Wednesday, June 30, 2010

French Fantastique

(1 Mile -Sunday, July 4 at Chantilly)

1 SIYOUNI   Lemaire C

2 SORMIOU   Roussel L

3 XTENSION   Kirby A
4 LOPE DE VEGA   Guyon M 
5 FROZEN POWER   Dettori L 


7 HEARTS OF FIRE   Fortune J

8 JOANNA   No Rider

All eyes will be on the new French superstar, Lope De Vega, who has thoroughly impressed with wins in the Poule D'Essai Des Poulains and the Prix Du Jockey Club in his last two starts.  A third consecutive Group 1 win is the expectation and would make the Andre Fabre trainee the biggest thing in France short of the fantastic mare, Goldikova.  It will not be an easy task though, as he drops back down in distance from 1 5/16 and faces some of the toughest sophomore milers in Europe.  Chief among his potential vanquishers will be Dick Turpin and Hearts of Fire.  Dick Turpin has been a model of consistency with three straight 2nd place finishes in Group 1 miles in Europe, including a 1/2 length loss to the choice in the Poule D'Essai Des Poulains.  He is coming off a strong 2nd in the St. James's Palace to Canford Cliffs, and could capitalize by any slip up by Lope De Vega.  Speaking of the St. James's Palace, it was Hearts of Fire who many felt would have faired better than his 3rd place finish with any racing luck.  The belief is that his one bad showing in the English 2000 Guineas was not the real Hearts of Fire, making him a real threat on Sunday.  I like the Godolphin entry of Frozen Power, by way of Dubai and Germany, as the next biggest threat, although both Xtension and Siyouni have been close to the best of their generation in recent tries.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Espoir City is Coming to America

Who is Espoir City? If you follow Japanese racing at all, you know he is their reigning champion on dirt. The five-year-old son of Gold Allure by Sunday Silence, out of Eminent City, by Brian’s Time, might be best known in American circles as the easy winner of last year’s Japan Cup Dirt, a race that was to be entered by Summer Bird before being injured while training in Japan. Trained by Akio Adachi for owner Yushun Horse, Espoir City returned in February to win the Grade 1 and aptly named February Stakes, the first grade 1 of the year in Japan, in similarly convincing style. He has now won nine of his eleven starts on the dirt, and most impressively is riding a six race win streak, all coming in graded stakes in Japan.

Why is he coming to America? For the Breeders’ Cup Classic of course. Adding to the intrigue of the November 6 race at Churchill Downs that may be coming up absolutely huge. If he is to find success in the Classic, he would become the first Japanese trained horse ever to win a Breeders’ Cup race. The prospect of facing American horses like Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Quality Road, Blame, Rail Trip, and Lookin at Lucky seems quite daunting, but his connections feel he is better than ever, and plan on spending the $200,000 supplemental fee to enter. Do not take him too lightly America, Espoir City may be the best horse that Japan has ever sent.

Espoir City is currently enjoying some time off before an expected return in the Grade 1 Nanbu Hai in October. A race that Espoir City won impressively last Fall. Here is a look at his stroll to victory in the Japan Cup Dirt…

Photo Courtesy of Kate Hunter

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Great Racing at Royal Ascot

The great Goldikova holds off Paco Boy by a neck ...

Goldikova is further flattered by a big win by Byword in the Prince of Wales's.

And Canford Cliffs claims his spot as the best three-year-old miler in the world ...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Goldikova to be Crowned the Queen of Royal Ascot!

by Ciarán De Barra

Royal Ascot gets underway tomorrow and the meeting starts as it means to go on with an absolutely mouth-watering clash of older milers in the Queen Anne Stakes. Goldikova is slightly favoured in the betting to build on her record-breaking Prix D’Ispahan win and take full honours here. It will be no cake walk however, as she finds herself up against Sussex Stakes and QE II victor; Rip Van Winkle and last year’s Queen Anne Stakes winner; Paco Boy.

Paco Boy has been ultra impressive so far this season with smooth successes in the Bet 365 Mile and the Lockinge Stakes. He was propelled to favouritism for this race following his easy score in the Group 1 Lockinge but as the market has taken some money and after Goldikova’s Prix D’Ispahan win, he now finds himself third favourite behind the superstar mare and the top three year old miler of 2009, Rip Van Winkle. The latter rival was last seen when failing to perform in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was however on the early pace that day and none of those on the early fractions figured at the business end in the Classic. He is a quality miler and if he shows up at full fitness he is not to be dismissed.

Goldikova and Sea the Stars were my two favourite racehorses of the 2009 season and I find it really difficult to see anything beating the star mare. She is a steely mare with so much speed and gameness. I expect another exemplary performance from her tomorrow and moreover fully expect her to record a third BC mile success this Fall. Rip Van Winkle was also a favourite of mine last year but I can not see him getting the better of the dual BC Mile winner. The straight mile at Ascot isn’t too dissimilar from the mile at Deauville where she has put in some of her best performances and I expect another thrilling performance from the mare that I think is the best miler in the world; Goldikova!

Moving on to the Classic crop of milers, the St James’ Palace Stakes later in the card is another thrilling race on Day 1 of the Royal meeting. Here, the first three home from the Newmarket 2000 Guineas re-oppose, as well as some interesting challengers in the shape of Siyouni, Steinbeck, Beethoven and the American invader Noble’s Promise. Canford Cliffs provided the most explosive mile performance by a three year old in Europe yet this season when he blew away his opposition in the Irish 2000 Guineas. Apparently, Steinbeck was a fast finishing fourth in that race but no matter how many times I watch it back I can’t take my eyes off Canford Cliffs for long enough in order to spot him.

I think this race will revolve around the market principles; Makfi, Canford Cliffs and possibly Siyouni. Olivier Peslier has picked up the ride on Makfi, as Christophe Lemaire has been retained by the Aga Khan to ride Siyouni; a horse who finished ahead of Lope De Vega on the pair’s seasonal reappearance and who didn’t run his race in the French Guineas. I think it could be a really good day for Peslier with Goldikova and Makfi to look forward to. As impressive as Canford Cliffs was at the Curragh, I find it very difficult to oppose an undefeated Guineas winner. Driving down to the Curragh for the Irish Guineas, I was looking forward to a good race from Canford Cliffs and co. but was a little disappointed that the best three year old miler wouldn’t be present and I won’t alter my stance on that until the results say I have to! We haven’t seen Makfi asked yet and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do if Peslier has to pull out all the stops with him!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Epsom and French Derby Superstars

by Ciarán De Barra

WOW!! That was all I could say after Workforce’s demolition job at Epsom on Saturday. In fact, I don’t think I said much at all after his performance. And how else should I have reacted? That was the fastest derby I’d ever seen; it was the fastest derby anyone has seen! Workforce went off at 6/1; third favoured in the betting behind Ballydoyle’s 9/4 favourite Jan Vermeer and Godolphin’s Rewilding who went off at 9/2 in the betting. The early fractions were set by the Ballydoyle pacemaker; At First Sight and he went off at an even gallop from the start. He steadily wound up the pace into a really good gallop and coming around Tattenham corner, the 100-1 Aidan O Brien chance looked like he might wire the highly talented field. With three furlongs left he was six lengths ahead, as Workforce led the challenge to catch him.

Workforce was really motoring but could he catch the pacemaker...with one and a half furlongs left he reached him, went by with ease and powered home to win by seven lengths and provided jockey Ryan Moore with his first Derby win. It was a sublime performance, twelve furlongs covered in 2 minutes 31.33 seconds on ground rated as good to firm. At First Sight was best of the rest in second, Rewilding was half a length behind in third with the favourite Jan Vermeer a further four lengths behind in fourth. It was a hell of a race, fast and ferocious!

The winner could not have been more impressive. The race panned out to suit him and he had a very real target to pick off in front after being tucked in at the back of the main group for most of the race. One race does not make a superstar and things could not have fallen any better for him on the day.  He could not have been more impressive. I’ve said that already but it’s worth saying twice. Though everything fell for him on the day, there were other horses out there whom the pace would have suited too, amongst them Jan Vermeer. The favourite did however lose two shoes during the race but it would not have altered the result in my opinion; it’s also worth noting he lost one shoe in his impressive Gallinule Stakes win at the Curragh last month. Plans aren’t apparent yet for the awe inspiring Workforce but it is highly likely his next port of call will be the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot next month.

The following day to my surprise and delight, I saw an equally impressive display from the French Guineas winner Lope De Vega, as he absolutely blitzed the field in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly. Connections of this son of Shamardal were apparently worried about him getting the ten and a half furlong trip but you wouldn’t have noticed as he was ridden aggressively on the heels of the pacemaker throughout. Two furlongs from home he quickened up, to take up the running from Vivre Libre and he had put the race to bed in the next few strides. Eased in the final fifty yards his winning distance was three lengths to Planteur, with Pain Perdu three quarters of a length further back.

Now, European media have fallen into a nasty trap of comparing every three year old that notches up a good performance with Sea the Stars,which is just plain unfortunate for this year’s crop. I have been asked this week whether Workforce’s record breaking derby means he is better than Sea the Stars. The answer is a plain and simple no.

I have to say though, that of the two derbies I watched last weekend, Lope De Vega’s was more reminiscent of Sea the Stars, his early pace when breaking from the stalls and the sheer abundance of pace when asked to go by his rider Maxime Guyon at the business end of things. An utter joy to watch and a very exciting horse who will be campaigned from a mile to ten furlongs, most likely. The Prix Jacques Le Marois in August, over a mile, has been mentioned by connections as the next target for Lope De Vega and he will probably have his hands full in that one with so many older milers still knocking about! He is likely to stay in training next season too, which means there will be plenty of time for this beautiful chestnut colt to add to his already impressive CV. It was a great weekend of action and performances like these that leave you feeling like you’ve just seen something a little bit special is what the sport of kings is all about!