Everything moves in and out of fashion. Right now there is a bizarre (and slightly unhygienic?) trend of men not wearing socks with suits, for example. So if that’s ‘in’, then it seems that logic and reason are firmly ‘out’ – “soooo 2010, darling”. You see, ferocious hurricanes are now caused by lesbian mayors and not by climate change. And depression doesn’t exist apparently – you just have to ‘man up’. People have had enough of experts, so now we just listen to whichever demagogue shouts the loudest.
And our irrelevant little world of Horse Racing isn’t immune to this trend of logic removal either. Take Cracksman. Impressive wins in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York and the Prix Niel at Chantilly today have elevated him to being pretty much the undisputed leading 3yo middle distance colt in training . Young, talented, classy, progressive, handles all ground – you couldn’t wish for much more in a prospective Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe contender.
Alas, there is a problem. Cracksman’s trainer, John Gosden, also trains the favourite for the race – the brilliant Enable – and appears to have sold to Cracksman’s owner, Sir Anthony Oppenheimer, the idea that Cracksman will make a better four year old and that he needs to be protected with next year’s campaign in mind. And Frankie Dettori, Enable’s (and Cracksman’s) regular rider is playing along with this tale. He can’t ride both of them, of course…
Now, it is possible that Gosden and Dettori are correct and Cracksman will make up into a better four year old. It’s great for the sport that he stays in training and let’s hope their judgement is proved to be correct. However, in the context of running in this year’s Arc, this opinion is almost totally irrelevant.
Decisions such as these surely come down to simple risk versus reward. The ‘risk’ of running Cracksman in this year’s Arc is that he endures a hard race in defeat and that this in some way compromises his future career as a racehorse. But this is a minor factor when we are considering a late season race. Whatever happened in the Arc (bar an incredibly unfortunate injury, which could happen in any race), Cracksman would be able to enjoy a holiday over the winter with plenty of time to recuperate and return to his best for next season.
And what of ‘reward’? There is a famous quote from Federico Tesio – “The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians, or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby”.
I reckon if Tesio were around today, he might revise the last part of that to the ‘the winning post of the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe’, such is the modern day status of the race. Even if he didn’t want to revise it, the fact is that Cracksman failed to win the Derby, but has a massive shot of winning the Arc (he’d probably start at 3-1 or shorter if lining up). History tells us that three year olds have an excellent record in the race – since 1990 the race has been won by them on 19 occasions, compared to just 8 wins for four or five year olds. And it is an indisputable fact that, all other things being equal, Cracksman will need to improve by eight pounds as a racehorse just to stand still in terms of his chance of winning this race next season (as 4yos carry 9 stone 5 lb compared to 8-11 for 3yos).
It is also worth asking whether all other things are likely to be equal in a year’s time. Enable aside (and she’s had a hard enough campaign), this year’s Arc looks incredibly weak. The French barely have a credible contender, Japan’s hope, Satono Diamond, bombed out today and Ulysses and Order Of St George, who feature prominently in Ante-Post lists, would probably be racing at too long and too short a trip respectively. Next year? Who knows, but in an average year you would expect a far stronger field to line up and if a star three year old emerges, then conceding a significant chunk of weight to them could prove an insurmountable challenge, even for an improved Cracksman.
So, it’s really very simple isn’t it? A mind blowingly obvious decision – a horse with a near ideal profile with a great chance of winning the most important horse race in the world.
And for the final irony – surely even Enable’s owner, Khalid Abdullah, would love to have Cracksman in the race? If his star filly fails to win the race, then what better compensation could there possibly be than to see his star stallion, Frankel, land the biggest prize in the sport?
Let’s finish with another quote – from one of horse racing’s greatest orators. (OK, I have doctored it slightly for effect, replacing the words ‘handicap mark’ with ‘hard race’, but who cares…)
‘I am not worried about a hard race. I think that if you have a mature three-year-old that stays a mile and a half well then you are a bit of a wanker if you worry about a hard race. I prefer in life to throw the big dice.’ – John Gosden
John – it’s time to roll the big dice…
(Disclaimer – I haven’t backed Cracksman for the Arc and neither company I work for has a significant position on the race either way. I speak only as a fan of the sport)