Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Goldikova makes history: Canford Cliffs wins St James's Palace

President Obama is a popular man in England. On Tuesday, as post time was approaching for the Windsor Castle Stakes (the final race) at Royal Ascot, Thirsk was getting ready for its 5 15 P M contest. The winner of the race was a 5-2 chance. Kieren Fox was the winning jockey. Gobama was the horse’s name.

Goldikova gave trainer Freddie Head, also a riding star in his time, his first Royal Ascot success. The Anabaa mare raced in the vanguard, making the most of draw one, shot past Calming Influence and Rip Van Winkle with 250 metres to run in the (straight) mile contest and put, at least, a three-length separation between herself and the rest. The Queen Anne appeared as good as over but a race is not over until it is over. Overcoming a spot of trouble in his attempt to get the benefit of a ground-saving trip, Richard Hughes had managed to show Paco Boy, the 2009 Queen Anne champion, some daylight. When jockey Hughes reminded the son of Desert Style of the task ahead, the Grade I race, in an instant, acquired a new complexion. Jockey Olivier Peslier rarely goes into a panic mode. On Tuesday, he did not but he went into a prayer mode. With the line looming large, the French reinsman was praying the wire would come soon enough. The Lord answered the prayer. Paco Boy was in front a stride or two after the line.

At 13-8 and easy to back at that price, Goldikova’s odds dropped to 11-8 at race time. Paco Boy was the second favorite. The Richard Hannon pupil was 11-4 and touched 3-1 at places.

A long Queen Anne tradition was broken. A girl had won the race for the first time in a (very) long time. A race named after a female monarch had been won by a female. Goldikova was winning her ninth race at the highest level. Her final target in 2010 will be the Breeders’ Cup (turf) mile at Churchill Downs in early November. William Hill, the British bookmaking behemoth, made a 7-4 offer on Goldikova winning the prize.

Trainer Head was effusive in his praise. “When she goes to the front, she has never been beaten. She always finds more, she is extraordinary. I do not want to talk about race strategy. Olivier (Peslier) is the rider. He does what he wants. I’m just the trainer.”

Jockey Peslier, known both for his style and substance, elaborated on his ride. “She was very relaxed. She is lovely and went straight into the stalls, no problem. May be, I came a bit early, but she is a strong filly and I knew Paco Boy would wait a long time. This is fantastic, a dream.”

My memory goes back to 2008. It was Equiano who gave Peslier a Group I win in the 2008 King’s Stand. It was ironic that Equiano won the King’s Stand again on Tuesday but in the hands of Michael Hills. In 2009, Peslier connected with Vision d’Etat in the Prince of Wales Stakes. Goldikova has given him Group I wins three years running at Royal Ascot.

In the Temple Stakes at Haydock in late May, Equiano had tried to make it all and was headed in the waning yards by Kingsgate Native. The two crack sprinters were back in the 1000-metre King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday. The result was different. Equiano was trained in Spain when winning in 2008. Barry Hills takes care of Equiano now. Jockey Michael Hills, Barry’s son, took Equiano to the head of affairs as the gates opened and kept going. At 8-1 when the books began laying, Equiano was down to 9-2 when the loading process began. Kingsgate Native, reopposing Equiano, could not get his act together. The King’s Stand is the British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.

Now, the third race came along, the St James’s Palace Stakes. It was the turn of Richard Hannon and Richard Hughes to get into the spotlight. Canford Cliffs had scores to settle. A loss to Makfi in the English 2000 Guineas had to be avenged. Two finishes behind Dick Turpin, a stablemate, had to be reversed. Surprisingly, from under 2-1, the Tagula colt drifted to 11-4 and a ton of money came in the way of Makfi who shared favoritism.

Jockey Hughes had Canford Cliffs settled in mid-division and called on his mount after having waited as long as he could. Dick Turpin had assumed command with a little over a furlong to run. Not many moments had passed and Canford Cliffs came calling. Hughes was yet to get serious. A reminder was all the Irish 2000 Guineas winner needed. The St James’s Palace Stakes was put to bed. Canford Cliffs cruised past Dick Turpin. Incidentally, the name of the US Senator from Illinois is Dick Durbin. I need to find out if there is a connection.

“I had to stay in the clear. He (Canford Cliffs) has an electric turn of foot. He is stronger,” jockey Hughes exulted.

Strong Suit gave Richard Hughes an encore in the Coventry Stakes. A Richard Hannon trainee, Strong Suit was the 15/8 favorite. Seb Sanders and Junior made every pole a winning one in the 4000-metre Ascot Stakes. Junior was a 17-2 chance. Marine Commando brought the curtain down with a win in the 1000-metre Windsor Castle Stakes. Paul Hanaghan rode for trainer Richard Fahey. Jockey Hanaghan is staying ahead of Ryan Moore in the race for leading jockey.

Wednesday’s going will be good to firm. It will be a dry, sunny day. There is no rain at all in the forecast and Thursday will also be a dry day. There is a possibility that the course will be watered for the Friday card.

Wednesday’s six-race card is a difficult one. It is a day to enjoy the sun, walk around and watch the action. The Prince of Wales Stakes is wide open.

Christophe Soumillon made his ‘hurdles debut’ on Tuesday at Auteuil in Paris. Jockey Soumillon, one of the top flat jockeys in France, was aboard Rag Tiger, the 3-1 favorite. He finished third. Soumillion is scheduled to ride at Vincennes late Tuesday. It is a trotting race and, unlike America, the drivers (that is what they are called) sit atop the horses. It is called ‘monte.’ In traditional harness racing, the drivers sit in bikes. Jockey Soumillon will also be in a race at Auteuil on Saturday. He will ride Mandali in the French Champion Hurdles. Auteuil is a jumps track, minutes away from Longchamp in Paris. Porte d’Auteuil is the train station you alight at to board the bus to go to Longchamp. Saint (St) Cloud is also in the neighborhood.

I have seen the reaction to my reappearance in Racingpulse. I am heartened. Please let me know what you think.

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