Sir Anthony Oppenheimer’s homebred Cracksman was expected to win Saturday’s Champion S. (G1) as the 13-8 favorite, but the son of the all-time great Frankel exceeded the rosiest forecasts with a romp worthy of his sire.
Fueling thoughts of what-might-have-been had he taken on stablemate Enable in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), the John Gosden trainee cruised to the fore entering the stretch and ran up the score. Cracksman widened his advantage to seven lengths at the wire, looking stronger the farther he went, as is only natural for a proven 12-furlong horse dropping back to 10. The soft going amplified his stamina, and jockey Frankie Dettori made sure to use it in a well-judged ride.
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Poet’s Word salvaged second by a neck from a courageous Highland Reel, who took a wider path due to the heavy going on Swinley Bottom before angling back in for the drive. On ground that he doesn’t handle too well at all, Highland Reel excelled himself, and trainer Aidan O’Brien confirmed that he’s now bound for Del Mar and a Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) title defense.
Cracksman became Frankel’s first European Group 1 winner, appropriately in the race his sire captured in his swan song over Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel in 2012. Nathaniel has gone on to sire Enable, and Frankel has come up with a stand-out of his own. The stage is set for the sires to renew battles via their offspring, for the Gosden celebrities are to square off in 2018.
“Today is Cracksman’s day,” Dettori said. “Don’t ask me which one’s best between Enable and Cracksman.
“He can be laid back but today he traveled like a good horse. I kicked on and he just galloped right away – it was a fantastic feeling. He likes the ground. But I must say the Oppenheimers and John Gosden have done a fantastic job – the horse was half the horse in the summer that he is now, he’s been given time to develop and this is what they got in return.
“I was surprised at the way he’s traveled today because he can flop around a bit but he’s learning and getting stronger. The horse I rode at Epsom and the horse I rode today are two different horses.”
“He’s improved through the year,” Gosden said of Cracksman, who skipped the Arc partly out of concern that the still-developing colt is one for next year. “He ran a blinder in the Derby (G1) (when a close third), was unlucky in Ireland (coming a bit too late when a neck second to Capri in the Irish Derby [G1]) but boy, with Capri the form was good, but he seems to have got bigger and stronger.
“He’s like a fighter weighing more now – if he started as a middleweight, he’s now a light-heavyweight. He handles this ground; he handles good to firm as well, which is great. He handled the ground probably better than anyone and he’s won in true style.
“He’s grown up a lot. He used to flip and flop about a bit. Coming down Tattenham Corner he got in a dreadful muddle in the Derby, but he’s learning to race. I trained his mother (French stakes winner Rhadegunda) for Mr. Oppenheimer and she was very tough. She got really good later in the year, and he’s one of these horses who’s got bigger and stronger. It’s great for Frankel to have a son who’s won the race he won, and I think it is his first Group 1 in Europe as well, so that’s exciting.”
Gosden addressed the Arc question.
“It was a difficult decision but I felt Enable was more in the zone, just a bit more streetwise than him. And Chantilly is not like Longchamp. Andre Fabre would tell you, often the best horse gets in trouble. I was happy with the decision we made and I think it was the right decision.”
One race earlier in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1), Gosden was involved in an unambiguously right decision for Persuasive. The Cheveley Park colorbearer was initially supposed to retire after her runner-up effort in the Sun Chariot (G1). But once the rains came, connections opted to give the four-year-old filly another whirl, and the daughter of Dark Angel responded with a career-best performance.
With Dettori extricating her from traffic, the 8-1 Persuasive picked up strongly on her preferred soft going and overpowered 2-1 favorite Ribchester, who was keen early and may have had his finish dampened somewhat in the wet. O’Brien’s Churchill, another not at his best in these conditions, boxed on gamely despite being tightened up by Ribchester on the far side rail. Attempting to give O’Brien a record 26th Group 1 win of 2017, Churchill snatched third by a neck from Gosden’s Nathra.
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“Persuasive traveled so good, I could not believe it,” Dettori recapped. “The ground is key for her. Barry (her groom) knows the filly very well and told me to wait as long as I dared. She showed an explosive turn of foot.
“I thought the race was going to be very tough, but she put it to bed very quickly. She came really good two furlongs out. I followed Churchill and I saw his distress signal, and I just needed some clean air. Once Ribchester shifted across to the right there was a gap for me, so I took her right and she took off.
“To be honest, looking at the line-up I thought God, she’ll have to run well – there were Group 1 winners all over the place. But the key thing was that she had got the ground.”
“She is very talented and has had no luck in Group 1s before today,” Gosden said of Persuasive, who also placed in the past two runnings of the Matron (G1).
“She deserves it and is a very nice filly. I think she would have been unlucky if she had not have won because she was about to get boxed in so Frankie had to take her back, check his run and switch.
“The owners have been incredibly patient to wait a long time to have her right. She’s got her ground today and just flies through it.
“I never worry taking on the boys in a race in the autumn with a filly as they go through hell in the spring and summer hormonally and they come to late summer/autumn and everything is settled so they can focus on racing.
“She will now go to the breeding shed so it’s nice to go out on a high.”
Chris Richardson, Cheveley’s managing director, wasn’t as categorical about her future.
“The plan at the moment is to retire her, but things may change after today. We’ll discuss it with (Cheveley Park owners) Mr. and Mrs. Thompson.”
Ribchester, similarly upset in dire conditions in the Sussex (G1), is keeping his Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) option open until trainer Richard Fahey can confer with the Godolphin brain trust.
“Déjà vu – he’s beaten again,” Fahey said. “It’s difficult to blame the ground as he’s a horse who’s won on soft ground, but he’s such a good moving horse and (jockey) William (Buick) feels there that he’s come to win and win well but he just got beaten in the dead ground there. He just doesn’t put it to bed. The winner coped with the conditions better. That’s twice he’s been beaten in desperate conditions. But we’re happy enough. Well, not really, but I have to say that!
“I can’t even think about that (the Breeders’ Cup) now, I’d need to speak to the team…he’s come back as bright as a button. So I’m frustrated, rather than disappointed.”