Racing Review of the Year: Part I

In the year of Covid, Aidan O'Brien watches from Ballydoyle with his wife Annemarie as Serpentine wins the Derby |


The Classic Generation

At the start of June, with France and Germany having already crept cautiously back into play after the COVID full-stop, Britain joined in with the beginning of a flourish of catch-up fare. In under a week of racing, we had a new star to gaze at, and time experts were in awe of Bjorn Nielsen's English King (Fr) (Camelot {GB}). While he looked super-slick in the Listed Lingfield Derby Trial, he was to be given the justifiably dreaded number one draw at Epsom and gave up any chance in the first handful of yards in the blue riband itself. His tardiness was punished by a performance of front-running power rarely seen in the Derby from Serpentine (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), whose rise from obscurity to the sacred heights was astonishing even given that he emanated from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable. Neither English King nor Serpentine were able to finish in the first three again, while the other main players at Epsom also disappeared almost without trace, giving the Coronavirus renewal a shabby look in general.

Arguably the best horse to come out of the Classic was Mogul (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), whose finest hours came in the international tests of the G1 Grand Prix de Paris and G1 Hong Kong Vase. Beaten convincingly by Pyledriver (GB) (Harbour Watch {Ire}) in York's G2 Great Voltigeur S., the classiest member of the millionaire offspring of Shastye (Ire) (Danehill) shot up the rankings on Sunday and it will be fascinating to witness the clashes between the prides of Ballydoyle and Willie Muir's Lambourn base in 2021. If the Derby was a disappointing affair, the G1 2000 Guineas, held four weeks earlier, at least stood up where the juvenile form was concerned as Qatar Racing's Kameko (Kitten's Joy) held off the ill-fated Wichita (Ire) (No Nay Never) and 2019 champion Pinatubo (Ire) (Shamardal) at Newmarket. Pinatubo came up short again next time in Royal Ascot's G1 St James's Palace S. behind Palace Pier (GB) (Kingman {GB}) before landing the G1 Prix Jean Prat and finishing runner-up in the G1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp to another high-class son of Kingman in Persian King (Ire). None of the first three home in the Guineas will  be with us next term for varying reasons and that situation was confounded with the recent announcement that the G1 St Leger hero Galileo Chrome (Ire) (Australia {GB}) has also been retired.

Aidan O'Brien will have much to look forward to over the winter, however, as Love (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) will be back after a brief but electrifying campaign which saw her become the latest and possibly the easiest 1000 Guineas-Epsom Oaks double act. Denied a run in the G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as the ground began to deteriorate rapidly across Europe from the end of September, she was spared the ordeal faced by the likes of Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) and Stradivarius (Ire) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) at ParisLongchamp. It was Gestut Schlenderhan's G1 Deutsches Derby hero In Swoop (Ire) (Adlerflug {Ger}) who ended up in the mix of the year's best European Classic winners as he earned second in the Arc.

In France, the John Gosden-trained Mishriff (Ire) (Make Believe {GB}) upstaged the G1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains winner Victor Ludorum (GB) (Shamardal) in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club on the day that Fancy Blue (Ire) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) denied the G1 Coronation S. winner Alpine Star (Ire) (Sea the Moon {Ger}) and the G1 Irish 1000 Guineas heroine Peaceful (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in a strong edition of the G1 Prix de Diane. The Niarchos Family's Alpine Star, who had the misfortune to run up against Palace Pier in the G1 Prix Jacques le Marois, and Tarnawa (Ire) (Shamardal) in the G1 Prix de l'Opera, where the G1 Prix Jean Romanet and GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf heroine Audarya (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) was back in third, could prove to be the most intriguing of all the French Classic players to emerge next season.

Of Ireland's Classic winners, there is a sense that they operated below the usual level in 2020. Khalid Abdullah's G1 Irish 2000 Guineas winner Siskin (First Defence), the aforementioned Peaceful, the Oaks heroine Even So (Ire) (Camelot {GB}) and Derby scorer Santiago (Ire) (Authorized {Ire}) all failed to win again. That underlines a general weakness in Classic form throughout the year, with all the customary patterns and staging posts disturbed or wiped out by the Spring lockdown. The last-named was unable to subdue his compatriot Galileo Chrome in the Leger, but he is being trained with the staying “Cup” races in mind in 2021 and looks tailor-made for the division Aidan O'Brien has reaped such rich dividends in.

The Older Horses

This was supposed to be the year of Enable, as Juddmonte's monarch returned to her stomping ground, but it actually turned out to be the year of Ghaiyyath (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}). In the mould of former Godolphin greats such as Dubai Millennium (GB), Daylami (Ire) and Fantastic Light, he established himself centrally in the firmament with an astounding front-running performance in the G1 Coronation Cup, which was switched to Newmarket just days after the British Flat season had launched. While his subsequent successes in the G1 Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and G1 Juddmonte International at York may have achieved loftier ratings, the world champion of 2020 was never more visually impressive than on his European comeback. It will be a long time before the Coronation Cup is either graced by such a presence or is staged at the Suffolk venue which contrasts so greatly with Epsom and so the uniqueness of this event will live long. Enable ended up rated six pounds below him, which seemed perfectly fair given that her campaign was highlighted by a win in a three-runner G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S.

That the old jewel in British racing's crown could deteriorate to such an extent gives major cause for concern, even allowing for the strangeness of the year and a mix of circumstance. Ascot's QIPCO Champions Day was also blighted, this time by the weather as the worst of October's promise of dour conditions came to light. While respected commentators questioned the views of connections of well-beaten fancied horses that the ground was desperate, the eclipse of Stradivarius, Magical (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), Lord North (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and Palace Pier cast a shadow over the current edition. Addeybb (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}) was one of a quartet of geldings to plunder the group prizes open to them and that surely was not ideal at a meeting designed to showcase the breed. Stradivarius, whose tame exit from the action in the G2 QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup gave cause for concern, will be back at the track in June hoping for better ground as he bids for a fourth Gold Cup.

Champions Day saw the continued rise of Hollie Doyle, who was nominated for the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year award and already the recipient of the Sports Journalists' Association Sportswoman of the Year among others. At this stage, she is almost guaranteed to become the first female champion jockey in her native country with her momentum set to continue at a relentless pace. A Classic win in 2021 too, perhaps? Cieren Fallon, Jr., who took the G1 July Cup on Oxted (GB) (Mayson {GB}), is another young rider on the rise with his style so reminiscent of his oh-so-talented father.

Other headline acts in 2020 were Shadwell's high-class miler Mohaather (GB) (Showcasing {GB}), who won a G1 Sussex S. which stands up to any recent renewal, the same operation's imperturbable sprinter Battaash (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and Peter Brant's Arc hero Sottsass (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}). Battaash will be back again next term, bidding to add to his remarkable tally of four Group 1s and four editions of the G2 King George S. in which he is nigh-on unbeatable. Saeed Suhail's G1 Haydock Sprint Cup hero Dream of Dreams (Ire) (Dream Ahead) will also be back

After the retirement of Magical was announced on Dec. 22, Ireland now has another star mare in His Highness The Aga Khan's Tarnawa. Her trio of victories in the G1 Prix Vermeille, G1 Prix de l'Opera and GI Breeders' Cup Turf mark her as special, and her lethal turn of foot will be a major asset as she looks to add to her haul next year. The Arc, which was arguably within her sights this year, will surely be in 2021, and if Dermot Weld can keep her at this level she could be the one to provide him with that missing monument. Time will tell whether the much-discussed three-pound mares' allowance stands, but while it does the likes of Tarnawa and Love will always have a distinct edge in top competition.

Dark Horses

The 'lurkers' who just failed to make it in 2020 but could be big presences next year include Shadwell's G3 Geoffrey Freer S. winner Hukum (Ire) (Sea the Stars {Ire}), Kirsten Rausing's G1 Yorkshire Oaks runner-up Alpinista (GB) (Frankel {GB}), David Ward's promising sprinter Starman (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}) and Godolphin's 2000 Guineas fourth Military March (GB) (New Approach {Ire}). Also, a Sir Michael Stoute special perhaps? Saeed Suhail's impressive novice winner My Frankel (GB) (Frankel {GB}), who heads into a 4-year-old campaign lightly-raced and unexposed. Sounds like a few we've known in the past.

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