ENABLE SHINES BRIGHT AT ASCOT
Enable was the horse everyone came to see at Ascot on Saturday and she didn’t disappoint in the featured King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Before the race even began, the sense of occasion and the feeling of being in the presence of something special was palpable. Enable played her role in this brilliantly. There is a tendency for observers of racing to unwarrantedly ram up the physical quality and presence of horses in direct proportion to their level of ability, but Enable really does walk around the parade ring with the presence and personality of an equine queen.
Her expressive head, big ears and proud manner of carrying herself make her magnetic to watch.
Once the race itself got underway, it was a contest of such tactical depth, intrigue and excitement that I could quite happily spend a few thousand words breaking it down into all the individual morsels that mixed together to make it such an exhilarating contest.
However, I’ll save you the read, as Jamie Lynch did an exceptional job doing just that on Sky Sports Racing on Saturday and I would very much recommend watching it.
It was simply a pulsating contest that showcased everything that is great about our sport. The depth of the tactical thinking and improvisation from all involved was fascinating to watch unfold.
After all of the manoeuvring, the race boiled down to a sight that has thrilled observers for the hundreds of years that thoroughbreds have raced against each other, two of the very best horses in the world engaging in battle up the home straight of one of the finest racecourses on the planet. It was a thing of great beauty.
For Enable to come out on top with a degree of authority after having so much go wrong for her in tactical terms is a true testament to her. Champions overcome adversity and find a way to win. She did just that on the most unforgiving of stages.
That said, it generally takes at least two horses to make a great race and massive credit must be given to the runner-up Crystal Ocean. For two years in succession he has come out on the wrong side of epic finishes in the King George, but those defeats have only served to grow his reputation.
If there were any lingering doubts about his status on the world stage coming into this season, they have been vanquished in his last two starts. Let there be no doubt, he is one of the very best horses in the world and has earned the right to be celebrated as such.
Naturally, it has been well pointed out that Crystal Ocean comes out as the best horse in the race at the weights having gone down by just a neck in his bid to give 3lb to Enable. Would he have beaten her off level weights as the bare result suggests he would have?
Personally, I thought Enable won with authority and would have pulled out more if required, but that is ultimately one for the bar stool.
The race also kicked off another common argument over standings in history as excited observers debated as to what position Enable deserves in the pantheon of greats. For me, it is important to clarify what exactly is being discussed.
Conversation regarding the “best ever” should solely concern peak ability regardless of circumstances. There really isn’t a big discussion to be had here in my opinion, as what Frankel achieved at his very best is by some margin well clear of any others in the modern and arguably any other era.
However, “greatness” is a different thing. Greatness allows for all the other variables such as longevity, versatility and the overcoming of adversity to be added into the mix. Enable has yet to reach a level to put her up there with the very best of all sexes in terms of peak performance levels.
However, she has put together a CV that warrants her consideration in any greatness debate. Despite meeting such a wide variety of tracks, ground, trips and tactical conundrums in four different countries, she has danced every dance against all comers at the very highest level. Enable truly is a special horse and should be remembered as such regardless of what happens between now and her final race.
With her final race in mind, this column opined after Royal Ascot that Enable’s connections might just consider the possibility of leaving her in training for a campaign as a six-year-old. While John Gosden and Frankie Dettori have hinted that the Arc may be her swansong, racing owes it to itself to try everything it can to persuade her connections to consider coming back again next year.
Horses such as Enable are so rare and surely if she is healthy with all of her enthusiasm intact, it would be a real pity to retire her to the paddocks when she could create more history on the racecourse in 2020.
It is far from an outlandish suggestion and it is one that should be put forward as much as possible in the coming months.
DOWNDRAFT SMASHES TRACK RECORD AT DOWN ROYAL, OR DOES HE?
Last Friday night at Down Royal saw the Joseph O’Brien-trained Downdraft win the featured the Her Majesty’s Plate by three lengths in great style. The performance was made much more impressive by the revelation that he had smashed the track record, registering a time that was fully 3.86 seconds (approximately 23 lengths) faster than the standard time for the course and distance.
All involved would have been forgiven for getting very excited by this, but unfortunately, those familiar with Irish racing and Down Royal would have been immediately sceptical that not all might have been what it seemed.
A quick investigation revealed that the race having been run over a significantly shorter distance than advertised was the real reason why not just the winner, but indeed all seven runners in the race, had broken the track record.
It is difficult to know with certainty just how much shorter than advertised it was run over due to the possibility of rail movements, but one thing that doesn’t move that can guide us is the road crossing.
In the 2018 renewal of the race, the runners crossed that road just over 24 seconds into the race. On Friday they crossed it after approximately 20.2 seconds. Thus, it seems most likely that the starting stalls were put in the wrong place resulting in the race being run over somewhere in the region of 60 yards shorter than advertised.
In a sport where millimetres can be the difference between everything and nothing, that is quite clearly not good enough.
While there has recently been a management change at Down Royal, the track had regularly come to attention for their distances being incorrect under their previous management too. Most infamously, an investigation by Simon Rowlands in 2015 revealed that their feature race of the season, the JNWine.com Champion Chase, had been run over up to 300 yards further than advertised.
The Grade 2 chase on the same card was run over up to 100 yards shorter than advertised. That they have now once again come to attention for the distances being badly incorrect for the only Stakes race run on the Flat at the track all year is a very poor indication of the level of scrutiny such crucial details are subjected to there even on their biggest days.
Repeated examples of cases such as the above from a variety of tracks in Ireland have clearly illustrated that many Irish tracks simply cannot be trusted to give these matters the attention they demand off their own backs.
As has been called for in this space for many, many years, the IHRB must issue an industry-wide directive to racecourses to standardise the required standard and methodology of measuring race distances and furlong poles, as well as setting a minimum standard of weather, watering and rail movement information that is required to be made public by them.
Embarrassing cases such as the above have gone on for far too long and something really needs to be done on an official level to put an end to them.