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Having anticipated last week for so long, some Cheltenham diehards will be appalled to discover that a new Flat season opens at Doncaster on Friday. Others, however, will recognise that so rich a banquet can only really be followed by a total change of taste – even if Town Moor is set to provide conditions better suited to steeplechasing.
Moore brings Breeders' Cup solace to O'Brien but Excelebration finds the pace too hot in California
With their first domestic titles wrapped up, the opening skirmishes of the 29th Breeders' Cup tonight provide the opportunity for John Gosden and Richard Hughes to amplify their new status as respectively champion trainer and jockey-elect.
Though some European raiders will show the beginnings of a winter coat, the return of the Breeders' Cup to Santa Anita this time entails a still more abrupt change of climate for those arriving from the East Coast of the United States. For while one planeload of New York horses did manage to hasten west today, even as Hurricane Sandy closed in, another seems likely to be grounded today. With bridges in their home city likely to be closed by the Port Authority, several leading fancies in the care of the record-breaking trainer Todd Pletcher are unlikely to make their scheduled departure.
Willing Foe's Ebor win at York leads the way for more success at Saratoga and Deauville
One way or another, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes has gradually lost its traditional role as a showdown between generations. With the Prix du Jockey Club nowadays reduced to a brawl with milers over an intermediate distance, French three-year-olds had to wait until last weekend for their Group One opportunity over a mile and a half; and the Derby winner, Camelot, has been the latest to be put away for the autumn, after following up in the Irish version. That leaves just one three-year-old prepared to take on his seniors at Ascot today – and he has come all the way from Tokyo to do so.
It is not just Yoshito Yahagi who has experienced transformation since he was last in Newmarket. At 51, he returns as trainer of the Japanese Derby winner, Deep Brillante, an audacious challenger for the Betfair King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday. The colt is lodging with Clive Brittain, just over the road from Geoff Wragg's old yard – where Yahagi once worked as a humble stable lad. A broader metamorphosis, however, reflects more favourably on his homeland than on his hosts.
Aidan O'Brien's So You Think recorded his 10th Group One victory in the 150th Anniversary of Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Connections of the two most lauded racehorses on the planet, Frankel and Black Caviar, have been given a carrot of £1m to square up in a showdown that would command attention far beyond the sport's regular audience, even during the Olympics. With an aggregate of 28 wins from 28 starts between them, Frankel and Black Caviar have hitherto seemed unlikely to meet, even though the latter is being sent from Australia this summer to run at Royal Ascot. But Sheikh Fahad al-Thani, who has invested heavily in the British Turf, has now raised the stakes to a level both camps may find hard to resist.
On a vile afternoon of icy squalls, the melancholy fact was that the hurdlers most competent to warm the cockles going into the big race were not actually taking part. First there was the eponymous, 19-year-old hero of the Istabraq Festival Hurdle, who looked in the pink of health as he jogged round the parade ring beforehand. And then there was Hurricane Fly, almost certainly the best in their discipline since the triple champion hurdler, and supposedly in his prime. Unfortunately, his scheduled return had again been postponed when he failed to appear among the final declarations for this, the last big race of the Christmas meeting. Though his trainer, Willie Mullins, insists the horse has no structural problems, he is plainly not blossoming as yet. In the circumstances, perhaps the mare who filled the breach yesterday should not be dismissed too hastily.
It may sound sacrilegious, as Kauto Star seeks another piece of Turf history at Kempton on Boxing Day, but something equally momentous might conceivably get under way 15 minutes earlier – in a £3,500 race at Wolverhampton. Few will be paying the slightest attention to Harvard N Yale, not least with the holiday programme over jumps apparently secured by a mild weather forecast. Unlikely as it seems, however, this young colt will be taking the first tentative steps towards a summit never yet scaled from this side of the Atlantic.
One tense saga seems unlikely to be resolved today, albeit the British Horseracing Authority expects revised recommendations from the review group that drafted the contentious new whip rules. But another seemed to have run its course yesterday when it emerged that Kieren Fallon is prepared to abandon his quest for a seventh jockeys' title in order to ride overseas during the final week of the campaign.
Arc or Champion Stakes could top the agenda after Leopardstown victory over Snow Fairy
Ireland's premier all-aged championship on Saturday so perilously resembles a lap of honour for So You Think, who counts two stablemates among just five potential opponents, that people already seem more interested in his next race. And there was a strong hint yesterday that a return to Australia for a third Cox Plate might be abandoned so that he can replace Coolmore's retired Derby winner, Pour Moi, in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Scraps from Frankel's table must suffice for British punters this weekend, albeit something rather closer to a square meal is available to those broadening their horizons overseas.