O’Brien ready to rule Flat sea­son once more

Cham­pion trainer set to con­tinue win­ning ways En­able and Cracks­man can re­peat last year’s tri­umphs

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport - Mar­cus Army­tage RAC­ING COR­RE­SPON­DENT

It may have seemed a lit­tle in­con­gru­ous with post-Chel­tenham snow still hang­ing about but the Bri­tish turf Flat sea­son be­gan at Don­caster yes­ter­day – hardly a har­bin­ger of spring this year.

Though the Derby is only 10 weeks away, far from it be­ing quick out of the blocks, the Flat sea­son is a lit­tle like a hi­ber­nat­ing tor­toise which sticks its nose out of its box, sniffs the air and de­cides it will go back to sleep un­til af­ter the Grand Na­tional has been run.

It is the early Clas­sic tri­als at the Craven and Green­ham meet­ings when it re­ally kicks off.

But, with last sea­son’s two star per­form­ers, Cracks­man and En­able, both com­ing back for more, we should all have a spring in our step, not just their trainer, John Gos­den, and jockey, Frankie Det­tori.

Though less ac­com­plished than his sta­ble com­pan­ion, Cracks­man ended the sea­son with a higher rat­ing (130) af­ter his scin­til­lat­ing seven-length vic­tory in the Cham­pion Stakes.

The so-far best son of Frankel is now ex­pected to start off in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp on April 29.

As a rule of thumb, fil­lies gen­er­ally feel the cold a bit more than colts, so En­able (128), which won the Oaks, Ir­ish Oaks, King Ge­orge, York­shire Oaks and Prix de l’Arc de Tri­om­phe last year, is pen­cilled in for a late May/early June start, ei­ther in the Tat­ter­salls Gold Cup at the Cur­ragh or the Coronation Cup at Ep­som.

“His­tory is against us,” said Lord Grimthorpe, rac­ing man­ager to owner Khalid Ab­dul­lah, re­fer­ring to her [En­able’s] de­fence of the Arc, “but it’s not putting any­one off.

“Phys­i­cally and men­tally, she seems in good form and her big three tar­gets will be the King Ge­orge, the Jud­dmonte In­ter­na­tional and the Arc.”

While jump fans are still com­ing to terms with the fact that Chel­tenham was dom­i­nated by two Ir­ish train­ers, Gor­don Elliott and Wil­lie Mullins, Ai­dan O’Brien re­mains out on his own on the Flat both there and in the big races here.

Though for­mer su­per-power Godol­phin be­gan to show green shoots of rechael cov­ery, Char­lie Ap­pleby and Saeed bin Suroor are still some way off block­ing the road to stop O’Brien’s on­ward march.

Last year, O’Brien sent out a record 28 Group One win­ners around the globe, he was cham­pion trainer in Ire­land and Britain, and the horse which broke Bobby Frankel’s record in the Rac­ing Post Tro­phy, Saxon War­rior, went into win­ter quar­ters as the Guineas and Derby favourite.

Clem­mie, the sis­ter of last year’s Guineas-Ir­ish Guineas win­ner Churchill, is favourite for the 1,000 Guineas.

As for keep­ing it at home, Ex­pert Eye looked head and shoul­ders above his con­tem­po­raries when win­ning the Vin­tage Stakes at Good­wood for Sir MiGrey Stoute but he was bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing in the De­whurst af­ter be­com­ing frac­tious in the stalls. He ran no race at all.

Con­nec­tions re­tain the faith, how­ever, and one can as­sume that his trainer did not get to where he is today by hop­ing a stalls prob­lem such as Ex­pert Eye’s will just go away, and he will have had plenty of ex­tra tu­to­ri­als on the sub­ject dur­ing the win­ter.

If there is a North-South di­vide over jumps, there is no such thing on the Flat and the big­gest threat to O’Brien’s an­nex­a­tion of the early Clas­sics could come from Mid­dle­ham, where Mark John­ston trains the colt Elar­qam, a son of his 1,000 Guineas-win­ning filly At­trac­tion, and Karl Burke looks af­ter Lau­rens, the Fil­lies’ Mile win­ner. Elar­qam, an­other colt by Frankel, looked very good win­ning the Tat­ter­salls Stakes at New­mar­ket in Septem­ber and a proven abil­ity to han­dle New­mar­ket is no bad thing.

The same ap­plies to Lau­rens, although her breed­ing sug­gests a mile will be her min­i­mum this year.

“Siy­ouni, her sire, is such an in­flu­ence for speed that, at the mo­ment, the plan is to go for the Guineas,” said Burke yes­ter­day.

“If, in the next month, we feel she wants fur­ther, we’d switch to the Musi­dora but she is not slow. Oth­er­wise, we think the Prix de Diane, the French Oaks, is her race.”

Burke also has the sprint­ers Ha­vana and Un­for­tu­nately in his yard. Ha­vana Grey may find it tough in the early part of the sea­son be­cause he will have to take on his el­ders over five fur­longs but Un­for­tu­nately will be aimed at the Com­mon­wealth Cup at Royal As­cot.

The best race of 2017 was the As­cot Gold Cup in which the pop­u­lar Big Or­ange beat Or­der of St Ge­orge in a thriller. Big Or­ange flew out on Fri­day for the Dubai Gold Cup, a tra­di­tional start­ing point for his year, on World Cup night next Satur­day. But he and Europe’s stay­ers have the boost of the new Weather­bys Hamil­ton Stay­ers Mil­lion to go for this year.

The £1mil­lion bonus is for any horse who can win one of ei­ther the Sa­garo, Or­monde, York­shire Cup or Henry II in

Five things to look out for in 2018 Will Ai­dan O’Brien fi­nally crack the Ken­tucky Derby?

His five at­tempts have failed so far but he has ear­marked Breed­ers’ Cup Ju­ve­nile Turf win­ner Men­delssohn this time. The form of the Del Mar race has worked out and he was a cosy win­ner of a Listed race at Dun­dalk re­cently.

Can Josephine Gor­don ride her first Group One win­ner?

Nick Rust, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the BHA, says he wants a fe­male cham­pion jockey within five years, so Gor­don, who rode 106 win­ners last year, had bet­ter get her skates on. Her next log­i­cal step is a Group One and Royal As­cot win­ner.

Will French race­go­ers bother with the Prix de l’Arc de Tri­om­phe?

There are usu­ally more Bri­tish race­go­ers than French and Brexit will not change that, so it will be in­ter­est­ing to see whether Parisians come out in force to the €140mil­lion Longchamp re­de­vel­op­ment.

Can Archie Wat­son con­tinue his up­ward tra­jec­tory?

Wat­son, 29, trained a stag­ger­ing 56 win­ners last year in his first full sea­son. He has al­ready had 21 this year and the Lam­bourn trainer has had to ex­pand to a sec­ond yard.

Will ‘dark horses’ jus­tify billing?

The of­fi­cial hand­i­cap­pers, who are paid a liv­ing to rate horses, have re­vealed their ‘dark horses’ for the sea­son. So, watch out for: With­out Pa­role, High Gar­den, Wil­lie John, Key Vic­tory, Con­tin­gent, Woot­ton and Amedeo Modigliani.

May be­fore land­ing the Gold Cup, Good­wood Cup and Lons­dale Cup. Sil­vestre de Sousa has a favourite’s chance of re­tain­ing his cham­pion jockey sta­tus. Only a hand­ful have the abil­ity and back­ing to win it and some of those would con­sider they have big­ger fish to fry. De Sousa, at least, is up for it.

Of course, if I had to be a pound be­hind one jockey at the end of the year it would be Ryan Moore.

He won more than the top two jock­eys at Chel­tenham com­bined in two min­utes last Sun­day when guid­ing Ping Hai Star to suc­cess in the Hong Kong Derby and, un­til the in­ter­na­tional rac­ing re­turns to Hong Kong in De­cem­ber, Moore is likely to dom­i­nate the big-race scene.

A year to re­mem­ber: Frankie Det­tori cel­e­brates his seven-length vic­tory on Cracks­man, one of last sea­son’s star per­form­ers, in the Cham­pi­ons Stakes at As­cot last Oc­to­ber

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