The four-day Yorkshire Ebor Festival got the ball rolling on what will hopefully be a fantastic finish to the 2018 Flat season. There is a distinct autumnal feel in the air – in London anyway – but while summer is over, and the ground likely gets softer, the action on the track gets better.
September and October see a whole host of top-class action, action that will have a strong correlation with what took place on the Knavesmire last week. Horses progressing from York to the likes of the William Hill St Leger Festival, Irish Champions Weekend, the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend and British Champions Day will be of significant interest for the remainder of the season.
Below, are my main takeaways from a brilliant four days at York.
WE STILL DON’T KNOW HOW GOOD SEA OF CLASS IS
We were treated to another stylish display from Sea Of Class in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday, as William Haggas’s charge ran out a facile 2¼ lengths winner under James Doyle. The daughter of Sea the Stars was simply flawless in a display that screamed ability where she travelled into contention with such ease before unleashing a turn of foot that put the contest to bed in a matter of strides.
Given her an out-and-out hold up style, just like her Irish Oaks success, she deserves an upgrade on the performance, as tactically, she challenged from the worst position given the sedate pace. In the end, the long York straight really played into her hands as she crept into contention with ease under a confident James Doyle.
In theory, given her saint-like approach to patient tactics, she really shouldn’t be beating the classy animals she has faced with such distain, but this is a testament to her ability – she simply oozes class.
A crack at the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - where she must be supplemented - on October 6th now looks likely as she bids to follow in the footsteps of her great sire, and given what we’ve seen, it’s no surprise to see the Tsui family-owned three-year-old filly head the betting.
For balance, I would put forward a few potential concerns. Firstly, it will be interesting to see what mark the BHA official handicapper gives Sea Of Class after this latest success. She was rated 115 going in and that’s what I feel she ran to in winning. On paper, I wouldn’t be going too overboard on the form as she beat a filly in Coronet - while in receipt of 9lb over 12f - who is not at her best in slowish run races.
A strongly-run race is something Sea Of Class is yet to encounter, nor has she faced colts, three-year-olds or older, so it will be interesting to see how the chestnut filly handles such a scenario. In terms of her style, in theory, a sound gallop should play right into her hands, but could a strongly-run contest blunt her turn of foot?
Finally, autumn soft ground would be a concern. This is another variable that could dullen that potent change of gear. The potential scenario of a strong-run Arc on soft ground could overwhelm her in October.
At this point in time, we don’t know how she will adapt – you and I are still guessing. What I do know however, is with an age and sex allowance in the Arc, she must run whatever the conditions present, as she’ll never get a better chance to win one of the game’s greatest races.
She deserves this piece to finish on a positive though, because she helped light up York on Thursday. Indeed, she was all class.
LION HAS DEVELOPED INTO A WORLD-CLASS PERFORMER
Initially, just after the field crossed the line in the Juddmonte International Stakes on Wednesday, I was a touch deflated. The clash of Poet’s Word and Roaring Lion – among others – got my pulse racing pre-event, but with the former having a poor run through and the 109-rated Thundering Blue finishing third, I didn’t think the race had lived up to my billing.
Alas, first impressions in racing can be misleading and having sat down and reviewed the contest properly, I must say I did Roaring Lion – and Thundering Blue – an injustice. In the end, John Gosden’s grey simply had too much class for his field as he scampered away under Oisin Murphy to win by 3¼ lengths – the biggest margin of victory in the race since Frankel demolished the 2012 field by an easy seven.
Without doubt, this was a career best from the Qatar Racing Limited-owned horse. He’s now developing into one of the world’s top 10f performers having started his season incredibly slowly where he was beaten over nine lengths in the Craven Stakes; his trainer stating the son of Kitten’s Joy had encountered a difficult spring.
As summer has gone on however, the three-year-old has done nothing but steadily progress. His victory in the Juddmonte could not be deemed steady progress however, as Roaring Lion has taken a significant step forward. So much so, granted his favoured fast conditions, there are very, very few horses in training that have the ability to beat him over 10f, especially at York.
Poet’s Word remains one horse that connections of Roaring Lion should respect, especially should they ever clash at Ascot, but at York the pair took each other on in what was a home fixture for Roaring Lion.
The lack of a strong gallop on a flat track played against the strengths of Poet’s Word, who despite not having the cleanest of runs at a critical juncture in the race, managed to rally for second. The combination of the above along with Sir Michael Stoute’s inmate being below par – his long season is now maybe taking its toll - contributed to his loss, but even with a dream run, I doubt he’d have had the gears to beat the winner.
A rematch between that pair at Ascot would be fascinating, but the match up I now dream about is seeing Alpha Centauri and Roaring Lion take each other on over 9f on fast ground to determine this season’s top three-year-old. Of course, this is pure fantasy, but a man can dream.
A clash against Winx in this year’s Cox Plate would be a race that I’d happily break from dreaming to get up in the early hours to witness, but Roaring Lion, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t entered to take on the mighty mare.
CLASSIC GENERATION COME TO LIFE AT YORK
At the half-way mark of the season, the three-year-olds hadn’t set me alight as a group. Alpha Centauri was clearly the standout among her peers, there was little doubt she was world-class. Expert Eye was another I had great time for after his Royal Ascot demolition while Roaring Lion was filed under the ‘steadily progressive’ banner. Over 12f, the likes of Kew Gardens and Oaks heroine Forever Together were ones I wanted to keep onside along with the three-year-old filly Laurens. To my embarrassment, Sea Of Class hadn’t struck me as a potential Group 1 winner before the Curragh success.
The action at York last week shed further light on the division, and it was great to see the Classic generation burst to life. Indeed, it was the three-year-olds that lit up the four-day meeting, headed by Roaring Lion thrashing his elders in the Juddmonte and Sea Of Class doing likewise in the Yorkshire Oaks.
Those big race winners aside, it was a forgotten horse of sorts that further enhanced the strength of the three-year-old fillies middle distance division when Lah Ti Dar nearly stole Sea Of Class’s spotlight just 40 minutes after the Yorkshire Oaks.
In the Listed Sir Henry Cecil Galtres Stakes, John Gosden’s inmate made her first start since early May, the one-time Oaks favourite missing a significant proportion of the campaign through illness. The strapping daughter of Dubawi out of top-class race mare Dar Re Mi displayed no ill-effects in a visually staggering success which saw her run out an easy 10 lengths winner. This was a fine training success from John Gosden.
Passing four out, in the space of about 20 strides, Lah Ti Dar went from being in a three-length deficit to a length in front. You could be forgiven for thinking Frankie Dettori had kicked too soon, but approaching the one pole, the winner changed her legs again and appeared to only be hitting top stride. Amazingly.
Not only was the Lord Lloyd-Webber-owned filly good on the eye, her time and sectionals match up quite well with Sea Of Class’s Yorkshire Oaks success. Like the Haggas horse, she’s still a relative unknown after just three career starts.
The other three-year-old that really caught my eye, but not in victory, was Aidan O’Brien’s Kew Gardens, who despite being beaten under a 5lb Group 1 penalty, possibly ran a career best when third behind tough winner Old Persian in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes after giving the field a huge head start.
His effort is more creditable given we know first-hand (missed the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot through a poor scope) he was one of the horses affected by the virus that has reportedly disturbed Ballydoyle this season. With his trainer’s patient approach to peaking his runners for the big day, you can be sure Kew Gardens will step forward from this run.
His end of season target is likely to be the final Classic of the season, the St Leger at Doncaster, where the son of Galileo is to the fore in the market along with Lah Ti Dar. He holds obvious claims, strong claims on form, but the potential prospect of soft ground could see him vulnerable.