Tom Symonds’ diary: comparing Classics in Britain and the US

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  • Precocious talent and toughness were the themes of the first Classic weekend. The 18-year-old Joseph O’Brien pulled the proverbial sword from the stone with the confidence that belies his usually A level-taking age group. His ride aboard Camelot in the Racing Post Trophy last September was startling, but this was astounding. So much was against this colt, with trip appearing a minimum and ground a worry, but Joseph rode him to perfection.

    In the world of Camelot, then, it seems that everyone at Ballydoyle does indeed sit on a round table. Trainer and proud father Aidan O’Brien – or Merlin if you like – championed everyone in the team bar the yard cat and dog for their contribution to a 3000-Guinea weekend. It was a double they also achieved in 2005.

    But no knight would be complete without his horse. Camelot and Homecoming Queen led very different juvenile campaigns. While Camelot was allowed two runs, the regally-bred Homecoming Queen ran 11 times, and even in nurseries. While many thought it would be a case of Carly Rae Jepsen proving correct with Maybe calling the shots, I think the majority overlooked a tough-as-teak filly with an impeccable pedigree.

    Her half-sister Queen’s Logic was equally precocious, but injury meant her ultimate potential was never realised. She has however since produced the very speedy Lady Of The Desert.

    Homecoming Queen’s diminutive sire Holy Roman Emperor was also a precious talent, but once again cut short. This time it was by another sire’s shortcomings; he filled the spot left vacant by the infertile George Washington.

    His deployment to Coolmore as a fully fit two-year-old brimming with potential was widely criticised at the time and no one will ever know if he would be a Johannesburg or Arazi (bitter disappointments at three) or a Guineas winner like Henrythenavigator, but he certainly seems to be making waves at stud. Furthermore, he is from one of the best families in the stud book.

    American Triple Crown is much more intense

    While the UK-based Classic generation have from May until September to complete the specified Classic races, in America they have a mere six weeks. This can be very taxing and it is no surprise that it has not been achieved since Affirmed took the Triple Crown in 1978. Apart from the huge difference in the amount of time these horses get to recover, the UK Triple Crown – similarly not completed since Nijinsky in 1970 – is run over a far wider spectrum of distances.

    What is notable is that in antipodean terms none of this would seem extraordinary, as they continue to “back up” (run a horse quickly in similarly big races with the gap of a week or sometimes less) and over a variety of distances.

    This is why I find the Australian strategy so compelling. A horse does not necessarily have a specific trip, but it’s basic ability to gallop at speed means that they can ride the horse to get whatever trip they would like it to. Any horse that can gallop a furlong at around 12 seconds should be competitive in most races, depending on how the horse is trained or ridden – or so they say and continually prove.

    Peter Moody, trainer of Black Caviar, has exclaimed that he cannot wait to come over and “kick some Pommy butt” and, if the aforementioned equine Cathy Freeman were to step up to a mile for the first time and take on Frankel in the Sussex Stakes, then it would be a most interesting race tactically.

    Her running style would lend itself well to a step up in distance, as she seems quite amenable tactically. After all, it was her grandsire Royal Academy who won the six-furlong July Cup and famously went on to triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile under Lester Piggott at Belmont Park in 1990.

    I have once again digressed “down under”, and it was in the northern hemisphere in Louisville, Kentucky – birthplace of Muhammad Ali – that 20 horses “ran for the roses” in the Kentucky Derby.

    Bodemeister led at a breakneck pace that only Secretariat himself could sustain and was cut down by I’ll Have Another. While the credit must go to the winner, who simply stayed better than any other horse, more credit should go to the runner-up who ratified his trainer Bob Baffert’s belief that he is a serious operator.

    Mike Smith was widely criticised for arriving too late on Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic when beaten by Balance, and the clock in his head must have lacked balance on Saturday. Thus he has received similar criticism for a ride in which he did too much – jockeys are damned if they do and do not. Had he won, then Bodemeister would be deemed the next American superstar and he will be a very interesting proposition in the half-furlong shorter (1m11/2f) Preakness Stakes a week on Saturday.

    Friday’s Kentucky Oaks saw Rosie Napravnik make history as the first lady rider to win an American Classic aboard Believe You Can. The likes of Julie Krone have been to the fore in the US stakes races well before the UK’s lady riders, but it will surely not be too long before the likes of Hayley Turner, Kirsty Milczarek and Cathy Gannon (when not injured) ride a Classic winner, as they continue to thrive.

    King’s Apollo is being educated on the Flat

    The sun seems to be on sabbatical at the moment with the rain working overtime. It was a strange situation when I ran Valmari at Bangor, knowing that she needs further than 2m1f but thinking that the heavy ground would accentuate the distance, only to find that it had almost dried out too much for her. In other areas of this very small but strange country there were and still are race meetings called off due to waterlogging.

    King’s Apollo is one of our Flat horses that is taking advantage of the softer ground. I hope that he is going to make a jumper eventually but, as he is a three-year-old, he would only be eligible for three-year-old bumpers later in the year or juvenile hurdles in the coming weeks. His enthusiastic team of owners decided to go for the latter option, which is why he is being educated on the Flat.

    Any prize money would be a bonus, as he is a jumper through and through, but a precocious one. Although it is an odd way of doing it, it will be interesting to see how he gets on. He is a real ball of energy and is so athletic that his early schooling as a two-year-old was very good indeed. Now he has a handicap mark on the Flat we will restart schooling him over hurdles.

    Interestingly, my head lad Mark White commented that his former boss David Nicholson used exactly the same tactic with Stayer’s Hurdle winner Anzum, so if he was an ounce as good it would be fantastic.

    While jump trainers continue to make hay while the sun doesn’t shine, the uncertainty of the weather creates mayhem for the Flat trainers but Camelot proved the old adage to be right – good horses go on any ground.

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