Beckett Hopes To Crown Record Season In Style

Kinross | Breeders' Cup/Eclipse Sportswire

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LEXINGTON, KY — Though introducing no fissure of light into the bruised grey sky hanging over Keeneland, daybreak on Wednesday nonetheless spread an array of crimson and saffron, dazzling as any sunrise, into the trees peering over the rituals of training track and shed row. And for those supervising one horse in particular, it felt especially apt that a final, lingering blaze of autumn glory should be preserved against the fading of the year.

For if he could win the GI FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile here on Saturday, Kinross (GB) (Kingman {GB}) would not only extend to a quite remarkable climax to his own spree of improvement through 2022; he would also set a corresponding seal on a landmark season in the career of his trainer.

Last year, Ralph Beckett posted his best haul yet, in domestic prizemoney, at £1.94 million. This time round, his Kimpton Down team have not just consolidated but smashed their way to £2.74 million already. Contributors include four Group 1 winners, and their diversity attests to a versatility that Beckett, during his rise, was not always given adequate opportunity to measure. While he has reiterated his mastery with a homebred Classic colt in Westover (GB) (Frankel {GB}), he has also saddled the winners of two elite sprints.

One of those is Kinross himself, whose autumn schedule–he's seeking a third Group/Grade I success in five weeks–is not just bewildering local horsemen, with their collective neurosis about spacing out races. It's also allowing Beckett to show equal flair in a very different discipline to the type in which he largely made his name.

There were times when he would be sent fillies at a ratio approaching two-in-three, many of them requiring patience and distance. Here, in contrast, is a gelded dasher who has thrived on a timetable so hectic that Beckett even permits himself comparisons with a couple of indefatigable sprint handicappers of a generation ago: Chaplins Club (Parade Of Stars) and Glencroft (GB) (Crofter).

“It's slightly shades of those David Chapman horses,” he says. “Those guys who were really good at it, Dandy Nicholls was another, I never really worked out how they got it so right. But really all they were doing was just going with the horse. And that's rather what we're trying with Kinross: just not to stand in his way. I think it was David Elsworth who said, 'At a mile or less, it's all about wellbeing.' And that feels like a good way or looking at it, particularly with an older horse like this one.”

To a degree, in fact, the art of training can in these cases sooner become the art of not training. It's about restraint, about going from race to race as though you were lighting one candle with another. The growing weight of accumulated starts inevitably tugs at the thread, and Beckett and his team just have to stop it fraying.

“He just hacked a couple of laps of the training track this morning, and that's all we'll do with him,” Beckett explains. “He's not a horse you ever want to do much with, never mind need to. He trains himself really. These older horses, going out in the mornings, they really know their own way around. He's enjoying life out here. But by Friday he'll know exactly what he's going to be doing, how many laps he's going to go.”

It's important, then, to ensure that horses find their regime to be congenial. Because that's one of the few doors through which a trainer can offer a horse something as elusive, but critical, as confidence. A year ago, Kinross was beaten in both the the G1 Prix de la Foret and the G1 QIPCO British Champions Sprint after travelling powerfully but running out of track and/or time. As a fully rounded professional, aged five, he has won both with the same mechanical efficiency as he had previously two races in the tier below.

“I think there are always layers, it's always a sum of parts,” Beckett reflects. “The jockey understanding him, the way he does now, is definitely relevant. Frankie [Dettori] is not afraid to sit closer to the pace now. But I do think confidence is a big thing with this horse as well. It's just grown and grown as he's got older. It's a hard thing to nail down, but it's definitely part of your role, particularly with an older horse, to make sure they're happy what they're doing.”

This race will be a whole different ball game for Kinross, spinning round the dizzy bends of the inner track while going back up in trip. Things are complicated by a tiresome draw, 13 of 14, but there's definitely a scenario in which the environment will appeal to the horse's zesty style.

“And that's key,” Beckett says. “He's pretty straightforward, a horse you could put just about anywhere, he's like a scooter. So yes, it's a tough draw but I don't see it as the end of the world. Frankie will just have to deal with it. And I'm not concerned about the mile at all, particularly given the nature of Keeneland. Whether he handles that or not is another question, but I don't think trip will be an issue. Nor would I have any concerns about the ground, it was quick when he won the [G2] City of York S.”

Asked to assess his stellar campaign, Beckett stresses one thing immediately. “It's been great fun,” he says. “I've really enjoyed it. There have been setbacks, too, but that's inevitable.  When Scope (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}) broke a hindleg, that was obviously a huge blow–we didn't run at Ascot because it was too fast, and then for that to happen… Especially when you consider how few miles he had on the clock. But everything else has been great.

“Prosperous Voyage (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}) we only ran because it was the right race [G1 Falmouth S.], not because we thought we could win. Lezoo (GB) (Zoustar {Aus}) hid her light under a bushel at home, so to get there [G1 Cheveley Park S.] with her was extraordinary. And Westover [G1 Irish Derby] was hugely satisfying. The King George was obviously a disaster, and there's always a certain pressure when they go west like that, and you have to get them all the way round again, so we were very pleased with his run in the Arc. He's probably going to for the G1 Sheema Classic, that looks a good fit for him and he'll enjoy it, I think. He's a big, tall, long horse, so you would think he might [keep developing] but that's always easy to say and we'll just have to see.”

Westover, of course, had excruciating luck in running at Epsom and that kind of thing will never cease to haunt any red-blooded horseman. But Beckett is gracious in his reflections.

“I mean, of course it was tough on everybody at the time,” he says. “But I don't think any of us thought we'd have beaten winner. It was just not getting the chance to see, that was the crux of it. And, of course, whether it'll ever happen again? It's easy to be blase about these things but horses like that are hard to come by.”

But while one can hardly invite him to comment, a personal reflection is that Beckett is now one of the handful of trainers in Britain whose eligibility for an elite yearling of absolutely any kind is proven beyond doubt. Standing 10th in the trainers' championship, he has had fewer runners than all those above him bar Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O'Brien. He is now at that optimal stage where, though still much younger than doyens of the previous generation, he has accumulated masses of experience. Far too classy ever to hustle for business, he knows that a certain clientele are inevitably drawn to the tranquillity and independence of his facilities–and, as it happens, these also tend to be just the type of people he likes training for.

Nonetheless it's gratifying for Beckett to have preconceptions so thoroughly corrected. Juddmonte, in sending him yearlings in 2015, made him their first new trainer in a decade: and they have been rewarded for giving him opportunities across the spectrum.

Ironically, given the way Beckett has had to fight to avoid becoming a victim of his own success, the gelding he has brought to the Bluegrass actually conforms to the original brand: he was homebred by one of his most longstanding clients, Julian Richmond-Watson. (And started out in his silks before being transferred to another of the stable's patrons, Marc Chan, at the beginning of last year.)

“I trained the dam, the sisters, the dam's sisters, the whole shooting match,” Beckett remarks. “So to be able to show up here with him is a big deal. It's easy to forget that, if you get too caught up in it. Whatever happens on Saturday, when we look back in years to come I hope we reflect how blessed we were that everything worked out the way it has.”

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