The final day of another Flat season provides an opportune cue to rebuke anyone still peddling the obsolete axiom that there is greater romance and diversity over jumps. Nowadays, all the best jumpers are corralled in the same few hands. Last weekend, press box colleagues at the Breeders' Cup exchanged virtually identical bulletins from back home: Paul Nicholls had mopped up big races at Wetherby and Down Royal, with Silviniaco Conti, Tidal Bay, Kauto Stone and Cristal Bonus; Nicky Henderson had meanwhile saddled four winners at Ascot, just as he had on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival itself last season. In Ireland, meanwhile, other trainers have been nervously pilfering races while they wait for Willie Mullins to release his cavalry for the winter.
In contrast, a series of heart-warming stories played out down below at Santa Anita. After Fort Larned won the Classic, a delirious figure could be seen bounding out of the stands to embrace his trainer, Ian Wilkes. It was Charles Lopresti, who had won a vintage Mile less than an hour earlier, with Wise Dan. Buff Bradley, completing the triumvirate of "Little Guys" from Kentucky, had already saddled Groupie Doll to win the Filly and Mare Sprint. Bradley delivered her himself, as a foal, on a farm built upon the enterprise of his father, Fred. As a 10-year-old boy, Fred set out by buying a coal-cart mule for $3; he broke it for riding, and sold it for $5; now he watched from his wheelchair, a proud octogenarian, as Groupie Doll careered home by four and a half lengths.
Wise Dan, a beautiful chestnut, then proceeded to show that Frankel was not unique in being able to box the ears of Excelebration; while the runner-up, Animal Kingdom, hinted at the rewards available to those who campaign top horses with due adventure. Last year's Kentucky Derby winner had switched surface and dropped in trip, only to get caught in traffic before bursting through late. He will now go to the Dubai World Cup, and possibly Royal Ascot.
So much for the predictable hegemonies of Flat racing. How very edifying, then, that top billing this weekend should be reserved for Peter Casey – a former sheep shearer who has somehow not only ended up with a potential champion steeplechaser in his tiny stable, just up the coast from Dublin, but has been further blessed with a patron equal to all those predatory bloodstock agents.
It was Flemenstar who prompted a notoriously lascivious exclamation from his septuagenarian trainer, live on television, after a runaway Grade One success at Leopardstown in January. Casey believes that Flemenstar can last the extra distance of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, but starts him off back at two miles at Navan tomorrow against a veteran specialist at that trip, Big Zeb.
The final Flat racing on turf this year comprises a marathon card at Doncaster, already under way before noon. It seems fitting that the Betfred November Handicap, its last big pot, should revolve around an unbeaten stablemate of the champion who bestrode the whole campaign. Moreover it has been claimed First Mohican, in their younger days, worked better with Frankel than any other horse. Unfortunately, he then disappeared for almost two years, but has proved miles ahead of his rating in two handicaps since his return. At the odds, however, you have to remember he has been raised another 12lb and tries a new trip in a tougher grade. Luca Cumani's Kirthill (2.35) looks better value, having produced a career best on his only start at this distance and shaped well in traffic since.
Some thriving sprinters converge for a last crack at a Listed prize – notably Jack Dexter, who has beaten an aggregate of 67 rivals in handicaps over six, seven and five furlongs this autumn. But Ultrasonic is also on the upgrade, and any punter loyal to last year's winner will be rewarded with a fair price against the quirky but talented Sirius Prospect (3.10).
Well Painted (3.45) caught the eye behind Jack Dexter last time and looks as though already on reconnaissance for the Lincoln, back here next spring, while Sajjhaa (2.00) introduces a touch of class to the other televised race.
Channel 4 also has cameras at Wincanton, where Nicholls has a predictably strong hand. Nonetheless, two other respected yards could thwart the champion trainer with Balder Succes (2.50) and Zarrafakt (3.25).
Chris McGrath'S Nap
Sajjhaa (2.00 Doncaster)
Oscar Stanley (3.15 Kelso)