Thursday, June 23, 2016
For 20 years now we've been praising Frankie Dettori for his mastery of Ascot and he was brilliant once again aboard Galileo Gold in the St James's Palace Stakes. What we also saw is how enormously important the opening moments of a contest can be.
The race worked out perfectly for Frankie. Straightaway he had a pacemaker to follow, while, equally relevant was that the horses who set off directly behind him were not his major rivals, The Gurkha or Awtaad.
Generally if a jockey gives a horse a wonderful ride it follows that other jockeys are going to suffer, but not necessarily because they've given their horses bad rides. Aboard Al Shaqab's 2,000 Guineas winner Frankie nicked a couple of lengths at a vital time. There was nothing Ryan Moore on The Gurkha or Chris Hayes on Awtaad could do about that.
What Ryan will have been cursing about is those who were directly behind Frankie in the early stages did not chase him harder or take him on. By not doing so Frankie was allowed to ride his own race unhassled.
Personally, I don't think Ryan was in any way to blame. Nor do I think he was guilty of doing anything wrong in the Derby when US Army Ranger, like The Gurkha, delivered a strong challenge from off the pace. Crucially, both colts were slow to start, something that often isn't given sufficient weight in post-race analysis.
If your horse is slow out of the stalls then, as a jockey, you're immediately in the worst position. Some jockeys can be a hindrance to a horse in the stalls. By pulling on the mouth when the gates are opening you can cause your mount to be slowly away. However, although you can make a horse miss the kick you can't really make a horse start any faster. When they jump they jump. The jockey merely goes with them.
When a horse is slow to go a rider can decide to "yahoo" the horse into a better position but there are consequences of doing that, in that the horse can be buzzed up and will subsequently race too keenly. Conversely, when you jump quickly you instantly land travelling.
It's important to stress the extent to which race riding is about conserving as much fuel as you can and allowing your horse to race as smoothly as possible. You can't just turn a horse on and off. Once a jockey has caused a horse's heart rate to soar, it's generally not possible to bring it back down again. Once high it stays high, which means the horse is inevitably likely to get tired and finish a race weakly.
In terms of this week's St James's Palace there was also an Ascot factor to consider.
A race on Ascot's round mile is very unlike a race on the straight mile. Nobody wants to end up three wide on the climb to the home bend. In the first 100 yards of a round mile race the best positions are taken by the horses who have jumped quickest. Everyone else has to take the positions that have been left.
After his slow start Ryan could have decided to rush his mount up on the wide outside and then raced deep on the track. Ryan knows not many horses win doing that. I can't necessarily explain why jockeys never like to be out on a wing when running up the hill away from Swinley Bottom - but they don't.
For some reason from that slot you're always on the back foot. That's why Ryan will have chosen to sit where he did. There is no better jockey in the world than Ryan Moore but there is sometimes only so much even the best jockeys can do.
Lady Aurelia had the wow factor
It has been a funny Royal Ascot as a result of the ground. That said, I'm surprised fields have not been finishing more strung out given the conditions - although in the Queen Mary Stakes, thanks to the incredible Lady Aurelia, they seemed to finish spread out across the entire straight course.
I couldn't believe my eyes watching Wesley Ward's filly. When Frankie got after her two furlongs from home I thought she was going to empty but instead she took off. It was an amazing thing to see.
Visually her performance was incredible and it was backed up by the evidence of the clock. There was no chance Lady Aurelia - who, like all Wesley's horses, also behaves impeccably in the preliminaries - could break a track record in that sort of ground. However, the fact her time was so fast relative to the other horses in the race, and to the horses who raced over the course and distance the previous day, was exceptional, particularly as she did it on her own.
By that I mean she made the running and was out on her own throughout the contest. Normally when a horse posts a stunning time he or she is helped by the leaders setting strong fractions. This time Lady Aurelia set those early strong fractions herself and was still able to quicken off them. She was as impressive as Canford Cliffs had been when I won the Coventry Stakes on him - I can pay her no greater compliment!
I honestly don't know how year in, year out, Wesley does it - but I wish I did know!
Delighted for Kirby and Cox
Adam is one of the weighing room's good guys. He says it how it is, he doesn't talk rubbish and everyone likes him. He is also a very good jockey. He hates it when people call him an all-weather rider and I can understand why. Adam grafts all winter. He does it because he is a hard-worker and if he didn't do it he would get too heavy.
It was obviously an emotional week for Adam, partly because he was thinking about his late father but also because his partner Megan gave birth to their first child a few hours before the King's Stand. I would just say, though, that knowing he had become a father was never likely to negatively impact on his own performance - when you're riding at Royal Ascot nothing distracts you.
As a trainer-jockey combo Clive and Adam are a top team. Clive has always been very friendly and helpful to me since I set up as a trainer in Lambourn. He is a hard-worker who is being rewarded for all that hard work. At the same time, he gave Lambourn a great couple of days.
In fact, it has been a better meeting for Lambourn than Japan. A Shin Hikari went into the Prince of Wales's Stakes as the best horse in the world but seemed to crumble. I said in last week's column that at Ascot it's particularly hard to get the fractions right when you're making the running. The horse raced freely and did too much in the lead but that alone doesn't explain his performance. He cannot have run his race.
Hands up about Tepin
There's no getting away from the fact I was very wrong about Tepin.
I didn't fancy her at all, and I made that point in no uncertain terms seven days ago, However, I'm not afraid to say what I think, even knowing there are bound to be times when what I think turns out to be incorrect.
Huge congratulations are due to Mark Casse and Julien Leparoux. Ascot is a tough track to get right so Julien deserves real praise for handling it so well on his first experience of race-riding in Europe.
It seems to me Tepin must love soft ground. She won the Breeders' Cup Mile on an easy surface and you can't win a race of that nature if you're not comfortable in the conditions.
When we get to this year's Breeders' Cup we might well see a clash between Tepin and the Duke of Cambridge Stakes winner Usherette. Andre Fabre thinks Usherette would come out on top and I would be inclined to agree. Andre is a man of few words so when he says a filly is one of the best he has trained you have to take note.
To my eyes Usherette was brilliant. I would also have to say Tepin's Queen Anne Stakes wasn't the hottest running of the race there has ever been. If Tepin faces Usherette at Santa Anita she could well find herself against a nut that is too tough to crack.
Talbot a winner at last
Castle Talbot was my first runner as a trainer when he represented us at Epsom last September. He had become something of an enigma and was having his tenth start for the stable at Brighton on Tuesday when finally, at long last, he became a winner.
That first race for us was over an extended mile. In mid-December we were running him over 1m4f and at Wolverhampton in January he was tried over two miles. The fact his Brighton success came over 7f shows how much of a puzzle we have found him to be.
I thought he would have won long before now but he is certainly quirky and not the easiest ride. If he's in front, a child could hold him. If he's in behind, four jockeys couldn't hold him. Fortunately, Shane Kelly was brilliant on him on Tuesday.
I was especially pleased for Castle Talbot's owner Gerry Dolan, who has shown commendable faith in the horse and stuck with him. He backed him as well - based on his own form assessment and nothing I said - so I was doubly pleased for him.