in the races like the Tattersalls Gold Cup & Eclipse Stakes. Farhh will be retired to Dalham Hall, with a glittering CV that includes a Champion Stakes and a Lockinge Stakes. He was unfortunate enough to bump into the mighty Frankel twice, and was beaten by Moonlight Cloud in the Prix du Moulin. A real high class but fragile animal who will be missed in all the major mile and 10 furlong races. At the end of the 2013 middle distance series; we have to say good bye to 4 brilliant racehorses in St Nicholas Abbey, Novellist, Al Kazeem and Farhh. For me the race of the series was the champion; 3 horses of the highest order locking horns from 2 furlongs out is what the sport is all about. The performance of the season was unquestionably Novellist’s King George; it leaves question marks to how good the superstar of German racing could have been, they always say you should go out on a high and in Novellist Monsun has certainly managed this. If Novellist has half the influence Monsun has had on the German bloodstock industry then Japan has certainly made a valuable acquisition. St Nicholas Abbey The memory of the series had to be St Nicholas Abbey’s final appearance; for him to retire on the racecourse where he became immortal was in some ways fitting. The circumstances were dreadful; but the news reports coming out of Coolmore had been very positive. Unfortunately they have now said St Nic has suffered a further setback. It is hoped he will make a full recovery as his original operation had gone very well. He was a majestic racehorse; and deserves a retirement like no other. He really was a racing hero, and I genuinely hope he pulls through. Seeing his white blaze cruising down the Epsom straight will be something that will always stay in my mind, a real honourable horse of the highest order. Thank you for reading my round up of the 2013 Qipco Champion Series for the Middle distance horses. Fingers crossed some new stars will be born in the 2014 series!