Glorious absurdity has long been the most defining of racing characteristics and it was splendidly present at Ascot’s magnificently staged Qipco Champions Day billed as a season-ending finale albeit that the season has another three weeks to run. But why carp when stars such as Frankie Dettori and a string of established champions strut their stuff?
The idea of a “finale” before the orchestra stops is to gather the grandest possible closing chorus of the big hitters in the game and the season’s two biggest duly did the honours in the first race on the card. Frankie Dettori, who else, helpfully put in an inspired ride on Flying Officer to win for champion trainer John Gosden for whom he has teamed up so superbly this season on Golden Horn in the Derby and Arc de Triomphe. Two years ago Dettori was a 42 year jockey back from a six month drug suspension with the glory days seemingly behind him. But a double boost, first from Sheikh Johann’s Al Shaqab racing and then this season from a renewed connection with Gosden, has brought all the wonder back. Two years ago Dettori had lost the confidence of yesterday’s inspired race winning move which took Flying Officer up the inside before the final turn. But two years ago is history and this morning Frankie can look back in money as well as glory terms on his greatest season yet – a full £4.5 million logged in UK alone.
Two races later it looked as if Dettori would work the oracle again when those familiar pumping elbows, threading reins, and flicking whip sent the John Gosden filly Journey clear in the same white and green Flying Officer colours of American sportsman George Strawbridge. In the final furlong Frankie was run down by his fellow Sardinian Andre Atzemi on the St Leger winner Simple Verse but it would be churlish to begrudge this since Atzemi was sporting the maroon and gold livery of Qatar Racing whose Qipco vehicle has sponsored not just this Champions Day but the whole 35 race Qipco Series .
Simple Verse may have claimed controversy with her on, off, on St Leger victory but she now claimed her status as the best staying filly around. Establishing or confirming champions is what this day should be about so there was much satisfaction in seeing Muharaar in the Sprint and Solow in the Mile summarily put their rivals in their place.
Muharaar thus became the first three year old sprinter since 1980 to win four consecutive Group One events in a seaon and his time of Im 13.34 seconds for the six furlongs was by far the best comparative time on this officially good to soft ground. Riding half a ton of horse that can accelerate from 0-40 mph in ten jumps is a unique feeling. “It’s like getting into a Ferrari and putting your foot down when you want to,” said Paul Hanagan. “He is special, especially on this ground and it would take a very good horse to beat him.”
French based Solow was winning for the ninth consecutive time and the twelfth in thirteen races stretching back to June 2013 and confirms Freddy Head’s unique achievement in becoming the only top class flat jockey to prove as successful as a trainer. Solow’s rider Maxime Guyon rode him with uncomplicated authority close behind a strong pace and readily held off the attentions of Belardo and Gabrial who boasted starting prices of 33-1 and 66-1 respectively. Royal Ascot and dual Guineas winner Gleneagles struggled home to finish only sixth after Aidan O’Brien and his owners spent an interminable time before deciding to run and then wished they hadn’t.
Solow is a gelding which recalls a famous remark that a lot of horses, most trainers and all jockeys would be better off for the unkindest cut of all. But Fascinating Rock, who exposed Jack Hobbs lack of pace at the top mile and a quarter level in the Qipco Champion, awaits the sultan’s life at stud when his racecourse efforts are over. A career best performance yesterday came thanks to Pat Smullen taking his time and delivering decisively past the already committed Jack Hobbs and never then being seriously threatened by the late thrust of Gleneagles’ stable companion Found at the death.
The victory gave further proof, if evidence were needed, of Melbourne Cup winning Dermot Weld’s training prowess worldwide and especially at Ascot, where he has won two Gold Cups. “I like this place,” he said afterwards. “Fascinating Rock has always had the potential to do what he did today and I had this race planned for about six months.” Bold words matched by John Gosden later as he confirmed that Jack Hobbs would return as a major contender for all the great mile and a half races next season, most especially the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes back here in July.
Meanwhile at the end of this Champions Day let’s give credit to the huge achievements of both John Gosden in the trainers’ category and Silvestre de Sousa in the jockeys’ despite the illogicalities of measuring the former championship on total prize money and the latter on individual races won . Gosden has surpassed even his own standards by accumulating no less than £4.8 million in prize money with 126 winners in the designated May to October season that ended yesterday. But as the brilliant Cambridge educated son of a distinguished trainer the odds about his success were a bit shorter than when De Sousa started out as part of a ten sibling brood on a farm near Sao Paulo in Brazil. His 132 winners are more than 30 clear of his nearest rival and include the finest big race ride of the year when he and 50-1 outsider Arabian Queen outwitted Dettori and the rest to defeat Golden Horn at York in August.
That front running master class epitomised the uncomplicated skills and unlimited energy of the popular and pint-sized Brazilian. The fact that his £2 million prize money haul puts him only 7th in that category is balanced by Gosden finishing only 5th behind Richard Fahey’s 217 total if you judge by numbers. Silvestre’s year has been glorious all right and there will be no worry about illogicality back on the farm near Sao Paulo.