With the campaign climax of the Arc de Triomphe meeting a matter of weeks away, thoughts automatically turn to the stars of the season who’ll be looking to grace the biggest stage at ParisLongchamp.
Soldier’s Call is the one to beat in the Abbaye following his speedball successes in the King’s Stand and Nunthorpe, while Dee Ex Bee goes to the Prix du Cadran on a roll after monopolising the staying events at Royal Ascot, Goodwood and York. And who can stop the marching mare in the Arc? Unbeaten through 2019, including the Eclipse and Yorkshire Oaks, Magical already has one hand on Europe’s premier prize for Aidan O’Brien, who’s also targeting the Arc for King George winner Hunting Horn.
That’s a ‘sliding doors’ snapshot of a season without the five-year-olds. Imagine that. Imagine 2019 without Battaash, without Blue Point, without Crystal Ocean, without Stradivarius, and without Enable: horses who have lit up not just the season, but the sport, hot-footing it into the history books as well as the form-books.
Every single Flat season revolves around the three-year-olds, referred to as the ‘classic generation’ for a reason, over and above the fact the classic races are for them and them alone. But when the three-year-olds are thin and threadbare, like in 2019 when there have been only flashes of fire from Too Darn Hot, Ten Sovereigns and Japan, then the onus is the older horses to make the best of a season, but these five-year-olds are making it the best of seasons. And thank God for them.
Normally, there aren’t enough top-tier five-year-olds knocking around to prop up the pattern programme, but there’s a difference this season, making a big difference.
So far in 2019, there have been 17 unrestricted Group 1 races in Britain. As many as 11 of them have been won by a five-year-old. In the same races, in each of the last five years, the tally of five-year-old winners was 2, 4, 5, 4, 3.
Blue Point completed a famous Royal Ascot double in 2019.
The reason for the sudden surge in supercharged five-year-olds is probably manifold, but more by chance than choice. Enable’s gears are her armoury but her gender has helped set her strategy in the sense it’s likelier for magnificent mares to keep racing, compared to cash-churning colts turned stallions. And, on that subject, the gelded Battaash has no option but race on and on at supersonic speeds, while the incentivised staying scene has drawn enticed Stradivarius to stick around for a second million.
The rise of the five-year-olds in 2019 is not a revolution, nor even an evolution, but a condition of circumstances, within a climate of a broadly sub-standard crop of three-year-olds. All the same, one generation can inspire the next, and the lesson from this season is the bountiful benefits of keeping top horses in training beyond three or four years.
Crystal Ocean and Blue Point wouldn’t have achieved all they did without the mechanics of maturity, the pair at the peak of their powers only this summer. It’s easy to point to eras, and we’re in the age of Enable’s, or indeed Stradivarius’s, as is becoming Battaash’s, spanning seasons, but this season needed them more than they needed this season.
It will be a long time, if ever, that we see their like again, and the common denominator of their uncommon domination is their age: the power of five.
A five-year-old will be hard to beat in the Beverley Bullet on Saturday, patience and perseverance paying off with TIS MARVELLOUS last time out at Ascot, when winning by 2½ lengths, which takes some doing in a big-field sprint at that track. He has an entry in the Champions Sprint back at Ascot in October, which isn’t so far reaching as it might sound, not with his punchy post-Ascot Timeform rating of 122.
He’s very much at home at Ascot, so much so that Beverley is an anxious away fixture for him, but a low draw in 2 will help him no end, and if he’s serious about the Champions Sprint then he ought to be winning this comfortably.