Ben Linfoot: Ulysses’ odyssey
Ben Linfoot discusses Ulysses, defends the Flat season and asks whether Irish Cavalier is more Ollie Magern or Cue Card in this week's column.
Ulysses: Bids to win another Breeders' Cup race for the Niarchos family
Niarchos' go for great eight with Ulysses
The Niarchos family have a long and successful history at the Breeders' Cup and their famous pale and dark blue silks could be carried to victory at the World Championships for an eighth time by Ulysses on Saturday night.
It was back in 1987, at Hollywood Park, when Miesque won the first of her two Breeders' Cup Miles under a paint-scraping rail ride from Freddy Head, a manoeuvre that enabled the daughter of Nureyev to scoot past Show Dancer on the way to a five-length success in a course-record time.
That and her subsequent four-length victory at Churchill Downs 12 months later were the only two Breeders' Cup successes multi-billionaire Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos saw in the colours of the racing empire he founded, but, under the guidance of his daughter Maria Niarchos-Gouazé, the operation has flourished whenever BC time has come around.
In 1997, a year after Stavros Niarchos' death, they cheered home Spinning World in the Mile. Five years later it was Domedriver's turn, again in the Mile. And a year after that, Six Perfections won the Mile again, making it a fab five for the Niarchos family in the one race.
They had to wait another 11 years for their sixth BC victory, with Main Sequence gunning down Flintshire to land the 2014 Turf at Santa Anita. They had to wait 80 minutes for their seventh, Karakontie ensuring a sixth success for the operation in the Mile.
Alan Cooper has been the Racing Manager for the Niarchos family since the inception of the Breeders' Cup in 1984 and has seen each victory. Recalling the triumphs of Miesque, he says Stavros Niarchos bought into the Breeders' Cup from a very early stage.
"Going back to the beginning Mr Niarchos was a great believer in the Breeders' Cup from the outset when John Gaines first came up with the concept in the early eighties," he said.
"If we have horses good enough to participate we like to run them and we've been lucky enough to have had plenty of success down the years."
But is Ulysses, a 12-1 chance for the Breeders' Cup Turf on Saturday, good enough?
He has two wins from six starts, a maiden victory that came on his third appearance and the Group Three Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, where he battled to a half-length win over Aidan O'Brien's The Major General.
Beaten in a Group Three won by Chain Of Daisies at Windsor last time, he doesn't have the sort of form you associate with a Breeders' Cup Turf contender. But he has the pedigree, being a Galileo colt out of the Niarchos' Oaks-winning filly Light Shift. And he has the trainer in Sir Michael Stoute, who has won the Turf on four occasions.
"Ulysses is a colt that Sir Michael has held in high regard for a very long time," Cooper said.
"He's very happy with the horse and advocated it was worth Ulysses taking his chance here. He's got a very good record at the Breeders' Cup with six wins so he knows what it takes to win and be competitive at this level.
"Obviously on the bare evidence going into the race he'll have a lot to find. He's only run once at Group One level in the Derby, but remember, his preparation for that was rushed.
"Coming in here in November the colt's had a good time to mature since Goodwood and Windsor and he's done very well. He's progressive. He's fresh. And he's obviously stepping up again and taking on some of the best turf runners in the world.
"But we feel the surface and the track will suit him very well. He's travelled very well and the team are very happy with him. He's in good shape."
So, the vibes are good. And vibes are pretty important when assessing the chance of Ulysses. This impeccably-bred colt has yet to fulfil the potential of his parentage, but he's only had six goes on the track and we haven't got much evidence to go on.
But there was something there when he won his maiden by eight lengths. There was something there when he travelled into the Gordon Stakes like he was going to win by another wide margin. And he even lost little in defeat when pulling six lengths clear of the 110-rated Foundation, giving him 4lb, last time.
The Niarchos family's Breeders' Cup odyssey continues. And in Ulysses they might just have the horse to go to war with in pursuit of their eighth success at the big show.
In defence of the Flat
The Breeders' Cup brings the curtain down on the 2016 Flat season and it can't come quick enough for some folk.
Commercial decisions to retire certain two-year-olds after just one season in training and accusations that the action on the track has failed to excite have taken most of the flak, but the former point isn't an issue and the latter is just plain wrong.
Most good two-year-olds race on at three, but for some horses their precociousness as juveniles and lack of scope for physical improvement means it makes perfect sense for them to retire to the breeding sheds early, if their talent allows such a second career.
Mehmas and The Last Lion are two cases in point this year and both were campaigned aggressively, running 18 times between them, as if this season were their last.
Richard Hannon always said Mehmas was an out-and-out two-year-old, saying as early as July that they would attempt 'to make hay while the sun shines'. He was small and lacked scope, but he was tough and talented and never finished out of the frame in eight starts.
The Last Lion had a remarkable season, winning the first juvenile event of the turf campaign, the Brocklesby, on April 2, before he landed the Group One Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes on his 10th and final career start on September 24.
Trainer Mark Johnston was gushing in his praise for the son of Choisir on the day he was retired, saying 'he will surely go down in history as one of the best and toughest horses I ever trained', and while he was confident The Last Lion would've trained on at three, it would've been tough for him to better that Middle Park success.
Purchased by Godolphin and retired to stand at Darley's Kildangan Stud, they will be hoping The Last Lion has a similar impact to Dark Angel, who also won the Middle Park before retiring after a busy juvenile campaign.
The highest-profile success story from his progeny is Mecca's Angel, which brings us on to this season's highlights, of which there were many. The fastest filly in Europe was brought to a peak brilliantly by Michael Dods in time for her second Nunthorpe, where she smashed up Limato by two lengths.
Either side of that second-place finish Limato won Group Ones by two and three lengths, which just shows you how good Mecca's Angel was on her day. And, wow, August 19 was her day.
While Mecca's Angel shone like a beacon on one particular outing, Minding, another outstanding filly, was a constant source of light throughout the whole year.
The daughter of Galileo ran seven times, all at the top level, winning on five occasions from a mile to a mile-and-a-half and back down to a mile again. She won the Guineas by over three lengths, the Oaks from an improbable position and the QEII on Champions Day against a stellar line up.
That victory helped Aidan O'Brien to his 22nd top-level success of the season in his pursuit of Bobby Frankel's world record of 25, a story that is still to have its final chapter.
And talking of Frankel the man, what about Frankel the sire? The greatest racehorse we've seen was only sent the very best mares but, while he had every chance of making a big impact in the breeding world on paper, these things don't always work out as hoped.
Yet he has started life as a stallion like he did his 2000 Guineas; explosively. His progeny have won 28 races already, he's had 17 individual winners and most of them aren't expected to hit their stride until they are three.
If we imagine his 2000 Guineas as his stallion career, we are only a furlong into the race. But what a start. It will be fascinating to see what happens next.
Then there was Dermot Weld's first Derby win, Hugo Palmer's emergence as a Classic winner, a brilliant Royal Ascot from Tepin to Outback Traveller and everything in between, a Godolphin v Coolmore ding-dong in the Eclipse, Postponed's Juddmonte International, O'Brien's Chantilly one-two-three and Almanzor and Champions Day and all that was great about that. Not to mention the complex high-quality handicaps week in week out.
I enjoyed it, anyway. And I'm already looking forward to next year's Brocklesby.
Cavalier more Magern than Conti?
Before then we have the National Hunt season to keep us warm throughout the winter months and, as a Yorkshireman who had my first taste for the great game at Wetherby, the Charlie Hall meeting always signals the start of the jumps season proper.
Irish Cavalier won the feature race this time around, but the question is will he be more Ollie Magern or Nacarat? More State Of Play or Silviniaco Conti? More Weird Al or Cue Card?
While the Charlie Hall was as good as it got for Ollie Magern, State Of Play and Weird Al in their winning years, the likes of Nacarat, Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card all used it as a springboard to Grade One success later in the same season following their Wetherby victories.
It's easy to crab the form of this year's renewal. Cue Card wasn't anywhere near his best which left the door open for a shock and with Dynaste and Virak also below-par it was left to the 11-year-old Menorah to lay down the challenge.
He's rated 162 and gave the race-fit Irish Cavalier 4lb, so the 159-rated grey was perfectly entitled to beat him by three-quarters-of-a-length without having to improve.
Given a fine ride by Jonathan Moore, Irish Cavalier had a clear view of every fence on the outside, he jumped really well in the main and found himself right in the firing line without too much fuss while most of his rivals toiled late on.
He's still only seven, still relatively unexposed at the trip and there still could be more to come. There will have to be, though, on this evidence. The gut feeling is he's more Magern than a Conti or a Card.