TDN ‘Horses of the Year’: Capri

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Capri winning the St Leger | Racing Post

By John Berry

Every day this week, a member of the TDN’s Europe/International team nominates a personal Horse of the Year. John Berry selects the Irish Derby and St Leger winner Capri (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}).

When you go to the races as an owner or trainer, the race which your horse is contesting is automatically THE big race of the day (in your mind, anyway). You can be running on the undercard in a minor event supporting a Group 1, but you’ll find that the feature race suddenly doesn’t seem such a big deal after all. I love the St Leger. Every year it is one of my favourite races. But I found myself struggling to focus on the 242nd running of the world’s oldest Classic when I took a horse to run in a handicap at Doncaster on St Leger day in September. That handicap was dominating my thoughts throughout the week, but, even so, I kept coming back to thinking that it was going to be a particularly good St Leger, and I was going to be there to see it.

The first Classic which I saw in real life, rather than on television, was the St Leger in 1982, won by Touching Wood (Roberto). I had been to two more St Legers since then: the 1990 edition won by Snurge (Ire) (Ela-Mana-Mou {Ire}) and the 2012 renewal when Camelot (GB) (Montjeu {Ire}) agonisingly failed to complete the Triple Crown, going down by three quarters of a length to Encke (Kingmambo). This was going to be my fourth.

There’s an old British saying that, of the three Triple Crown races, the 2,000 Guineas is won by the fittest horse and the Derby is won by the luckiest, but the St Leger is won by the best. That theory was formed, of course, in a bygone era, when the St Leger was the automatic target for every high-class 3-year-old in the British Isles. Those days are gone forever, but it still takes a very special horse to win the race.

Irish Derby winner Capri (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) was in the field and an obvious favourite, but several of his rivals had rock-solid claims. Stradivarius (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) had stamped himself as an outstanding young stayer by winning the G2 Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot before beating older rivals in the G1 Goodwood Cup; while it was eye-catching that Frankie Dettori preferred to ride his stablemate, the G2 Ribblesdale S. heroine Coronet. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Crystal Ocean (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) had won the G3 Gordon S. at Goodwood in a style which would have made him favourite for any normal St Leger. Defoe (Ire) (Dalakhani {Ire}) went into the race with four straight wins to his name, most recently against good older horses in the G3 Geoffrey Freer S. at Newbury. And, even if we didn’t yet know that the Joseph O’Brien-trained Rekindling (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}) was going to win the Melbourne Cup a few weeks later, we did already know that he was a tough and talented young stayer.

Any of them would be a worthy St Leger winner. The picture, though, became a lot clearer when the horses entered the parade ring. Admittedly I am instinctively biased in favour of grey horses, but Capri would have stood out whatever colour he had been. A beautiful colt, he was in perfect condition and he strode around the parade ring with pricked ears, looking like there was no place on earth he’d rather be. He didn’t win by a wide margin as Crystal Ocean pressed him all the way to the line with Stradivarius and Rekindling breathing down their necks, but he was never going to lose. Even when it was clear that the challengers weren’t going to lie down, you just knew that he wasn’t going to let them past.

There have been greater horses than Capri win the St Leger. The likes of Bayardo (GB) (Bay Ronald {GB}) and his grandson Hyperion (GB) (Gainsborough {GB}), Bahram (Ire) (Blandford {Ire}) and Nijinsky (Can) (Northern Dancer), Sceptre (GB) (Persimmon {GB}) and Pretty Polly (Ire) (Gallinule {GB}) would have been all-time greats whichever era they had been born in. But Capri’s St Leger win was the best I’ve seen for a long time, and I’ll never forget it.

I still feel that Capri, a dual Classic winner, has not yet received the respect which he deserves. His Irish Derby victory was terrific. We keep being told that he wasn’t the best horse in the race, but to my eyes he beat Cracksman (GB) (Frankel {GB}) and Derby winner Wings Of Eagles (Fr) (Pour Moi {Ire}) on merit. Admittedly Wings Of Eagles was found to be injured after the race, but there was no visible sign of anything amiss during it. The general basis for down-playing Capri’s achievement seems to be that he benefitted from a particularly good ride, but that’s par for the course when Seamie Heffernan is on board. And it’s hardly the horse’s fault. Furthermore, Pat Smullen and Ryan Moore (who rode Capri in the St Leger) were on the place-getters, and they’re not bad jockeys.

Capri’s 2017 St Leger win is tucked away in my head alongside my memories of Touching Wood’s victory 35 years previously. It was one of the races which I most enjoyed watching during 2017, and I’m looking forward to seeing a few more splendid performances by this lovable grey during 2018.

*Editor’s note: The John Berry-trained Kryptos (GB) (Cacique {GB}) won later on the card, making it a particularly memorable day for the author.

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