04 Sep

Philip Sale | Friday September 04 2020, 6:23pm | Racing Comment

Whilst it is unfair to suggest racing is entirely resistant to change, it is probably safe to say that alterations to the pattern are treated with more than a little caution and a good helping of suspicion. Carefully constructed and fiercely protected, the pattern is essentially sacrosanct.

Thus the introduction of a new Group 1 at Royal Ascot in 2015 – namely the Commonwealth Cup – threw yet another curveball at purists already spinning from the news Newcastle would tear up the turf and instead embrace Tapeta.

Gosforth Park’s all-weather surface has exceeded all expectations. It was just last year the racecourse was considered worthy enough to host Britain’s first all-weather Group 1, albeit it was Doncaster’s abandoned Vertem Futurity Trophy. Nevertheless, this was a significant step for the sport. That winner Kameko would subsequently win the 2,000 Guineas only adds to the story.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Cup has enjoyed unprecedented success. From Muhaarar in 2015 to Golden Horde in 2020, time has proven the race’s inception to be, unequivocally, the correct decision. And it’s not before time. The new contest finally bridged the gap between high-class three-year-old milers and those blessed with pace. In hindsight, this was an essential and somewhat obvious addition to the programme, particularly in this age of speed.

The Commonwealth Cup is, of course, the exception not the rule. Races are seldom plucked from thin air – let alone Group 1s – unless overwhelming demand from racing’s key stakeholders necessitates their creation.

Much like the handicapping system, the pattern is regularly subjected to scrutiny and criticism. But it nevertheless prevails, not least because it dutifully binds together a cross-generational sport which has more than its share of nuance and complexity.

Naturally, there are ramifications to the establishment of a new race. From 2015 the Diamond Jubilee Stakes - until then a race open to three-year-olds - has been restricted to four-year-olds and up. Prior to this adjustment, Choisir (2003), Kingsgate Native (2008), Art Connoisseur (2009) and Starspangledbanner (2010) were the last to fly the flag for the classic generation.

Starting in June and concluding in October, Britain’s four Group 1 six-furlong sprints for older horses (therefore excluding juvenile contests and the Commonwealth Cup) more or less span the entire flat season. This is not insignificant, for in racing five months often feels akin to a lifetime.

Little wonder, then, that few horses attempt, let alone win more than one of the big four in the same season. In fact, a different horse has won each race in 13 separate seasons since the turn of the millennium.

Those that have managed to break this trend – each winning twice in the same season - are listed below:

That Muhaarar could win the inaugural Commonwealth Cup, before then conquering his elders, is testament to both his class and the creation of the new race. 

As the winner of two races contested in radically different conditions, Harry Angel also stands out. For the remainder, it is clear that preference for better ground is undoubtedly a factor in their collective success. 

Winning multiple Group 1 sprints in the same season is no mean feat. After all, we begin at Royal Ascot in early summer (where 'firm' has featured in the going on six occasions in the last ten years alone) and conclude on ground more commonly associated with National Hunt racing.

Since 2011, the Champions Sprint Stakes has been contested in mid-October, rather than its original slot in the last week of September. On the surface of it, this was a minor tweak, but in reality it was a seismic change given what has happened since. In nine subsequent renewals, ‘good’ has featured in the going a mere three times compared to a perfect ten-from-ten in the previous decade.

Predictably the Diamond Jubilee and July Cup enjoy by far the quickest of ground, - though it seems the progeny of Mayson will forever be associated with ‘cut in the ground’ on account of his 2012 victory on heavy going, something of a freak occurrence in the July Cup.

It feels almost churlish to assume Haydock is a paradise for mud-lovers (in both codes, for that matter). Admittedly, the Sprint Cup has been run on either soft or heavy for the last four years - and tomorrow will be no exception - but equally, in the last decade the race has twice been contested on good-to-firm and even once on outright firm. God bless the British summer, it is nothing if not varied.

What our four sprints guarantee, certainly, is large fields. It is remarkable to note that since the year 2000, on just one occasion have any of the four races featured less than a double-figure field (just nine horses went to post in the 2016 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, won by Twilight Son). With 13 set to go to post at Haydock tomorrow, this is a trend set to continue.  

Perhaps this in itself highlights one difference between the Group 1 sprinting division and those racing over further distances. On their day, seasoned handicappers – such as Summerghand, who takes his chance tomorrow – are capable of graduating to Group 1 level. At the very least they will hold their own and connections have little to lose by chancing their arm. 

But paradoxically, it remains a remorseless division, a classification of racing that is incredibly hard to dominate. For any horse to hold their form for such a sustained period, to possess such versatility and to even compete in all four races, is highly uncommon. 

Unfortunately this year's July Cup winner Oxted doesn’t take his chance tomorrow, but connections of Diamond Jubilee winner Hello Youmzain will be quietly optimistic he can join the illustrious roll of honour above. 

Time flies and, before we know it, we'll be back at Royal Ascot watching the stars of the future contest the 2021 Commonwealth Cup.  

Probably on good to firm. 


The Diamond Jubilee Stakes was upgraded to Group 1 status in 2002.

The 2005 renewal of the Golden Jubilee Stakes was run at York.

The 2008 renewal of the Sprint Cup was run at Doncaster.

The Champions Sprint Stakes was moved to October in 2011 and upgraded to Group 1 status in 2015.

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