03 Aug

On the last Friday of August, three two-year-old colts threatened to shake up what had previously been a fairly static antepost market for next year’s classics. 

Firstly, John Gosden’s Palace Pier, an athletic-looking son of Kingman, made a taking debut when winning a competitive looking Sandown maiden by just shy of four lengths. A little over an hour later, Aidan O’Brien saddled Mogul to win a historic Curragh maiden by a good three lengths on his second start. This was particularly significant as history tells us the trainer traditionally targets this maiden with his better colts, winning it with the likes of Imperial Monarch, Saxon Warrior, Yucatan and Sydney Opera House, to name but a few. As a son of Galileo and full brother to Japan and Secret Gesture, Mogul unsurprisingly leapt to the forefront of betting for next year’s Derby. 

Later that evening Gosden was at it again, this time winning Newcastle’s ‘Future Stayers Novice Stakes’ with another debutant in Cape Palace - a son of Golden Horn. In the same Sheikh Hamdan silks as Palace Pier, it later became apparent that both horses had recently changed ownership, leaving the Godolphin operation to race instead in the striking silver silks of Sheikh Mohammed’s son. Sent off as a 4/11 favourite, Cape Palace was to make no mistake, winning by eight lengths from the more experienced King Carney.  

As Doncaster draws nearer and Longchamp looms large, the flat turf season will soon reach its climax. As is custom at this time of year, the pecking order for next year’s classics will soon be established. This will surely be true for the 2,000 Guineas, in which the colts towards the top of the market (Pinatubo, Siskin, Armory and Earthlight in particular) will bid for bragging-rights in the key trials, namely the National Stakes, Dewhurst Stakes and Vertem Futurity Trophy. However, if recent history is anything to go by, it may be a different story for the middle-distance generation. 

There is a chance that not only do we not yet know the names of all the main protagonists in next year’s Derby and Oaks, it could still be weeks and even months before we see some of them run. 

A debut like that of Cape Palace certainly gets the pulse racing, but one can assume John Gosden will have plenty more talented juveniles still to play their hand in 2019. Recent evidence suggests two-year-olds hailing from Clarehaven merit close attention this autumn.

We are now in the first week of September and it is remarkable to note that since 2010, not one of John Gosden’s six classic winners had even run at this point as juveniles. The yard has sent out three winners of the Oaks in the last six years (incidentally, the other three winners in this period were trained at Ballydoyle), with Taghrooda debuting as a two-year-old on 21st September, Enable as late as 28th November and, remarkably, this year’s Oaks winner Anapurna running on 27th December - a day typically associated with high-quality jump racing at Kempton and Leopardstown. 

Let us stop to ponder that for a moment. In the depths of winter, a filly finished ninth in a £6,000 Wolverhampton novice race (and some 17 lengths behind the winner to boot) and yet she would go on to win a classic. 

Amazingly Anapurna is not in the slightest unique. Just four years earlier the same trainer gave Epsom Derby second and Irish Derby winner Jack Hobbs his debut in a Wolverhampton maiden, also on 27th December. 

Meanwhile Star Catcher, the impressive winner of this year’s Irish Oaks, first raced at Chelmsford on 20th December last year, a race in which she was well beaten. Gosden famously won the 2015 Derby (and later the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe) with Golden Horn, another late bloomer who wasn’t seen as a juvenile until the last week of October. Of the last ten winners of the Oaks, no single filly made their two-year-old debut later than Enable and Anapurna. 

All evidence suggests Gosden is not a man in a rush these days, that he is comfortable utilising the all-weather if necessary (Enable famously made her debut at Newcastle, and so did Stradivarius and Without Parole for that matter) and that come autumn he is only getting started with his middle-distance talent. 

Even allowing for the fact that uncontrollable issues (such as soundness and niggling injuries) will always impact the trainers’ best-laid plans to run his horses earlier, and rationally acknowledging that these aren’t exactly precocious types we are discussing, there has palpably been a change in Gosden’s method since the days of 1997 Derby winner Benny The Dip, who made his juvenile debut in June and raced five times in total that year. 

For those wondering, a quick glance at the birth dates of each of Gosden’s classic winners also confirms they were born in the traditional northern hemisphere foaling period - that is to say no horse stands out as a particularly late foal and therefore in need of significantly more patience (albeit this isn’t an exact science and, to an extent, we are guessing as to their readiness to race). All of this strongly suggests that Gosden has very much made a choice with his modern training methods rather than having his hand forced by circumstance. 

Gosden’s patience with his better horses and their subsequent success in the classics (and various other Group Ones, for that matter) are demonstrably inter-linked. The trainer has claimed six middle-distance English and Irish classics in the last six years and the timing of the respective debuts for each victor are once in September, October and November and no less than three times in December. Just two of these debuts were on turf and four were on artificial surfaces. In addition to this, Star Of Seville, who won the 2015 Prix de Diane (the ‘French Oaks’) at Chantilly, first ran on 7th October as a two-year-old.

Even putting the classics to one side for a moment, at this exact point in previous years we were also yet to see - or indeed know anything of - Coronet (a dual Group One winner), Cracksman (four times a Group One winner and the highest rated progeny of Frankel to date),The Fugue (four times a Group One winner and third in the Oaks) and Without Parole (a Group One winner). 

When Ballydoyle’s classic hopes are tucked soundly away in the winter months and Godolphin’s blue bloods enjoy the Dubai sunshine on their backs, it will pay to keep a keen eye on Gosden’s two-year-old debutants in the colder months. 

A future star could be out there. All eyes on the all-weather.

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