Almanzor, Minding star on Champions Day
By Dick Powell
Champions Day was run last Saturday at Ascot in England and even if the results do not have a lot of Breeders’ Cup implications, they were great to watch.
The highlight was race five, the $1.9 million Champion Stakes (G1) run at 1 ¼ miles on turf that attracted a terrific field of 10. In between the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) two weeks ago and three weeks from the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), it attracted a group of turf horses that were mostly 10-furlong specialists with the exception of recent Arc winner FOUND (Galileo).
The betting public in England made ALMANZOR (Wootton Bassett) the 11-to-8 favorite with Found close behind at 5-to-2. Run on ground that was listed as “Good,” Almanzor was coming off sensational wins in the Irish Champion Stakes (G1), where he beat not only Found but her stablemate MINDING (Galileo) on yielding ground; a Group 2 stakes at Deauville in August; and the Prix du Jockey Club (G1) at Chantilly going 1 5/16 miles on Bastille Day (July 14).
What he showed in the Irish Champion Stakes was a burst of acceleration that is hard to counter. And he did it again on Saturday at Ascot when he got the jump on Found with less than two furlongs to run and proved impossible to run down. Trainer Jean Claude Roget said after the race that the five weeks between the two races was perfect and that the two-week’s rest for Found may have caught up to her in the stretch.
In his favor was the brilliance of Christophe Soumillon, who has impeccable timing and is not afraid to make the first move while others are waiting too long. He swung Almanzor off the rail going around the turn, eased off the heels of THE GREY GATSBY (Mastercraftsman) and made it to the clear.
Ryan Moore had Found in a drive from behind but when he pulled up outside of Almanzor’s flank, Soumillon was still in a hand ride. When Soumillon asked for a response, it was immediate and he quickly opened up daylight. Found is as determined a filly as we have seen but Soumillon was not going to get into a slugfest with her. Almanzor drifted a bit in the stretch and Moore went to his inside but was never a real danger.
Almanzor is unlikely to go on to the Breeders’ Cup Turf in three weeks. He has never raced beyond 2100 meters and even with the likely firm going expected at Santa Anita, the sophomore colt probably isn’t ready for 1 ½ miles. The good news is that with a modest pedigree, he is likely to stay in training for next year.
Found is another story and a throwback to the days of All Along. Last year, she raced in the Arc, was a troubled second in the Champion Stakes and came back two weeks later to upset GOLDEN HORN (Cape Cross) in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland. This year, Found was second in the Irish Champion Stakes behind Almanzor, came back three weeks later to win the Arc and was second in the Champion Stakes at Ascot two weeks later. Connections are still considering whether to go on to Santa Anita to defend her title but it will be no surprise if they elect to send her.
Found showed in the Arc that she can handle firm ground, establishing a course record, and with the kind of year Aidan O’Brien is having (21 group one stakes wins so far), you can have confidence in him pressing the right button.
As good as Found is, and she is beyond good, her stablemate MINDING is better. The winner of six Group 1 stakes races already, Aidan O’Brien was considering all options before Champions day including the Breeders’ Cup. She won the Oaks (G1) this year with an incredible run up the hill on a soft turf course and also captured a Group 1 at seven furlongs.
O’Brien opted for the $1.7 million Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1) going one mile down the straightaway last Saturday and Minding .took the lead with about a quarter mile to run. But the 7-to-4 favorite either got tired or bored from arriving in the front too early as her lead began to shrink in the final 100 yards. Minding held on by a half-length over second choice RIBCHESTER (Iffraaj) to record her seventh Group 1 win.
It might have been she moved too soon or it might have been the culmination of a long year but it doesn’t look like Minding will race again this year. She would be odds-on in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) but with her versatility, she could easily be pointed for next year’s Arc.
Dubawi, a son of Dubai Millennium, is not a household name in North America but is enjoying a sensational season on the track and sales rings in Europe this year. On Saturday, JOURNEY (Dubawi) won the Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes (G1) going 1 ½ miles and SHEIKHZAYEDROAD (Dubawi) won the Long Distance Cup (G2) going two miles.
On Sunday at Woodbine, ERUPT (Dubawi) won the Pattison Canadian International Stakes (G1) going 1 ½ miles on the turf with DARTMOUTH (Dubawi) running second.
In the sales ring, 17 yearlings by Dubawi have sold this year and averaged an amazing $1,267,131. Yes, many were bought by Shadwell and a few other by other Maktoum family members from Dubai as they have an enormous connection to the ill-fated Dubai Millennium who died way too early.
Even though Galileo is having a spectacular year, Dubawi is flying the flag of his father proudly and showing what a tragedy Dubai Millennium’s early death from grass sickness was.