Rerouted to Friday’s Coronation Cup (G1) after stablemate and fellow champion Enable was sidelined, Cracksman was hammered into 2-7 favoritism as the class of the small field. But the John Gosden trainee reminded everyone that Epsom is not his favorite place, dropping farther back than expected and appearing beaten until getting up to thwart 33-1 longshot Salouen on the line.
The near-shock result roiled the antepost market for the June 20 Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot, where Cracksman had been the prohibitive favorite. After the knee-jerk reaction subsided, and Gosden confirmed the Prince of Wales’s as his target, his odds returned to something closer to status quo ante. If he exits this tougher than expected slog in good shape, Cracksman should be seen to much better effect over the Ascot course and distance he loves.
On paper, Cracksman’s record around Epsom looks fine, with a score in last spring’s Derby Trial and a close third in the Derby (G1). Peer a bit more closely, however, and notice that the son of Frankel isn’t all that comfortable with the track’s idiosyncrasies, from the steep descent down Tattenham Corner to the camber that can unbalance horses down the straight.
That’s why connections’ original plan made a world of sense. Enable, a superstar in last year’s Oaks (G1), was to return to this track and trip for the Coronation Cup, while Cracksman was penciled in for this past Sunday’s Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1) at the Curragh. The design was shelved once Enable was ruled out, and instead of sticking to the script for Cracksman, he was pushed from the wings onto the Epsom stage.
To be fair, the older, stronger Cracksman theoretically could have been more adept over the course, and the ground was worse than might have been foreseen that far ahead of time. Cracksman has no difficulty sluicing through soft going in principle, but combining it with a course he’s uneasy on became a recipe for tactical woes and even an upset. The enterprising Salouen, the joint longest shot on the board, almost pulled it off under a masterful Silvestre de Sousa.
Fans of the favorite had to have a smidgeon of concern as the usually forwardly placed type lagged behind front-running Salouen, who seized a tactical advantage on the ground. The logical second choice, 6-1 Hawkbill, also has early foot, but the Godolphin globetrotter was content to track the apparently “hopeless” longshot. Given how quickly Hawkbill beat a retreat, though, the tactics didn’t play a role. Also clearly below form was Aidan O’Brien’s Idaho, and 33-1 stablemate Yucatan was tailed off.
Salouen, on the other hand, was going great guns up front for the duration of the straight. Frankie Dettori had coaxed Cracksman into a chasing second, but he still appeared to be uncharacteristically one-paced and headed for defeat.
Then Dettori made the split-second decision that rescued the situation. He switched Cracksman to the stands’ side rail. Historically the best footing when Epsom goes soft, it’s also the strip that minimizes the camber. At last Cracksman began to find his stride, and lifted in the nick of time to nab Salouen by a head.
A further 3 3/4 lengths back came German shipper Windstoss, who chugged on from last to take third. Idaho was never a factor, and there were National Hunt-like margins back to Hawkbill and Yucatan.
Cracksman had to dig deep and summon his reserves of class to earn his third Group 1 laurel, unlike his tour de force performances in last October’s Champion S. (G1) and his comeback in the April 29 Prix Ganay (G1). He’s now won five straight, dating back to last summer’s Great Voltigeur (G2) and the Prix Niel (G2). The big colt was still strengthening into his frame when placing in the Derby and coming closer with a second in the Irish Derby (G1).
Out of the stakes-winning Pivotal mare Rhadegunda, Cracksman is a half-brother to Group 3 victor Fantastic Moon. His third dam is On the House, heroine of the 1000 Guineas (G1) as well as the Sussex (G1) over older males in 1982.
Quotes from Racenews
Winning trainer John Gosden: “He’s got a lot of guts and he’s got a lot of class. I could see from a long way out that Frankie’s elbows were just moving a little and, coming down Tattenham Corner, he wasn’t comfortable.
“However, when he finally met the level ground, he just flew. They were strung out weren’t they? This is testing ground – I hope it dries out for tomorrow. They were well strung out though and they are all decent mile and a half horses.
“It was a brilliant ride from Silvestre (de Sousa on runner-up Salouen) as it’s very difficult to come from behind on this ground – especially if you’re not enjoying running downhill.
“I’m pleased he showed so much courage though – it’s a good test for a horse. He didn’t really take off until he met the rising ground. We’ll point him towards Royal Ascot now. It’s only 19 days away but he loves the track. He gets to Swinley Bottom and eats up the ground; he adores it.
“I only really enjoyed the last 50 yards of that race, but Frankie didn’t panic. It was a lot more exciting than people thought it would be though with a 1/3 shot as favorite!”
Jockey Frankie Dettori on his fifth Coronation Cup: “It was a decent pace. Cracksman was a bit sleepy today, but he does not enjoy galloping downhill and when I wanted to close the gap, I couldn’t. He felt lethargic, like he did in the Derby last year.
“Silvestre [de Sousa, Salouen’s jockey] got five lengths on me and, God, he made it hard work for me but once we flattened out, the turbo kicked in. Then he started to motor and I thought I might still run out of time, but we got there. I didn’t want to win like that, but, a bit like Man United, we find a way to win, and we did.
“You did not see the best of Cracksman today. He was never happy on the track – he is so big -and we know he is a better horse than he showed today. His class pulled him through because any other horse would have downed tools and finished second.
“We got this job done but by the skin of my teeth.”
Sylvester Kirk, trainer of Salouen, on nearly tasting his first Group 1 win: “I thought he was home and hosed. I don’t usually count my chickens, but I thought a furlong out he had won.
“Cracksman was labored and looked to be under pressure from a long way out, so I thought Salouen was going to hang on. I’m very proud of the horse.
“Salouen is a horse that loves going off in front, he is a fantastic mover and he loves going on the top of the ground. The ground today didn’t overly suit today but he is all heart and he puts it all in.
“It is almost a fairytale but I am happy with second.”