By John Berry
Midwinter is not usually the place to look for the stars of the following European summer. This time of year is definitely off-season–and officially so, in Great Britain anyway–because winners ridden, even in stakes races, do not count towards the jockeys' championship. However, there are exceptions which prove every rule, and we are becoming ever more accustomed to horses taking the leap in class from winter to summer in their stride.
Amid the feast of high-class jumps racing on both sides of the Irish Sea in the post-Christmas period last year, not many people paid much attention to the seemingly mundane flat card which took place on the Tapeta at Wolverhampton on Saturday 27 Dec. 2014. Anyone who missed it, though, missed something special: the 6.10 race, a floodlit 8.5-furlong 2-year-old maiden, saw a dark brown colt by Halling break the juvenile track record with a three-length victory on debut. Named Jack Hobbs (GB), the colt went on to win the G1 Irish Derby and to finish second in both the G1 Derby and the G1 Champion S.
One might hope that Wolverhampton might name a race in Jack Hobbs' honour, although Saturday's card came and went without any sign of recognition of his presence there 52 weeks previously. He would probably have his own race were Wolverhampton in France. The most successful French Classic graduate from the winter season remains Policeman (Fr) (Riverman), shock winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club in 1980. He still ranks as the only horse to have taken France's premier Classic after having raced at Cagnes-sur-Mer during the previous winter, hence the principal 3-year-olds' race of the Cagnes winter carnival, the Prix Policeman, being named in his honour.
Prior to Jack Hobbs, one of the most notable 3-year-olds to kick off his career on the all-weather during the British winter was the Mark Johnston-trained Soapy Danger (Danzig), who made his debut in a maiden race at Wolverhampton on 17
Feb. 2006. He was beaten on that occasion, but he made amends at the same track 10 days later. He went on to win four more races that season including the G3 Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot and the G2 Princess of Wales's S. at Newmarket's July Meeting.
Will one of the top 3-year-olds of 2016 be a graduate of the winter all-weather circuit? We are going to have to wait and see, but in the meantime we ought to keep an eye on the maiden races.
One of the more interesting AW races this month has been the 8.5-furlong maiden run at Wolverhampton on Saturday 5 Dec. Run in two floodlit divisions, this race was contested by no fewer than six Godolphin-owned colts, three (one each from the stables of Saeed bin Suroor, Charlie Appleby and John Gosden) in each division.
Best of the Godolphin trio in the first division was the Appleby-trained Boethius (GB), a homebred son of Manduro from the winning Shamardal mare Perfect Note, whose dam Mezzo Soprano (Darshaan (GB) carried the Godolphin silks to victory in the G1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp in 2003. Boethius finished fourth, while unplaced were the Gosden-trained Cachao (GB) (New Approach (Ire)) and bin Suroor's Al Fattan (GB) (Dubawi (GB)). Both come from the same family, descending from Myth To Reality (Fr) (Sadler's Wells), dam of the Group 1 winners Divine Proportions (Kingmambo) and Whipper (Miesque's Son). Al Fattan in particular comes from one of Myth To Reality's better descendants, being a son of the Group 1-placed mare Ocean Silk (Dynaformer).
The Saeed bin Suroor-trained odds-on favourite Town's History (Hard Spun) fared best of the royal blue squad in the second division when finishing third, while the team also ran the Gosden-trained Kalkrand (Ire) (Dubawi (Ire)) and the Appleby-trained Cry Wolf (GB) (Street Cry (Ire)). Kalkrand is a son of the Listed winner Kiltubber, a daughter of Sadler's Wells and the Group 1-winning filly Priory Belle (Ire) (Priolo); while Town's History and Cry Wolf, respectively, descend from the blue hens La Troienne (Fr) and Arctique Royale (Ire).
One would hope that at least one of the Godolphin sextet goes on to live up to his patrician lineage, but the most obvious horses to take from the race are its two winners. The first division went to the Roger Varian-trained Mutawaaly (Ire) (Cape Cross (Ire)), while the second division was won by the Ed Dunlop-trained Red Verdon (Lemon Drop Kid).
The former, a Shadwell homebred, is a son of the winning mare Sana Abel (Ire) (Alhaarth (Ire)), whose dam Midway Lady (Alleged) won both the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks in 1986 before producing 2005 Oaks winner Eswarah (GB) (Unfuwain); while the latter comes from the immediate family of River Verdon (Ire) (Be My Native), who ranks as arguably the best horse trained in Hong Kong in the 1990s.
Red Verdon is owned by Hong Kong-based Ronald Arculli, who formerly raced three-time HK Horse of the Year River Verdon, and whose light blue and red colours have been carried in recent years by the hugely popular triple Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux (GB) (Cadeaux Genereux (GB). A poignant touch to this result was that Red Verdon broke his maiden merely two weeks after Red Cadeaux had been euthanized consequent to his breakdown in the Melbourne Cup.
Whether Red Verdon, Mutawaaly or any other midwinter juvenile maiden winner goes on to Group 1 glory next summer remains to be seen. But, as Jack Hobbs has reminded us over the past 12 months, it might happen, and the race results deserve our attention even at this supposedly quiet time of year. Racing, like rust, never sleeps.