Alex Hammond: Post to deliver
Last weekend we enjoyed arguably the best weekend of Flat racing of the season so far.
The Leger festival didn't disappoint in terms of drama and performances on the track and Ireland's Champions Weekend threw up some top class winners and was pretty unpredictable as well.
Let's start at Doncaster where I was most impressed by the performance of Rivet in Saturday's Champagne Stakes.
Trainer William Haggas seemed a bit glum about the winning performance, but that's probably because the fireworks he expected didn't quite materialise. This could be a good sign as the colt should therefore have more to offer. On the performance we saw he needs to find a bit more to challenge the leading Classic contenders next season, but there's no reason he won't. Despite seeming a bit deflated, Haggas said afterwards he was delighted and that he is definitely going to run again this season, that was only his second outing and the experience will do him the world of good.
The fixture ended with a fairytale story that this racing game is so good at.
Laura Mongan will go down in history as the first woman to train the winner of the St Leger with the stout staying Harbour Law and also becomes only the third female to saddle a Classic winner (just the second officially as Helen Johnson Houghton's 2000 Guineas victory in 1956 was in her husband's name); in case you are wracking your brain for the other it was Pam Sly winning the 1000 Guineas with Speciosa.
It was also a boost for Epsom which has struggled to retain its standing as a leading training centre with the likes of Newmarket, Lambourn and Malton hot spots for the bigger yards with the historic town becoming their poor relation (although not for owners of property in this desirable location). So, before I get into a debate with myself over the reasons for Epsom's decline let's get back to the complexion of Saturday's race, which changed when hot favourite Idaho crashed out, but Harbour Law, a fine looking son of Lawman, was only just engaging top gear at the time of his departure and he galloped on strongly under George Baker to grind the rest into submission.
Mongan is assisted by husband, former jockey Ian Mongan, and operates at a reasonable strike rate with the 20 odd horses she has in her care and this advertisement of her skills should hopefully encourage owners to head back to Epsom to be part of her up and coming career. There are many trainers that 'deserve' more horses and better quality bloodstock, but you get the impression this down to earth duo would be a fun team to be involved with and I hope the win has opened the floodgates for them. I hope they get the opportunity to train Harbour Law next season and would love to see him aimed at the Ascot Gold Cup and he's a horse we can hopefully enjoy for a few more seasons to come.
Champions Weekend kicked off at Leopardstown on Saturday and we were blessed with perhaps the race of the season with the Irish Champion Stakes which had attracted the leading European middle distance superstars.
Trainer Jean-Claude Rouget is all conquering in his native France this season and he took this with his French Derby winner Almanzor after a battle with talented filly Found. Minding wasn't disgraced in third. I fancied dual Derby winner Harzand and initially felt the drop back to a mile and a quarter contributed to his disappointing eighth place.
However, it turns out he got struck into on a hind leg by another runner and came back lame which would definitely explain his lacklustre performance. Whilst I was keen on Harzand I did feel Almanzor was the big danger and whilst the race didn't pan out as I'd hoped, Almanzor certainly stamped his class on what was a world class contest. He's a leading contender for the Arc, but looks more likely to run on British Champions Day at Ascot in the Champion Stakes for which he is 5/2 favourite with Sky Bet; but more on that in a moment.
Also on Saturday positive mention must also be given to Alice Springs who bounced back to form in great style in the Matron Stakes. I'm not sure if she'll turn out again in the Sun Chariot at Newmarket, but she'll be strongly fancied if she does. That may come too soon, so the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot is under consideration for which she was cut into 8/1 with Sky Bet. Aidan O'Brien seemed very keen on a tilt at the Breeders' Cup as he feels conditions will be ideal at Santa Anita; she's 7/2 favourite for the Filly & Mare Turf and 9/2 second favourite for the Mile which was mentioned in the immediate aftermath of her Leopardstown win.
To the Curragh on Sunday and what looked potentially like being an Aidan O'Brien benefit. Sometimes it went right, but didn't all go to plan. It started moderately, but there was still a result for O'Brien to be proud of in the Moyglare Stud Stakes; me not so!
"I really fancied Promise To Be True who is apparently one of Aidan's best juvenile fillies; maybe something will show up. I won't write her off and maybe now is the time to take the 16/1 available with Sky Bet for the Guineas?"
I really fancied Promise To Be True who is apparently one of Aidan's best juvenile fillies, but it wasn't to be for her and maybe something will show up that explained her well beaten fifth placed finish. I won't write her off yet and maybe now is the time to take some of the 16/1 available with Sky Bet for next year's 1000 Guineas?
Ballydoyle were still well represented with Hydrangea and Rhododendron with both fillies running well in second and third. It was won by 25/1 outsider Intricately for a first Group One winner for both winning trainer Joseph O'Brien and 18 year old brother Donnacha. As Sir Anthony McCoy put it when interviewed after Wednesday's Leger Legends Charity race at Doncaster, Joseph is lucky enough to be top class at both his chosen professions so far. At the age of just 23 his old man can start to look over his shoulder because he has taught him well!
Churchill is a horse I flagged up on the blog a few weeks ago and I have already backed him to win the Dewhurst for which he is now incredibly short. For once I have an ante-post voucher to be proud of! The presence of Mehmas in the National Stakes ensured he wasn't long odds on, but he easily put Richard Hannon's smart juvenile in his place with a strong display. He's now Sky Bet's 7/2 favourite for the 2000 Guineas and 10/1 market leader with the same firm for the Derby. My concern now is whether Aidan O'Brien decides to finish him for the season now, or go to the well one more time in (hopefully) the Dewhurst.
We all know what happened with Order of St George in the Irish Leger and whilst it was a shock, I was happy with the result as I'd backed Wicklow Brave in the days running up to the race and my each-way voucher paid dividends. Hats off to Willie Mullins with his first Classic winner and whilst it wasn't quite the fairy story from Doncaster, this man can do little wrong. Top class Flat winners and jumping seem to come alike to the master of Closutton and Frankie was once again brilliant from the front on the 11/1 winner.
So that was the weekend that was with plenty of highs and a few lows. What could possibly surpass such a weekend?
"It's taken me a while to warm to Postponed but his win at York in the International was breathtaking and there is no doubting he is the best around over 10 furlongs to a mile and a half and will be a tough nut to crack at Chantilly."
Well our next world class action comes from Chantilly and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on October 2 which looks as good a renewal as we have seen for many a year. Both Postponed and La Cressonniere are on a collision course and that is brilliant for racing.
I have to admit it's taken me a while to warm to Postponed and I'm not really sure why that is. Perhaps it's the shenanigans surrounding his switch of stables, but whatever, it has now passed. His win at York in the Juddmonte International was breathtaking and there is no doubting he is the best around over 10 furlongs to a mile and a half and will be a tough nut to crack at Chantilly.
Jean-Claude Rouget has super filly La Cressonniere in the race and as a three-year-old filly, she gets lumps of weight off Postponed; 11lbs in fact. Is that enough for the unbeaten French Guineas and Oaks winner to beat the more battle hardened colt? She hasn't run against the boys this season or at this level, so it will be fascinating to see if she can give Postponed a run for his money. This will also be her first run over a mile and a half and against the horse that rightly deserves the tag as 'best middle distance turf horse in the world' I think she may have to concede defeat.
I've already discussed Irish Champions Stakes winner Almanzor who looks more likely to run at Ascot. Why would Jean-Claude Rouget want two of his best horses taking each other on in this when there are other fish to fry? Mind you, if he does come here he'll be a real danger to the favourite if he can prove to be as effective over 12 furlongs, he certainly wasn't stopping at the end of Leopardstown's 10 furlongs. The Japanese trained Makahiki didn't do much wrong when winning the Prix Niel on Arc Trials day, but in beating a race rusty Midterm, he did what was expected and no more. Mind you that was also his first run since May and that will have brought him on.
You'd have to give Found a good chance of making the frame. She's a tough and talented filly who is equally effective over 10-12 furlongs and she has only finished out of the frame once in her 18 starts. Under normal circumstances I'd be very keen on Harzand back over a mile and a half, but with just three weeks between the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc, will he have enough time to get over the minor injury he sustained at the weekend?
It's not particularly original, but it's Postponed for me, especially now his trainer Roger Varian has come out the other side of the dreaded virus that has afflicted his stable for some of the summer, at the time of writing he was enjoying a 32% strike rate in September.
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