Ausgabe 608 vom Freitag, 06.03.2020
We have to start this week´s column with an apology, as last week´s article failed to appear as a result of computer problems and the technical incompetence of your correspondent.
Admittedly we did not miss too much, as the racing scene remains very quiet in Germany with only low level Sunday cards on Dortmund´s sand track to keep us going at home. This Sunday´s meeting will be the last winter fixture of the year, and the following week “proper” racing resumes with a much stronger card at Cologne; the weather remains wet and windy, but spring is definitely coming.
But racing continues all round the world and the past fortnight has seen two extremely valuable and top class meetings in the Middle East, at Qatar and in Saudi Arabia, with the first running of the 20 million US$ Saudi Cup, which was dominated as expected by the American raiders, with Maximum Security (New Year´s Day) –controversially disqualified after winning last year´s Kentucky Derby- scoring from Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lite), and the other two U.S.-trained runners in fourth and fifth. From the German point of view, the third place of Godolphin´s Benbatl (Dubawi) was noteworthy, as his victory at Munich in the 2018 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis is still fresh in the memory. The Saudi Cup attracted a strong field and was a good race, although marred somewhat by the exertions of Mike Smith on the runner-up, who used his whip 14 times, and was subsequently fined $210,000 (!) by the stewards and also given a nine day suspension. However his mount collected $ 3.5 million for her second place, of which Smith receives 10% (even supposing the owners don´t pay the fine for him), so it was still a pretty good day for him.
So was the previous day at the King Abdulaziz racecourse, when Smith had won an international jockeys´ competition. The interesting feature here was the fact that seven male jockeys took part (including such international stars as Frankie Dettori and Yutaka Take) and seven female jockeys from all over the world. New Zealander Lisa Allpress, a multiple champion jockey in her native country, made history by winning the first leg, the first ever success by a lady jockey in Saudi Arabia. However the star of the show from our point of view was Sibylle Vogt, who won the fourth leg, was also placed twice and finished runner-up overall. Swiss-born Sibylle is stable jockey for Carmen Bocskai´s Iffezheim yard and the most successful lady jockey in Germany.
The only German horse to run at the meeting was Andreas Wöhler´s Royal Youmzain, who finished fifth in a million dollar race on the undercard and collected $ 30,000. That was a decent performance in a strong field, and he will probably run in Germany next time, as will the same trainer´s good stayer Ladykiller (Kamsin), who found the going too fast at Cagnes-sur-mer last time.
There were no German runners at Qatar the previous week, but the winner of the big race there, HH The Amir Trophy, was won by French-trained but Qatari-owned French King (French Fifteen), who scored very easily and is well known to German racegoers as he ran three times here last year, winning all three races including the Group One Grosser Preis von Berlin. These performances resulted in his being officially rated the third best horse in run in Germany in 2019 and his easy victory now can be said to have confirmed the German form to a certain extent. French King could run next either in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp, or the Queen Elizabeth Cup in Sha Tin (Hong Kong), both Group One events.
The best horse that raced in Germany last year was Ghayyaith, another Godolphin-owned son of Dubawi, who won the Grosser Preis von Baden in spectacular style. He recently made his comeback in Meydan and won very easily against relatively weak opposition. This horse runs best after a break, so he will not be running on “Super Saturday” this weekend, but will go straight to the Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup day at the end of this month.
Both French King and Ghayyaith ran after their German Group One victories in the Prix de l´Arc de Triomphe, officially rated as the best race in the world last year (as it is usually), but both ran well below form, finishing nearer last than first. The reason seems clear enough: in last year´s long and dry summer the going was always good to firm when they ran in Germany, but the weather had turned by the time the Arc was run and it was very soft that day, conditions that were obviously not to their liking. Meydan and Hong Kong however will almost certainly have the right going; Longchamp at the moment seems less likely, as France, like the rest of Western Europe, has had lots of heavy rain already this year and more is expected. Saint-Cloud this Friday has been cancelled, as the track is waterlogged, and what is normally the first flat fixture of the year in the Paris area has been transferred to the all-weather track at Deauville.
The extremely wet weather is one of the “problems” referred to in our headline, and numerous meetings in the U.K. and Ireland have already been abandoned –including today (Friday) at Sandown. The other problem is of course the coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is now known, which has now reached almost every country in the world and is still spreading rapidly. Obviously horse racing – called “the great triviality” by Phil Bull - is not the most serious victim of this pandemic which has already cost many lives. However racing has been badly affected, especially in those areas where it attracts large crowds; in Hong Kong and Japan racing has only taken place behind closed doors for the last couple of weeks. The same is true of France, although the crowds there at this time of year are tiny, but there are already confirmed cases in Lamorlaye, next door to Chantilly, the biggest training centre.
The big problem here of course is Cheltenham, where the N.H. Festival begins next Tuesday. The four days of the meeting are all sold out, with attendances of nearly 70,000 on all four days. There is already a lively betting market (on Betfair) as to whether the meeting will take place, with over two million GBP already staked. The British government, as useless in this as they are in almost every field, have issued vague guidelines (what songs to sing while washing your hands, for example) and so far no drastic steps have been taken, such as the closure of schools as is the case in Italy. However a sudden rash of confirmed cases in the Cheltenham area in the next few days would certainly cause the authorities to act. As it is, Cheltenham have stepped up precautions, such as laying on more washbasins and soap, but they have no control over the situation.
It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend the significance of the Cheltenham Festival for British racing. It is the Derby meeting, Royal Ascot and British Champions day all in one short week. Not only the sporting and social sides are important, but also the financial aspect. The Jockey Club owns the racecourse, and this is their most lucrative meeting of the year. And the betting turnover here is the biggest of the year, which will affect British racing in general. The Grand National and The Derby are the two best known races in Britain, the ones that make the front page and the ones that generate the most betting; but the next 18 of the 20 races with the highest betting turnover are all run at this Cheltenham meeting, according to bookmakers´ own statistics.
There is also plenty of interest in Germany in Cheltenham, and there are quite likely to be some German-bred winners, or at least by German-bred stallions such as Getaway, Arcadio or Shirocco. Next week´s English page will come three-quarters of the way through the meeting; obviously we devoutly hope that it goes ahead, in which case we shall discuss the results so far with special reference to the German aspects.