Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake takes a closer look at Ten Soverigns’s bounce back to form in the July Cup and wonders the cause of French racing lacking star horses in comparison to previous seasons.

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TEN SOVEREIGNS CLICKS INTO GEAR IN DRAMATIC STYLE

Just a few short weeks after the sprinting division was dealt a blow by the puzzling early retirement of Blue Point, it burst back into life at Newmarket on Saturday with Ten Sovereigns running out the impressive winner of the Darley July Cup.

It was a dominant display of sprinting that is difficult to pick holes in. The son of No Nay Never led his group on the far side, but was in the region of four lengths behind the leader of the near-side group at halfway.

With Ryan Moore winding up his mount from that point, the gap was soon closed and it was inside the final furlong that Ten Sovereigns really impressed. He powered away from his rivals in that final stanza to see off the Commonwealth Cup winner Advertise by 2¾ lengths.

It was interesting to note that the five three-year-olds that lined up for the 12-runner race were the first five home, but really, it was a case of Ten Sovereigns first and the rest nowhere on the day. 

The performance of Ten Sovereigns represented a huge improvement on what we had seen from him when he disappointed as favourite for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot. Various theories have been put forward to try to explain the transformation, with the firmer ground at Newmarket being one. Though, it is worth pointing out that Timeform assessed the ground for the Commonwealth Cup as being good rather than the official good-to-soft.

So, while the good-to-firm ground he encountered at Newmarket was firmer than what he raced on at Royal Ascot, it perhaps wasn’t quite so different as to account for such a significant improvement.

It is of course impossible to know with certainty, all the evidence we have suggests that the answer may lay in his preparation for both races. A naturally laid-back colt, Ten Sovereigns had been given a Guineas preparation this spring and one can be sure that everything Aidan O’Brien did with him was designed to get him to relax with a view to helping him give himself every chance to stay the mile trip at Newmarket.

While Ten Sovereigns ran very well for a long way in the 2000 Guineas, it was notable that he hung to his right throughout the final furlong as he went from looking a likely winner to fading back to fifth.

This could have just been the actions of a tired horse whose stamina had given away, but it was interesting to hear O’Brien mention after the July Cup that Ten Sovereigns had “found the Guineas a tough race and took him a bit of time to recover from it.” He went on to say that he “just about made it back for Royal Ascot.”

When one hears those words, the picture that starts to emerge is of a horse that wasn’t quite right after the Guineas and his preparation for Royal Ascot was affected as a result. Perhaps O’Brien had only been able to really get stuck into sharpening him up for sprints after Royal Ascot.

Perhaps the run back over six furlongs in the Commonwealth Cup had served to wake him up mentally after a relaxation-focused spring. Whatever the reasons behind it, his well-documented final piece of work was indicative of a horse that was back to himself and had his natural speed re-sharpened.

The end result was a performance that didn’t just bring him back to what he had achieved as a juvenile, it brought him forward in no uncertain terms.

Ten Sovereigns wins the July Cup
Kevin feels there is a chance we saw this season's Champion Sprinter in Ten Sovereigns

As to where Ten Sovereigns goes next, his connections have some interesting options in front of them. With Blue Point disappointingly no longer in the mix, Ten Sovereigns looks to be well positioned to seize the title of Champion Sprinter.

He seemed well suited to six furlongs on Saturday, but the ever-present possibility of soft ground for the two remaining Group 1 races over six furlongs in Britain and Ireland, the Haydock Sprint Cup and the British Champions Sprint at Ascot, might incline his connections towards considering a different route.

If they were happy to examine him over five furlongs, there are an intriguing series of well-spaced options for him including the Nunthorpe at York, the Flying Five at the Curragh, the Prix de l’Abbaye at ParisLongchamp and the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita. 

One wonders might they even consider finishing off his season and potentially his career in the six-furlong Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin in December.

Whichever way Ten Sovereigns goes, the title of Champion Sprinter looks to be very much within his reach. One wonders will the connections of Blue Point now be ruing their decision to retire their thriving and healthy five-year-old in the middle of the season as they did.

At the time they said he had nothing left to prove, yet just a few short weeks later it now seems that he is far from sure to even be recognised as the best sprinter in Europe at the end of the campaign. Had Blue Point not been retired, the racing world would be relishing the prospect of a clash of the generations between him and Ten Sovereigns, but alas it won’t happen now and racing is the biggest loser.

That said, the prospect of Ten Sovereigns versus Battaash is exciting in its own right, so hopefully we’ll get to see that at some stage, perhaps in the Nunthorpe.

WHERE ARE ALL THE TOP-CLASS HORSES IN FRANCE GONE?

Japan’s win in the Grand Prix de Paris at ParisLongchamp on Sunday was just the latest in what has been a relentless run of success for foreign raiders in Stakes races in France in recent seasons. The sheer lack of domestic resistance to Japan was notable and a lack of horsepower in France has been a worrying issue for quite some time now.

To illustrate this, the following table shows how many French-trained horses have run to official ratings of 120 or higher in the last decade:

French-trained horses that have run to official ratings of 120 or higher in the last decade
20192*
20183
20176
20162
20159
20145
20136
201210
201113
201012
20099
*up to July 7th 2019

While the poor performance of French-trained horses at the highest level in 2016 can be largely attributed to the serious health problems that were endured by many of the top French trainers based in Chantilly that year, there haven’t been any such excuses since then.

For a racing nation with such a proud history, a prizemoney/premium structure that is the envy of most as well as having world-class trainers and jockeys, it really is surprising that they are producing so few top-class horses.

Perhaps at least some of the answer may have its origins in the French breeding industry and the impact of the breeder premiums system. The premiums system is set up to primarily reward those breeders that produce horses that were sired by French-based sires. The problem with this is that France has had a distinct lack of sire power for a number of years now.

Just three French-based stallions stood for a fee of €30,000 or more this year. For comparison, 19 such sires stood in Ireland and 10 in Britain. Could it be that incentivising French breeders to use what are a weaker group of domestic stallions has backfired on the French breeding and racing industries?

That prospect should serve as a warning to other racing jurisdictions that parochial premium/bonus schemes that incentivise breeders and owners to use sires or buy horses based purely on geographical location rather than on their merits isn’t best advised.

Whether or not that has been the main factor in France, one suspects that there must be a lot of soul searching in French racing at the minute to try and figure out just what is going wrong.

Kevin Blake
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