Kevin Blake

    In his latest column Kevin reflects on the 2018 Breeders' Cup, giving his views on Enable's landmark triumph as well as Christophe Soumillon's controversial ride in the Classic.
  • Monday 05 November 2018
  • Blog

Enable lights up the Breeders' Cup

Enable was widely billed as the star attraction of this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs and she didn’t disappoint. In overcoming ground that was considered looser than ideal for her as well as bringing to an end a long run of Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners that had gone on to be beaten at the Breeders’ Cup later that year, she added to her ever-growing legend with a performance that ticked all the boxes.

It was a fascinating race in tactical terms with Hunting Horn shadowing Enable on her outside, denying her a clear route to the outer for much of the race. Meanwhile, Hunting Horn’s stablemate, Magical, was able to stalk Enable and then pounce on the inside of his compatriot while Enable had to go around him to challenge. From the top of the straight, those two fillies engaged in a terrific contest, with Enable emerging as the authoritative ¾-length winner over Magical who opened up a nine-length gap to the third home. On an evening where not all jockeys covered themselves in glory, both Dettori and Moore gave their mounts fine rides and were only as forceful with their willing partners as they had to be in the straight. It was a wonderful horse race in every way.

What Enable has achieved in just three starts this season is remarkable. A season interrupted by injury and illness shouldn’t yield such rich dividends. That she won the races she did is of course down to her more than anything else, but having a master trainer in John Gosden guiding her along the way has been a significant help. Gosden had a fabulous season and what he achieved with Enable must be right up there with his very best training performances.

Great credit must also be given to her owner Prince Khalid Abdullah. There was a more than adequate Group 1 racing programme in Great Britain for Enable in each of the last two seasons, but rather than mollycoddling her and keeping her within her comfort bubble at home, he has pushed for her to be given daring international campaigns against all comers. That he did so this year in particular, a year in which she met with a number of training setbacks, makes it all the more admirable.

Such daring campaigning coupled with her clear world-class talent has elevated Enable to the doorway of greatness. Prince Khalid has nailed every decision with her thus far, but there is one more left for him to make. Should she be returned to training as a five-year-old, she will have the opportunity to kick down that door of greatness and secure legendary status by winning a third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Opportunities to achieve racing immortality are few and far between, one can only hope that Enable’s connections give her the chance to earn it.

Whip use leaves a sour taste

The Breeders’ Cup meeting remains one of the most enjoyable events in the international racing calendar, but not for the first time, it served to bring the highly-permissive whip rules in American racing to the attention of a worldwide audience. 

While the ride given to Dabster by Joe Talamo in the Marathon on Friday was an eye-widener, much of the comment in this part of the world centred on the ride given to Thunder Snow by Christophe Soumillon in the Classic. It likely attracted the most comment due to Soumillon being a European-based rider that is well accustomed to riding within much tighter whip regulations, thus to see him give his mount in the region of 18 strikes in the straight, many of them in very rapid succession, made for an unedifying sight for many.

Regular readers of this space will know that I am very much a believer in the whip being an absolutely necessary tool for riders to both control and encourage their mounts. My reasoning for this view is laid out in detail here. However, the use of the whip in the manner displayed by Soumillon on Thunder Snow is indefensible. Even amongst the fiercest defenders of the whip in this part of the world, it would likely be a struggle to find someone to attempt to support such actions. When used correctly, the whip is an important tool for any rider of thoroughbreds, but using it in that manner is about as far from horsemanship as one can get.

Personally, I have always been in favour of not having a limit on the number of permitted whip strikes as long as they are administered with correct technique and, most importantly, that the horse is allowed reasonable time to respond to each strike. It is on the latter criteria that the above rides at Churchill Downs failed miserably and made for such an unpleasant sight. While it would be ill-advised to characterise such whip use as cruel given that it is widely accepted that the modern whip does not hurt horses, it certainly looks very severe to those that aren’t familiar with the realities of it. Educating the public as to those realities should be the main priority, but allowing jockeys to lose the run of themselves in the manner seen at the Breeders’ Cup and not be punished can only do harm to the image of horse racing.

While American racing has shown in the past that it isn’t particularly fussed about what the rest of the racing world thinks about their rules and practices, they would be well advised to introduce guidelines that require riders there to at least give their mounts time to respond in between whip strikes. Leaving their rules unchanged all but guarantees more unedifying spectacles on their most international of stages.

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