Three-year-olds hitting the heights in 2015
Horse racing really is a remarkable sport.
At the end of last season, the official handicappers adjudged that the rating of the European Champion Two-Year-Old was the joint-lowest rating that had been achieved in the last 20 seasons.
In the opening months of this campaign, the Derby and Guineas trials saw many more bubbles burst than inflated and with the older horse division seeming to lack a real standout star, a palpable air of pessimism regarding the quality of the season that lay ahead descended on social media and on racecourses.
However, in the space of six weeks, that pessimism has turned full circle and excitement levels amongst flat fans could hardly be higher, with the three-year-old division in particular having gone from 0-120 with remarkable speed.
GLENEAGLES has gone unbeaten in three Group 1 races and looks a prime candidate to take on and beat the best older milers in Europe in the months ahead.
TIME TEST emerged from the shadows to stamp himself as a worthy adversary to any of the Classic winners by searing home in the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot.
A sprinting division that looked in danger of lacking a star has very much gained one from somewhat out of the blue in the shape of the three-year-old MUHAARAR, with the son of Oasis Dream looking a potential top-class sprinter by running away with the inaugural running of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot and then beating his elders in the July Cup at Newmarket.
Over in France, the Andre Fabre-trained NEW BAY started the season as a maiden, but his win in the Prix du Jockey Club stamped him as a potential major player in the middle-distance division.
Mind, the French have an arguably even more exciting prospect in the Francis Graffard-trained ERUPT, with the son of Dubawi maintaining his unbeaten record with a scintillating victory in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on Tuesday.
However, the biggest story has perhaps emerged from John Gosden’s yard.
With two three-year-old colts that started their careers at Wolverhampton and Nottingham late last year, he has annexed the middle-distance scene.
Judged on his own merits, JACK HOBBS has progressed into a firmly top-class colt, confirming the promise of his second in the Derby at Epsom by winning the Irish Derby in tremendous style. However, he is very much being overshadowed by his stable mate and conqueror in both the Dante and the Derby, GOLDEN HORN.
As impressive as Golden Horn was in those two victories, he took his form and his reputation to another level at Sandown earlier this month by stepping into all-aged company and seeing off the rock-solid Group 1 performer The Grey Gatsby with a great degree of authority, despite having to attempt a completely new running style due to the lack of pace in the race.
The manner in which he powered away from such a talented older rival inside the final furlong having looked likely to have to really fight for victory was very taking indeed and he has rightfully been heralded as the leader of his late-blooming generation.
With a view to the immediate future, it has been slightly surprising to see Golden Horn aimed at the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
The son of Cape Cross has come a long way in a short period of time, with the Eclipse being his fourth race in less than three months and the King George coming just three weeks after that.
While the timing of the race is a factor, what also makes the decision somewhat surprising is that, with all due respect to the history of the race, the King George is perhaps not the stallion-making contest it once was.
In the modern era, the mile-and-a-half races that stand out from the pack in this regard are the Derby at Epsom and the Prix de ‘Arc de Triomphe and other than them, there is more to be gained by stallion prospects by running in the top mile-and-a-quarter races, particularly in a year such as this where there isn’t a stand-out older horse amongst the opposition in the King George.
Thus, in all likelihood, we are unlikely to learn anything new about Golden Horn in the King George, which is particularly disappointing considering that Anthony Oppenhiemer has already strongly suggested that Golden Horn will not race on as a four-year-old.
While this probability may make obvious commercial sense, it does seem rather remarkable to me for a man of such financial means to lean towards such a decision.
Oppenheimer has spent decades trying to breed an exceptional racehorse and now that he has bred and still owns a horse that is the envy of the racing world, it really doesn’t make sense to me why he would be so keen to send him off to stud just as the world is beginning to appreciate him.
Prince Khalid Abdullah made one of the most sporting decisions in the recent history of racing to keep Frankel in training as a four-year-old, but as sporting as it was, that decision showed the potential rewards for such bravery too, as Frankel went on to greatly increase his legacy and indeed value by achieving so much as a four-year-old.
The racing world almost seems resigned to the notion that Golden Horn will retire at the end of the season, but should why should that be the case?
The fact that the racing and breeding industries have become so willing to crown champions and ordain legacies on horses that retire at the end of their three-year-old seasons is a contributor to the issue and this really should change.
I would question whether proving the best of a generation and beating older rivals with the benefit of receiving weight-for-age really should be sufficient to secure a lasting legacy.
Perhaps if there was more value placed on the soundness, temperament and longevity required to return as a four-year-old to beat all older comers at level weights and see off the young generation whilst giving them weight, we would see more top-class three-year-olds returning to training at four to secure their legacies.
One can only hope that Anthony Oppenheimer will have a change of heart regarding Golden Horn, as racing will be the ultimate loser if such a talented colt is only seen two or three more times before being whisked off to stud.