We mature with the damage, not the years. Rarely has that saying been truer, after a torturous 2020, the year finally in the rear-view mirror, even if its impact isn’t. But it’s with an atom of optimism that we head into the 21st year of the 21st century, and, following the theme, here are 21 names, faces or even races to brighten 2021.
High Definition is as short as 6/1 for the Derby, legitimately so, given who he’s with and, moreover, how he finished his races as a 2-y-o, latterly in the Beresford, but on his debut, also at the Curragh, the stablemate he caught was favourite over him, namely Wordsworth.
He’s 33/1 for the 2021 St Leger, a race he’s bred for, being a brother to Kew Gardens, and he’s bound to get into the fast lane of improvement as a 3-y-o, having the means and genes to go a long way, destination Doncaster in his SatNav. Wordsworth might be poetry in motion in 2021.
A champion in the making, a Champion Chaser to be precise, and in getting there he’s ticking off the traditional Cheltenham graduations of Supreme and Arkle. He hit his first target last March, and is hurtling towards his next objective of the Arkle at a pace that’s frightening to his would-be rivals.
Two chasing wins at Kempton have been about as good as it gets for first phase over fences, the former all about style and the latter, in the Wayward Lad, combining style and substance, because his time was considerably quicker than the Desert Orchid Chase on the same card which involved Altior, a practical passing of the baton of brilliance at Seven Barrows. We know he’s heading for the top, but 2021 will tell us just how special Shishkin can be.
The shooting star that was Mohaather was one of the stories of 2020, no sooner flashing brightest than dimming into premature retirement, bittersweet for Marcus Tregoning. It’s therefore fitting and almost fateful that Alkumait has come along to fill a big box left by Mohaather.
Both are by Showcasing, but Alkumait is an out-and-out sprinter, paying in the Dewhurst to find out, but before then he looked a machine in an above-average Middle Park. He’s as big as 20/1 for the 2021 Commonwealth Cup, which is the one and only target for him in the first half of the season, looking to have the tools and talent for it.
There are crack conditionals, and then there’s Kevin Brogan. Time and again this winter, Brogan has made a difference to horses, his claim one part of it, but his finesse and flair stands out, even amongst far more experienced riders than him. We often talk about the craft of the jockey, but the art of the jockey is a lock that Brogan has the key to.
He’s based with Jonjo O’Neill, having come across from Ireland this summer, and his first winner for the stable was something of a tour de force aboard Tegerek at Cheltenham, though his nose success on McCrackens Gate at Southwell in mid-December is worth watching for a masterclass in style and strategy from a conditional rider. It’s a good bet that 2021 will be a breakthrough year for the increasingly-impressive Brogan.
It’s ten years since Sir Michael Stoute won a classic, with Workforce in the 2010 Derby, mostly as he plays the longer game, but Potapova may demand a different approach, given her striking debut when she rocked up at Chelmsford in late-November, powering clear by 6½ lengths, in a punchy time.
The last time Stoute won the 1000 Guineas was in 2003 with Russian Rhythm, and she’s the granddam of Potapova, who’s by Invincible Spirit, the maker of top milers, including Kingman. She’s 33/1 for the Guineas, and hopefully she’ll start the year in the Nell Gwyn or Fred Darling to test her classic credentials: she could easily be that good.
Hype is a hollow vessel, so they say, but Envoi Allen’s cup runneth over after filling up on form over ten races unbeaten. He’s the most exciting horse in National Hunt racing, therefore the most important horse in National Hunt racing, because we’re not just entering the year of Envoi Allen, but his era.
He has always been rather more functional than flashy, but it was almost as if he couldn’t help himself in the Drinmore but show off a little, winning by the widest margin he ever has, 8½ lengths, though it probably could have been 18½ lengths had Jack Kennedy let him. He’s already even-money for the Marsh Chase at Cheltenham, which says it all about his merit and monopoly, but the end of 2021 will be a acid test because by then he’ll be on the Gold Cup trail.
It’s strange to think that neither Godolphin nor John Gosden had a runner in either the Middle Park or the Dewhurst, telling of teams that were loaded towards later-maturers. An upshot of the compressed season is that the autumn novices were, in the main, packed with potential, including on the All-Weather, and it was at Wolverhampton in late-October that a Gosden-Godolphin production looked like he might be a flyer for 2021.
Beau Nash got the better of a Charlie Appleby newcomer, €700,000 worth of Kingman named Wirko, who won his next start at Kempton by 4¼ lengths, reflecting that the Wolverhampton was as good as it looked. Beau Nash dipped under 23 secs for his last 2f, which is especially encouraging considering he’s by Golden Horn, therefore bred more for time and distance. It could well be a Derby trial for him in the spring.
Dan – and indeed Harry – Skelton are hardly up-and-comers because they’ve already well and truly risen and arrived, but the point is that the stable now has such strength that we’re getting to the stage where we can no longer refer to just the ‘big two’ amongst trainers, which is a game-changer for jumps racing in Britain in 2021 and beyond.
Favourably for the future, it’s the novices in the string that are injecting impetus, Allmankind and Shan Blue over fences and Third Time Lucki and My Drogo over hurdles, their dynamic development reflecting so well on the yard, as well as bolstering the prize money that, midway through the season, puts Skelton in between Nicholls and Henderson in second the trainers’ table.
August 20th, 2020: the date Love ran her last race of the year, and Tarnawa her first. It was as if there was a mystic power transfer between them, because Tarnawa basically did much of what we were anticipating Love could do in the autumn, quite easily forgotten, while we were all bewitched as Tarnawa conquered both France and America.
But Love was the headline act in Flat racing for a spell last summer, and she’ll add greatly to the middle-distance division when she returns for 2021, still an unknown element about her, positive for some and negative for others, with cries of ‘what did she beat?’ But with Love is was always less of who she beat and more of how she beat them, by 4¼ lengths in the Guineas and 9 lengths in the Oaks, on top of lowering Enable’s race-record time at Epsom, data that acts as a refresher for what we can expect next year.
Alan King had two winners at Royal Ascot, and he was within half-a-length of making it three, as Tritonic went close in the Golden Gates, before again finishing second next time to subsequent Group 1 winner Subjectivist. That’s the perfect package to be going hurdling, factoring in Tritonic’s size and scope, and we’ll see what he can do in that sphere in the new year.
Zanahiyr casts a shadow over the division, as he’s an unusually powerful juvenile, no doubt about it, but traditionally a horse like Tritonic making the move to hurdling would be big news, and it may still be, if he can bring his Flat form with him. I can’t wait to see what he can do.
KING’S STAND STAKES
Similarities bring horses together, but it’s their contrasts that make a showdown sizzle, and that’s the reason why the King’s Stand is the race I’m looking forward to the most in 2021. It’s a battle of ages, of continents, and of savage speed, because it’s due to be Battaash versus Golden Pal.
It was a case of less is more for Battaash in 2020: less active, more successful, and less flashy but more reliable, and the other reason for his unbeaten campaign is that there wasn’t really a 5f sprinter around to touch him. But Golden Pal will push his pressure points, as likewise he’s scarily speedy, evidenced at the Breeders’ Cup when he cleared the field from stall 13. It’s a match-up made in heaven.
We all saw what went on in a scintillating Savills Chase at Leopardstown, and what it meant for A Plus Tard, and for the Gold Cup, but what it meant for some of us was confirmation of what we’ve been hearing from across the Irish Sea, that Darragh O’Keeffe is the next big thing in the riding ranks.
Aged 18 when he rode his first winner in July 2018, O’Keeffe was champion conditional last season, and his very first ride in a Grade 1 was aboard A Plus Tard on Monday, a big statement, and a big career ahead of him. He’s already well along the career runway, but 2021 feels like the year of take-off for Darragh O’Keeffe.
The French were short on a juvenile star in 2020, but you don’t have to dig too deep among the Fabre slower-burners to unearth Midtown, a classic colt for 2021. By Dubawi and out of Group 2-winning miler First City, Midtown’s reputation rather preceded him, odds-on for his two races, winning a newcomers race by 9 lengths at Saint-Cloud in November and following up in a listed race at Chantilly just a fortnight later.
He was too late on the scene to tackle any of the major events, but there’s a feeling that he might well be the best of his generation in France, and he’s bound to head to the Prix De Fontainebleau next spring, with an eye to the French Guineas.
The red, white and blue of Cheveley Park Stud has flashed home first in the Champion Bumper the last two years, courtesy of Envoi Allen and Ferny Hollow, and it’s as short as 9/4 for some déjà vu in March, because Sir Gerhard already looks dominant in the division. Letsbeclearaboutit had won two bumpers by a combined total of 15 lengths prior to going to Navan, where he controlled the race and finished 9 lengths clear of the rest, and regarding things from his perspective is the best way to judge Sir Gerhard, who made him look slow through the penultimate furlong. He’s a monster in the making.
First-season stallions are always a running theme through the year, and there are reasons for believing that Time Test will prove a bright spark in 2021. He never quite hit his projected heights on the track, nevertheless placed in Group 1s here and in the US, but he’s a good-looking son of Dubawi and comes from a top Juddmonte family, out of Passage Of Time.
He proved popular at the sales, his yearlings averaging 34,000 gns, and three of them topping 100,000 gns. Time Test took off at 3 but managed to win at 2, over 7f, and perhaps his chief asset, as well as his chief selling point, was his turn of foot, a precious commodity if it can be transmitted to some of his first crop. Look out for them.
THE RACING LEAGUE
A year’s delay might have been the best thing that ever happened to the Racing League, because it has gone from scepticism upon its first announcement to a buzz around its new incarnation, more so with the teams of trainers announced.
A prize fund of £1.8m, including 36 races at £50k each, is a considerable commitment in the current climate, and the inclusion of trainers from Ireland and France amongst the teams give the competition – and the concept – a lift. It’s easy to be cynical about new initiatives in racing, but it’s only six meetings through the summer, and the support and standing of the signed-up trainers and owners means it might just take off.
A 19% strike-rate in your first season training is something to be proud of, also acting as a statement of intent by Joseph Parr, to carry on the fine work of his grandfather, Alan Bailey. All bar one of his eleven winners (from 57 runners) were 6/1 or shorter, which is a significant stat, telling that Parr had a good idea of when the winners were coming, and amongst them was Conscious, who justified favouritism on his first start for the yard, from Roger Charlton no less.
Juveniles starting from scratch such as Hello Me (won two of her three starts) and Roman Dynasty (beaten less than 5l in the Gimcrack on his second start) were other positive portents for Parr, and all in all the signs are very good for a trainer all set to make an even bigger name for himself in 2021.
By right, by birth-right, Santa Barbara ought to be about 6/4 for the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. That’s because her half-sister Iridessa won the race in 2019, and her half-brother Order Of Australia won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile. Senta’s Dream, the dam, just loves the Breeders’ Cup!
She ran only once as a 2-y-o, but what a run it was, beating up the boys in a maiden at the Curragh, over a mile on soft ground, looking every inch a classic contender for the year ahead. She’s 10/1 favourite for the Oaks, with good reason, and she could well be one of the stars of 2021.
The secret’s out with Laura Pearson, following a December to remember in which she advertised her developing style and skill by riding nine winners, announcing herself as the hottest 7-lb claimer around right now.
Whatever the gift is in making horses run, she’s got it, You’re Cool’s win at Wolverhampton a particularly good illustration of her talent and timing. Laura’s emergence is, of course, all her own work, though it helps that she can follow the scorched turf of the trailblazing Hollie Doyle, whose history-making achievements in 2020 acts as both an inspiration and aspiration to the new wave of female riders like Pearson. Here’s hoping her momentum gathers pace through 2021.
Tis the season for short jollies. Rarely if ever have the feature novice chases at Cheltenham been so cornered from so far out: Shishkin in the Arkle, Envoi Allen in the Marsh, and Monkfish is now around 2/1 for the RSA following his Grade 1 win at Leopardstown over Christmas.
As on his chasing debut at Fairyhouse, he didn’t win by that far, but there’s an assuredness about his jumping that not often seen in a novice, and there’s a feeling with him – stemming from the Albert Bartlett at the last Festival – that he’ll out-gallop anything in his orbit. He and Envoi Allen already look locked onto a collision course for the 2022 Gold Cup.
Of all the hopes and dreams in racing for 2021, the most important for the sport, and for society, is getting the crowds back on the track. So often debilitated by its factions and fractions, racing relied on its togetherness for once to resume as soon as was safely possible, and keep going, and that’s something to be proud of.
It feels, at the turn of the year, as if the light at the end of the tunnel has just got dimmer and more distant, but hopefully the day will come in 2021 when racing recharges in full, signified by a full house at a big meeting.