Horse racing has always been an international sport but it seems that in recent years, with the advent of 24 hour horse racing networks and instant connectivity through the internet, that the sport is intertwined even more these days than in the past. The Breeders' Cup itself is in a process of attempting to expand the reach of their high profile event to make it a truly global competition. Additionally, American trainers are beginning to look outside of our boarders for opportunities to compete against the world's best; Wesley Ward has gone to Royal Ascot the last two years and will head to the prestigious meeting once again this June. The expansion of wagering markets in other countries (their ability to bet on our races, and vice versa) has broadened the scope of the sport dramatically.
Every years it seems as if more and more horses shipping to other countries to compete at the highest levels, including Grade 1 stakes races here in North America, it's helpful to keep an eye on results in other parts of the world. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the goings on with racing outside of our boarders.
In Europe, the English, Irish and French Guineas* are in the books, as are some of the early season tests for older horses. Derby season is just around the corner, as is the opening of the 2011 meeting at Royal Ascot. Currently, Goldikova (IRE), Frankel (GB), and Canford Cliffs (IRE) are standouts at the mile distance. Frankel has yet to take on older horses (and won't until after the Royal Ascot meeting in mid-June), and all three are likely to run at the Royal meet on the first day...in the first two races. Goldikova and Canford Cliffs are probable for the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, while Frankel is slated for the Group 1 St. James's Palace Stakes. Not a bad way to kick off one of Europe's great racing fixtures.
(*An interesting side note: the winners of the English 2,000 Guineas, the Irish 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas, and the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas), were all sired by Galileo (IRE)).
At longer distances, we have recently seen the European emergence of So You Think (NZ), a colt that has spent the majority of his career dominating in Australia before shipping to Ireland to train under Aiden O'Brien. So You Think won the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh last weekend and is expected to be at Royal Ascot to compete in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes on the second day of the meet.
Workforce (GB), last year's Epsom Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, will make his seasonal debut this Thursday at Sandown, and is a possible entry in the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom, or the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. The Sandown race, the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes, will be televised on HRTV Thursday morning.
Outside of Europe, there is a horse making big waves down under named Black Caviar (AUS). an undefeated mare by Bel Esprit (AUS). Black Caviar has won thirteen consecutive races, the last six all at the Group 1 level in Australia. All of Black Caviar's wins have come at five or six furlongs.
Not to be out done, Rocket Man (AUS) has staked his claim as one of the top turf sprinters around by continuing to pile up wins in Singapore and Hong King. He scored his first Group 1 win of 2011 in the Group 1 Turf Sprint at Meydan on the Dubai World Cup undercard (besting Bob Baffert's Euroears by 2 1/4), and has only one defeat in his last eight races - a second to J J The Jet Plane in at Sha Tin (HK) in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint.
Below is a more in-depth look at the Prix d'Ispahan and Irish 2,000 Guineas, including race replays from both events.
Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan
Following any of the big races in France over here in the U.S. (other than the Arc) is challenging for a number of reasons. First, there is zero TV coverage; TVG and HRTV provide a good amount of coverage from the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and Asia, but nothing from France. Second, the on-line resources are limited. Unlike the racing associations in the U.K, (or Japan), there is little in the way of comprehensive information about French racing, at least in English. (Japan, despite the language difference, has a fantastic English website (Horse Racing in Japan)). The English versions of the French racing sites, however, leave a lot to be desired.
France has some excellent horse racing but, sadly, very few in the U.S. get to watch any of it. It's really too bad because if you like good horse racing, regardless of where it occurs, you are really at a disadvantage with respect to anything happening in France. I'd kill for just a 1/2 weekly re-cap show at 1am.
Despite some of the drawbacks of trying to follow racing in France, there has been an extremely welcome advancement in the past year: Longchamp started displaying fractional splits during their races. The first time I noticed the fractional time was during the Arc festival last October. It was those quick splits that Goldikova put up in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret that made it abundantly clear that she had no equals in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Her performance in Sunday's Prix d'Ispahan suggests, at least to me, that she's ready for another big season.
Below are the splits for Sunday's Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan.
4 1/4 f: 53.30
6 1/4 f: 1:16.00
7 1/4 f: 1:27.60
8 1/4 f: 1:39.10
4 1/4 f: 53.30
6 1/4 f: 22.70
7 1/4 f: 11.60
8 1/4 f: 11.50
Goldikova sat about two lengths off the early speed until she made her move at the 600 meter mark (3 furlongs). From there until the finish line, she churned out sub :12 second splits, mostly under a handride, wasn't shown the whip until inside the final furlong, and held off the game late charge of Cirrus Des Aigles (FR). The runner-up is a five-year-old gelding that won the Group 2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp last fall. Andre Fabre's Byword (GB), winner of the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot last June, finished a well-beaten 5th. Dick Turpin, winner of the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly last summer, finished last of nine.
The margin of victory isn't huge, but you don't get the sense that Goldikova is really in any danger of actually losing. The race was at a distance of about nine and a quarter furlongs, which is testing the outer limits of Goldikova's comfort zone. But even though she's perhaps stretched to her limits, jockey Oliver Peslier really only asks her for everything inside the final furlong.
Looking a bit closer at the pace, the first four and a quarter furlongs went in 53.3 seconds (which probably means about a 50 second half-mile), but if you watch the replay of the race you can see a big reason why the opening fractions will almost always be on the slow side - the starting gate is on an incline and the opening one or two furlongs are uphill. I think sometimes there is a tendency for us to look at European races and see the slow early fractions and immediately think that the pace is the result the horses in the race not possessing any any ability to run fast early. But when you see horses run uphill right after leaving the gate, you are just not going to see quick splits, regardless of the speed profile of the field. I would venture a guess that the most speed oriented of our turf horses wouldn't put up anything resembling a "quick" early faction on some of the courses in Europe, whether they wanted to or not. The courses just don't allow it. And if they did, they'd be cooked well before the finish line.
Getting back to Goldikova's - while she's at the outer edge of her limitations at nine furlongs in Europe, I think she would handle that same distance (and probably even a little longer) quite well over here in North America given our turf courses are, for the most part, completely flat. When you watch the replays of any of her Breeders' Cup Mile wins, she triumph's with such authority (and she's so relaxed in the early stages), that you get the sense she could go a furlong or two further.
Group 1 Irish 2,000 Guineas
Dubawi Gold (GB) and Roderic O'Connor (IRE) were happy to see any horse other than Frankel (GB) at the Curragh last Saturday for the running of the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Dubawi Gold finished 2nd in the English 2,000 Guineas, six lengths back of the dominant winner. Roderic O'Connor was a bit farther back, losing by a Titanic 38 lengths, only to come back and win at the Curragh on Saturday.
The Irish 2,000 Guineas, unlike its English counterpart, is run around a slight right-handed turn.
It's had to know where Roderic O'Connor and Dubawi Gold fit into things with other horses in Europe right now; both appear to be talented colts, but both were blown off the ground by Frankel at Newmarket (along with every other horse). Roderic O'Connor might want more distance and is entered to run in the 12 furlong Epsom Derby in early June. Dubawi Gold i's an early entry for the St. James's Palace at Royal Ascot and a possible rematch with Frankel.