Wolverhampton Racecourse racegoer and blogger, Luke Archer, takes a look ahead to the 2015-16 All-Weather Championships season and picks out a few ‘ones to watch’.
This may appear to be a strange choice off the back of a poor performance in the Park Hill Stakes at the Doncaster St Leger Festival, despite starting as joint favourite, but I feel that Hidden Gold has an abundance of ability. In what is a running theme, the filly is owned by Godolphin but is on this occasion trained by Saeed Bin Suroor. Another horse which won on its debut, Hidden Gold then had mixed results on turf before enjoying a purple patch on the All-Weather. Three victories in a row saw an increase in distance each time, starting at one mile and four furlongs at Lingfield and climaxing in a two mile win at Wolverhampton (pictured). The filly then finished third in the 32Red All-Weather Marathon Championships Conditions Stakes over around one mile and seven furlongs behind winner Mymatechris and second placed Anglophile, also owned by Godolphin. What makes this result all the more remarkable is that the horse had had a four month break between the win at Wolverhampton and the race on Finals Day, a noteworthy training attempt by Bin Suroor. With placed efforts in Group races at both Goodwood and York prior to the Doncaster disappointment, in addition to a healthy AW record, I am of the opinion that Hidden Gold should be considered over marathon trips once more.
Don’t Be, owned by Mrs Olivia Hoare and trained by Sir Mark Prescott, is another horse with a top notch record on the All-Weather with five wins from eight attempts on the surface. Having started with trainer F H Graffard in France, the horse’s third start for Prescott involved a third placed finish in a seven furlong handicap at Wolverhampton. With this first foray into handicap company completed by the mare, Don’t Be proceeded to win five races on the trot on its favoured AW. Next up was the top class Ladbrokes Lady Wulfruna Stakes again at Wolverhampton Racecourse. Finishing a respectable three length sixth, the mare stayed on late to finish well behind renowned mounts like Sovereign Debt, Al Thakhira and Grey Mirage. This all culminated in a shot at the 32Red Fillies and Mares Conditions Stakes on Finals Day, an intriguing race over the horse’s preferred seven furlong trip. From being held at the back of the field early on, jockey Luke Morris made headway with a furlong left and drove Don’t Be to challenge, going down by just over a neck in the final strides to French trained front-runner Fresles. It was a fantastic effort and I have no doubt that, all being well, Prescott will once again aim the mare at the same race during the next Championships.
Trained by the imperious Charlie Appleby for Godolphin, Hawkbill is a colt with a growing reputation on the All-Weather having won its last three starts. Having been quite well-backed on debut in April at Newbury, Hawkbill failed to live up to expectations and finished ninth of ten. However, every one of its runs since has been on the AW and it is this choice that has proved to be a masterstroke for connections. On its second start, Hawkbill finished third at Kempton and as such came within a length of They Seek Him Here, a colt which has subsequently performed admirably in Group 3 races. The three victories followed, with well-ridden wins in a seven furlong maiden and nursery at Lingfield and Kempton respectively preceding a success on the colt’s first attempt at a mile in a conditions race at Kempton, marking a move into a higher Class 4. I feel that there is plenty more to come from this front-running horse as it continues to rise up the ranks, with possible placements within the 32Red 3-year-old race or Ladbrokes Mile on Finals Day if the progression carries on.
Alben Star is comparatively older than the other horses on this list but remains a force of nature. Trained by the gifted Richard Fahey and owned by Mr J K Shannon and Mr M A Scaife, this gelding has had thirty-six runs in its career over a combination of turf and All-Weather races. Despite having only won seven times, the vast majority of those wins have come in high class contests and this horse is always there or thereabouts. With four runs on the All-Weather in 2015, the gelding’s first two efforts when finishing at the back of the field could well be put down to rustiness after a four month break. What came after that was two strong second place finishes in an All-Weather Champs Fast-Track Qualifier and then the Unibet All-Weather Sprint Championships Conditions Stakes on Finals Day, both behind Pretend. This tough and honest performer is worth following over the All-Weather season and I trust that Fahey will find the right challenges for Alben Star during the coming term.
A Cape Cross colt representing wise trainer Roger Varian and owner Mr A D Spence, Mindurownbusiness has been a mainstay in high class All-Weather mile races over the past couple of years and All-Weather Championship fans will recall this horse. Holding an overall record of five wins from twelve starts, this debutant winner has climbed the classes slowly but surely. With varied results in 2014, it was 2015 when the colt really came into its own. Starting as favourite on its first start this year, Minurownbusiness finished a never nearer second at Lingfield. However, this was a mere precursor to the two monumental Class 2 victories that followed, namely a fiercely contested handicap at Lingfield and the famous Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton. As opposed to taking its place in the Lincoln, Varian decided to place the colt in the Ladbrokes All-Weather Mile Championships Conditions Stakes on Finals Day. Well fancied at 5/1 joint second favourite, an imposing run was expected. This was not the case and, having been held up at the back, Mindurownbusiness made late headway but made no real impression in the final furlong and eventually ended the race in ninth place. That being said, that was only around three lengths off the winner Grey Mirage and the fact that the colt has yet to see a racecourse since could suggest that connections are wrapping Mindurownbusiness up in cotton wool with a view to challenging in the Championships again.
Once again Godolphin owned and Charlie Appleby trained, Blue Aegean is a horse that All-Weather Champs followers will again remember from last year. A horse with three wins in total, two of them on the All-Weather, the filly always gives punters a run for their money. This was certainly the case in the Unibet 3-year-old Sprint on 2015 Finals Day. James Doyle set out to steal the race from the front aboard Blue Aegean herself, setting a strong pace from the beginning and looking to have everything sewn up with a furlong left to travel. Nevertheless, it was not to be as Lightscameraction got up late under a well-judged ride by Luke Morris for trainer Gay Kelleway to take the spoils by a neck. It was a gutsy performance by Appleby’s charge and I am firmly convinced that the filly will challenge in top class AW races again this time round. Albeit mostly a five furlong specialist, Blue Aegean has raced over a furlong further and connections may well take their chances in the other Unibet sponsored sprint on Finals Day over that distance.
Crazy Chic is a four-year-old son of Exceed And Excel owned by Scuderia Vittadini SRL and trained by the shrewd Marco Botti. Having won at Doncaster over six furlongs on debut, rather unexpectedly going by the price of 10/1, the gelding soon came into its own on the All-Weather. With a second start over the same distance at Kempton, a fast-finishing third place finish suggested that stepping up a furlong would be most beneficial. With a number of less eye-catching efforts in between, mainly on turf, it was races at Wolverhampton in April and Kempton this month that appear to have consolidated Crazy Chic’s ideal conditions. Both were successes off big weights at the top of the handicap and having run on with authority, meaning a 100% record over seven furlongs on the AW. I believe that backing this gelding under these circumstances is a no-brainer and moreover that the horse’s running style could well lead to wins over further, at least a mile.
Déjà Vu Horses
I feel that it may also be helpful to mention some of the best performers from Finals Day during the All-Weather Championships last time round.
Trained by Charlie Appleby and owned by Godolphin, Tryster has a fine record of five from five on the AW. The gelding, who’s the son of Shamardal, won the Coral All-Weather Middle Distance Championships Conditions Stakes under a composed William Buick ride, proving to be far too good for its seven opponents. After finishing comfortably last of five at Sandown on the gelding’s only race since then, I strongly suggest watching Tryster once returned to the All-Weather and I reckon this horse will take all the beating if lining up in the Coral-backed middle distance race this year as well.
With only eight of Grey Mirage’s twenty-eight runs coming on turf, the Oasis Dream gelding is very much an All-Weather specialist. Owned by Mr Guiliano Manfredini and trained by Marco Botti, this horse has a real liking for Lingfield Park with half of its eight wins taking place at the track. One of these was in the Ladbrokes Mile where Ryan Moore orchestrated a perfectly-timed ride, held up in touch before forging on in the final furlong and ridden to lead in the dying strides. It was an epic triumph in such a competitive race with several pace angles and this gelding is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on, particularly at its favourite racecourse.
Another Appleby trained/Godolphin owned gelding with a commanding All-Weather Profile is Pretend, winner of the aforementioned Unibet Sprint Stakes over six furlongs. Capable over a number of distances having won over five, six and seven furlongs, connections certainly have an exciting as well as versatile horse on their hands. Always well positioned behind the leaders on Finals Day, Pretend burst through to lead inside the final furlong and ran on well with the help of another enterprising Buick ride. Similar to Tryster, a below par performance on turf came next but I deem that Pretend will come into its own back on the AW and will certainly not give up the Unibet Sprint crown without a fight.
With four of the ten horses mentioned above being trained by Charlie Appleby, it is probably not a surprise that I consider him to be a trainer to follow for the duration of the All-Weather Championships. Nonetheless, the stats back it up as he topped the trainers’ league table last term with 76 winners, over thirty more than the trainer in second place. Appleby has a large array of horses at his disposal and seems to actively use the AW season to keep them ticking over for the winter, as well as bringing out his All-Weather juggernauts like Pretend and Tryster.
David Evans is an astute trainer, well-known for taking on horses unwanted by others and getting wins out of them before selling them on again. This is not necessarily fully the case these days as Evans has begun to enjoy more and more success with charges starting in his own stable. Finishing with 23 winners as part of the last Championships, I expect David to at least replicate this and I would be surprised if he does not surpass that number.
Mark Johnston had a relatively tough season overall last year, including only 15 winners during the All-Weather Championships. Since then, there has been a revival is his fortunes and in turn I anticipate a figure to meet his exacting standards this time round. With a vast stable, a willingness to get the most out of his horses and some wily jockeys working for him, I am confident that Johnston is one to watch.
Second place in the trainers’ league table was Michael Appleby, not a relation of Charlie for any of those wondering. 45 winners represented an incredible return for Michael, quickly becoming an expert at transforming the prosperities of horses judged to be on the decline or at times down and out. Appleby enthusiastically uses the All-Weather, appearing to be a big fan of Southwell, and I advise readers to carefully track his movements.
Others to watch: Richard Fahey, John Gosden and Marco Botti
As the leading jockey on the All-Weather last year, Luke Morris needs no introduction. One of the hardest working jocks on the circuit, Morris is definitely from the ‘have saddle, will travel’ mould. With well-maintained links to numerous trainers and 102 winners in the previous Championships, Luke is always a safe bet to give you a run for your money.
Adam Kirby finished second to Morris last time, ending the All-Weather Championships with an impressive 94 winners. Also renowned for his work ethic and various strong relationships with differing trainers, Kirby is well used by the Godolphin trainers through the winter months on the All-Weather and it is these associations which are unquestionably worth following.
Joe Fanning is a vastly experienced jockey and is inextricably linked to Mark Johnston. Ending the Championships with the third highest amount of winners on 42, Fanning is a cunning and adaptable rider, able to adjust his riding style to suit the race at hand. His is highly skilled on front-running horses and so it is worthwhile studying the preferred technique of the horses he is riding.
Perhaps more of a left field choice is Graham Gibbons, once again a perceptive and incisive jockey. Having watched him ride at Wolverhampton recently, I believe Gibbons is at the top of his game right now, especially on the All-Weather. With a knack for big-priced winners, he is without doubt well worth watching.
Others to watch: George Baker, Tony Hamilton and Freddie Tylicki
Up & Coming Jockeys
Very much the young jockey on everyone’s lips is Tom Marquand who is revelling in an enormously emergent reputation in the weighing room. As apprentice to Richard Hannon, Marquand gets plenty of chances to ride top quality horses. Beyond this, it is clear that he is willing to accept all mounts in order to improve his ability and this exuberance will no doubt see him go a long way in this game.
Kevin Stott is a very talented claimer, already showcasing copious diverse styles of riding and a mature aptitude to interchange between them to fit each contest. Stott is another jockey often employed by Charlie Appleby and Saeed Bin Suroor for Godolphin, particularly on the AW, and I was incredibly taken by his recent ride on Newmarch for Appleby on the Tapeta at Wolverhampton. He is undeniably one to follow.
Sammy Jo Bell
Sammy Jo Bell has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past few months, winning a number of races and gaining plaudits for her determination and timing. Having been instrumental in the winning girls’ team at the Shergar Cup meeting, with two winning rides to take home the Silver Saddle, the sky really is the limit for Sammy Jo. Her affiliation with Richard Fahey could well prove to be unstoppable this season.
Rob Horny is developing into a hard-working jockey in the mould of All-Weather favourite Luke Morris. Closely allied with the intelligent Andrew Balding, Hornby has taken the opportunity to ride for a variety of different trainers in order to hone his capabilities. There is no question in my mind that he will continue to develop and his attitude is commendable.
Others to watch: Shelley Birkett, Joey Haynes and Ciaran McKee
Well clear on 98 winners at the top of the owners’ league table, over six times their nearest competitor, Godolphin are by far and away the ones to watch throughout the All-Weather Championships. With three winners, two seconds and one third in the five races they competed in on Finals Day last time, Godolphin’s domination is clear for all to see.
Doctor Marwan Koukash is a well-known figure in sporting circles and he is a keen advocate of horse racing. After finishing third in the league table last year on 11 winners and with what seems to be a never-ending list of owned horses, chances are Koukash will exceed this number and you simply cannot avoid his trademark colours.
Qatar Racing Limited
Qatar Racing Limited are a force to be reckoned with in racing nowadays, growing in stature and name with every big meeting that passes. As owners that have horses spread across numerous assorted trainers, I judge that they, despite a mere 7 winners during the previous All-Weather Championships, are the potential rivals to Godolphin.
Others to watch: Saeed Manana, Hamdan Al Maktoum and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum
Author: Luke Archer (firstname.lastname@example.org)