Ben Linfoot: David versus Goliath
In the first of a new weekly series, Ben Linfoot reflects on Champions Day and speaks to David Menuisier about his maiden G1 attempt.
Almanzor: Another G1 success in a stellar season for Jean-Claude Rouget
Fitting winners on Champions Day
It says something about Aidan O'Brien's staggering dominance this season that just the one victory on QIPCO British Champions Day could be viewed as a relative disappointment, even when that win was in one of its crown jewels, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Minding was sensational in that contest, but only after O'Brien had suffered unexpected defeats in both the Long Distance Cup and the Fillies & Mares. Order Of St George (4/6 favourite) was caught out by a moderate gallop in a tactical race, while Seventh Heaven (5/4 favourite) encountered traffic problems after being switched inside from a wide draw.
Mind you, she would've had to have run right up to her Yorkshire Oaks best to have given the emphatic winner Journey a race.
Such defeats, though, are a reminder of just how tough it is to win any Group One. And O'Brien has now won 22 at the top level in 2016, that number including 'his' Cheltenham Festival winner Ivanovich Gorbatov, and his Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes winner, Deauville, as he closes in on Bobby Frankel's all-time record of 25 Grade One winners in a calendar year.
Those few foreign raids aside, it's in Europe where O'Brien has dominated. Of the 78 Group One races run in Europe so far this year, out of 85, O'Brien has won 20. Over 25 per cent. Phenomenal numbers. And number 20, or 22 if we're counting worldwide and Cheltenham wins, was one of his very best.
We knew Minding was a top-class miler, her three-and-a-half length win in the 1000 Guineas confirmed that, but to win the seventh Group One of her career, over a mile, at the end of her three-year-old season, following top-level successes over 10 and 12 furlongs, against the colts, colts that had won five Group One races between them, including a thriving Ribchester, was pretty remarkable.
So on this day of all days, Champions Day, it was fitting. Fitting that Minding got to strut her stuff. Fitting that O'Brien collected yet another Group One trophy. Fitting that Ryan Moore, remarkably, rode his first Champions Day winner. And, while we're at it, it was fitting that a certain Jean-Claude Rouget denied the Ballydoyle maestro his first ever Champion Stakes win.
As, while no trainer in Europe can compete with O'Brien's incredible Group One winning tally this year, Rouget is out on his own in a clear second.
Based in Domaine de Sers in Pau, Chantilly, Rouget has been training since 1978, but never in his 38 years in the profession has he had a season like this one. La Cressonniere, Jemayel, Zelzal and Qemah have won six Group Ones between them, taking his total top-level 2016 tally to nine thanks to the exploits of stable star Almanzor.
The surprise Prix du Jockey Club winner was sent off at 20/1 at Chantilly prior to his breakthrough success, but he's emphatically proven it was no fluke subsequently. A Group Two win at Deauville in August set him up for a crack at the Irish Champion, and, the rest is history.
He was brilliant at Leopardstown when beating Found, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, cosily, and he was arguably even more impressive at Ascot when getting the better of the same rival. Found is tough and classy and at the top of her game, but she's been no match for Almanzor twice in the last two months.
Perhaps Found is better over a mile-and-a-half, a distance Almanzor is yet to encounter. He's likely to try it, in time, perhaps in next year's Arc, where you can bet O'Brien will be well represented a year on from his delicious un-deux-trois. Hopefully Found will be given the chance to retain her title.
That's all for next year. Who knows if O'Brien and Rouget will be able to dominate in a similar vein? But in 2016 they certainly have dominated, winning 29 of the 78 European Group Ones between themselves, a combined effort of 37 per cent. Their successes with Minding and Almanzor, on Champions Day, were apt indeed.
"To win the seventh Group One of her career, at the end of her 3YO season, following top-level successes over 10 and 12 furlongs, against the colts, colts that had won five Group One races between them, was pretty remarkable."
Minding oozes class in QEII
Persario the champion dam
It's doubtful any dam will ever match the exploits of Kind at Champions Day.
Three successes at the meeting for the Juddmonte Farms mare hardly does it justice when, you know, two of those wins were achieved by the greatest racehorse ever to grace the turf. Frankel's QEII and Frankel's Champion Stakes victories will forever be iconic, while full-brother Noble Mission even managed to step out of those considerable shadows, fleetingly, when battling to his own success in the big one two years after his sibling's emotional farewell.
But there is another dam that has produced two individual Champions Day winners now, as The Tin Man's success in the Champions Sprint on Saturday followed on from his half-brother Deacon Blues' victory in the same contest five years ago.
Persario is the mare in question and, like her sons Deacon Blues and The Tin Man, she was also trained by James Fanshawe.
A good if unremarkable racehorse, Persario won twice from nine starts, on the turf at Southwell when they still raced on the turf at Southwell, and on the turf at Kempton when they still raced on the turf at Kempton. That latter win came in a handicap off a mark of 78 and she retired to the paddocks an 86-rated filly.
While her bloodstock credentials were inauspicious, going by the evidence of her racing career at least, it became clear she had plenty to offer in the breeding game when her first offspring, Deacon Blues, won seven times from 16 starts including the inaugural Champion Sprint.
All five of her offspring have won races, from dual Newmarket winner Holley Shiftwell, to three-time Lingfield winner If So, to Charlie Hills' recent two-year-old Kempton winner Hilario, and to of course The Tin Man, another Champion Sprinter.
There's more to come, too. She had a colt foal by Poet's Voice this year, a stallion that advertised his credentials on Future Champions Day when Andrew Balding's Poet's Vanity ran out an impressive winner of the Oh So Sharp Stakes. There's a yearling full-sister to Hilario out there, as well.
But the really exciting one is still in the gestation period. Persario visited the mighty Muhaarar, the best of all the Champion Sprinters since the inception of Champions Day, earlier this year, so the subsequent offspring will definitely be one to look out for in a couple of years' time.
By a Champion Sprinter, out of a dam that has produced two Champion Sprinters. There's plenty to live up to there, but, judging by the success of Persario's progeny so far, he or she will have every chance of delivering on the promise that is there for all to see on paper.
"There is another dam that has produced two individual Champions Day winners now, as The Tin Man's success in the Champions Sprint on Saturday followed on from his half-brother Deacon Blues' victory in the same contest five years ago."
Persario is a Champion dam
David versus Goliath
This weekend it's the final Group One of the British Flat season, the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, and while Aidan O'Brien could be multi-handed in his pursuit of a 23rd top-level success this year, one man is aiming for the first Group One of his career.
Step forward David Menuisier, a French-born trainer plying his trade in Pulborough, West Sussex, 10 miles north of the home of his former employer, John Dunlop. Menuisier was the last assistant to Dunlop in the twilight of his training career at Castle Stables, having already worked under Criquette Head-Maarek in Chantilly and US Hall of Famer Richard Mandella in California.
The pedigree is clearly there within Menuisier and that grounding, combined with a bit of time and a bit of patience, is suddenly paying dividends.
His Coombelands Racing Stable has sent out nine winners from 35 runners since August, an impressive win strike-rate of 26 per cent and a timely boost ahead of his first Group One runner, Contrapposto, who heads to Town Moor on the back of an impressive victory at Nottingham on October 5.
"Things have been going well all year, but I had quite a lot of backward types and things have really picked up in the last few months," says Menuisier.
"Contrapposto is going to Doncaster, hopefully, and he feels great. He's really pleased me since Nottingham and he just keeps on improving.
"Will he be good enough? We don't know. Nobody knows. But you won't know unless you give it a go, so let's give it a go and see.
"It's really exciting. It's exciting for me, it's exciting for the yard, it's exciting for the owner. It's exciting for all the owners in the yard, actually.
"We're a small stable, we've only been going a couple of years. So for all the owners they are quite proud to see a horse from the yard going for a prize like this, it's a massive lift for everyone."
Second in the Convivial Maiden to Rivet at York before his Nottingham win, Contrapposto is a half-brother to a German Group One winner over a mile-and-a-half and, like most Racing Post Trophy horses, is likely to want further next year.
Menuisier could have been double-handed in the Doncaster Group One, but he took out Make Time on Monday as he has a top-level race in France in mind for the son of Makfi.
"I'd like to keep Make Time at seven furlongs for the time being so I've taken him out of the Racing Post Trophy," he says. "He's really well and could go for the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud on October 30."
One of the horses that has contributed to Menuisier's recent healthy strike-rate has been Saunter, a three-year-old who won at Goodwood and Newmarket in August and September before being beaten when favourite at the latter track last time.
That was in a hot race won by Scarlet Dragon, but Menuisier doesn't think the trip beat him that day on his first go at a mile-and-a-half, and we may see him in action again before the season's end.
"I've got my eye on a Listed race in France in November for him. There is a race at Newmarket too, but I think it might suit him better going to France.
"He just didn't stay in that ground last time. If it'd been over 10 furlongs he probably would've won, he ran a great race. I'm not saying he won't stay a mile-and-a-half, it was just that the combination of the ground and trip meant he couldn't quicken.
"He's ultimately backward and is something to look forward to next year."
He's not the only one, you sense. And things could get really exciting if Menuisier announces himself at the top table this weekend with Contrapposto against the might of Ballydoyle.
Like the trainer himself says, you won't know unless you give it a go.