I’m very much looking forward to the new season with my biggest team to date and a new facility in Yellowstone Park Stables to add to the main yard at Kremlin Cottage, with some lovely horses to look forward to.
I’ve outlined my plans for some of those horses I expect to make their mark in pattern races, but as always I hope to uncover lots more stakes-class horses through the year.
I don’t like to set firm targets for the season, and the aim is always simply to do better than the year before, so I’ll be looking to improve on ninth in the trainers’ table, with 75 or more winners, and at least eight Group wins.
4-y-o ch c (Al Shaqab Racing)
He started last year fantastically well, and we hope he can do the same again. As he had more and more racing last year, mentally he began to lose his A-game – physically he was still there, but he got more and more wound up and that was reflected in his performances. The thing I’m most excited about is how relaxed he’s been all winter, looking a different horse, and I hope he can translate that to the track. Provided he can apply his new-found calmness in race conditions, I think he’ll be a force to be reckoned with again in the top Group 1 mile races.
There’s absolutely no reason to change to his trip at the moment – he’s a dual Group 1-winning miler and has never run a race which has made me think his chance of winning would have been greater over a longer or shorter trip, but should that change, then we’ll react.
Frankie might get off him after the Lockinge and say “he was so relaxed, he needs a mile-and-a-quarter now”, and that would be something we’d have to discuss, but in truth that’s not my expectation; I expect he’ll either win the Lockinge or be beaten by a better horse on the day rather than be found out by the trip, but horses do change all the time, so we have to keep that in mind.
Wall of Fire
4-y-o b c (Aziz Kheir)
I was delighted with his close second in the Further Flight Stakes at Nottingham on Wednesday, as he showed huge tenacity to fight back when headed, and while it was very frustrating to see him beaten, the only thing he lost was the race, and he showed a versatility he didn’t have last season. Last year, he was ridden with a huge amount of cover, and needed to come through beaten horses, but at Nottingham he showed he’s no longer reliant on those tactics, and had to race with no cover and no pace, which he coped well with. He was also first to commit for home, which wasn’t ideal in retrospect.
We’ll probably stick to a mile six with him, and the Yorkshire Cup next month is a possibility, but the main priority this year is to jump through the necessary hoops to get him qualified for the Melbourne Cup, and it was especially galling to see him beaten the other day as we could have qualified him in one fell swoop. He’s a strong stayer and showed he was comfortable on quicker ground at Nottingham, so is also proving versatile in that regard.
Home of The Brave
5-y-o ch h (Godolphin)
Home of The Brave has matured again from four to five, and is a much stronger horse. We will most likely start off at Leicester in the race he won last year (Richard III Stakes), and he may then head to the Lockinge or the John of Gaunt Stakes at Haydock depending how he shapes first time.
He’s always quite fresh at this time of year, so it’s good to get a run into him, and while he’s shown fairly conclusively that seven furlongs is his trip, I’d love to try a mile again. The programme for pattern-class seven-furlong horses is rather constrictive, with obvious targets being the Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh, the Hungerford at Newbury and the Lennox at Goodwood. He was first past the post in the Minstrel Stakes in 2015 and runner-up in both the Hungerford and Lennox last year, so we have unfinished business there, and it would be nice to win a Group 2, but the problem is that those races come very close together, so it’s very unlikely that he’d be able to take in all three.
It might seem obvious to aim him at the Group 1 Prix de La Foret at Longchamp in October as his big target, but he’s not a straightforward horse to train, and never gives himself an easy time either at home or in a race. I’m therefore mindful that in each season he’s raced, his form in the first four months of the season has been better than he’s shown in the final couple of months, and that may again be the case. That said, he’s a very admirable horse who I hope will be winning graded races for years to come.
4-y-o b f (Lael Stable)
Despite an amazing year in which she finished second in the Oaks and Irish Oaks, it’s extraordinary to think that she’s still only won a maiden. The main priority, therefore, is to win a stakes race with her, and I think it’s best to try to pick the lowest-hanging fruit that we can and start at listed level.
With that in mind, the race which looks the best initial option is the Daisy Warwick Stakes at Goodwood in early May. She’s missed out narrowly in three Group 1 races and I’m hoping she will reap the benefit of running in lesser company. After that, races like the Lancashire Oaks will come within her compass, and if all goes to plan, she can return to Group 1 with her confidence bolstered.
4-y-o b g (Dr Ali Ridha)
He may have been unplaced on both starts in Dubai, but actually ran a very good race each time. On the first occasion I didn’t think he stayed a mile on turf, at least at that level, and I then worried that he wouldn’t be fast enough on dirt in the Godolphin Mile. Far from not being fast enough, however, he showed blazing speed in blinkers before fading. I’m told he broke the track record for the first four furlongs of the race, and completed the first six furlongs faster than the Al Quoz Sprint on the same card before those exertions told. One thing that race showed us is that he definitely has the speed for sprinting.
He’s already got a very good record over six furlongs, winning the Tattersalls Millions and the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes last spring before stepping up in distance. We’ll leave the blinkers on – he’s very genuine, but the headgear should keep him sharp, and he will start off in the Abernant at Newmarket’s Guineas meeting, and will be getting entries in races like the Diamond Jubilee and July Cup.
I’d very much like to think we can get the opportunity to make a proper sprinter of him this year.
4-y-o b c (Ibrahim Araci)
I was saying to friends last week that if I’m unlucky enough never to train a Derby winner, this might be the one that went by the wayside. He had an injury at two which meant his debut was delayed until July last year, but if he’d won his maiden by seven lengths in April and then taken in a trial, he could have been a short price for Epsom given how last year’s Derby developed. As it was, he did indeed follow his maiden win with victory in a listed race, and is the only horse in the yard still unbeaten after more than one run. He’s by an outstanding stallion in Sea The Stars from an excellent female family, and he has it all – the pedigree, the looks and the race record to suggest that he might just be something very special. Racing is all about dreaming, and that’s what we’re going to do.
He’s very nearly ready, and the plan is to run in the Group 3 John Porter Stakes at Newbury on Saturday week. We will take it one race at a time from there, but he’s won both his starts at a mile-and-a-half, and if he keeps winning at that trip, then there’s no obvious reason to alter that. As I said with Galileo Gold, if he gets beaten and his jockey gets off and says he wants to step back in trip, or go further, then we’ll have to think about that. I’m mindful that his sire won the Guineas and put up his best performance at ten furlongs, so there’s the option of coming back in trip, but then his dam is closely related to Gold Cup runner-up Mizzou, and that suggests we could go up in trip as well.
Essentially, he’s an inexperienced horse and we’re learning about him as much as he is about us, so we need to be fluid, but the ultimate dream is to be running in those big mile-and-a-half races in high summer and autumn. The one thing we will avoid is very fast ground; he won his maiden on ground which was a bit too quick for him, and he was just better than them, but I’d not like to chance him on rattling quick ground.
To Be Wild
4-br-c (Carmichael Jennings)
To Be Wild and Crimean Tatar fall into remarkably similar categories in that they have been hard to train with niggles and injuries, and they have always worked together. There’s never been much between them in their work, and each has won both starts over a mile-and-a-half after a belated return in 2016, and neither would want very fast ground. To Be Wild is rated 5lbs lower than Crimean Tatar, which gives us the opportunity to start in handicaps, so heads to Newcastle on Good Friday for a Class 2 contest which is somewhat bizarrely worth more money than the John Porter, not that I’m going to complain about someone putting on good prize money.
I’d like to keep the pair apart, but if things go to plan for both, then they may have to clash at some point, especially if they get to compete at the highest level, where there just isn’t a choice. To Be Wild is a very likeable colt with a high cruising speed; I’m not sure how far he’ll stay, but he has the potential to be a very exciting horse.
4-b-c (Ibrahim Araci)
A half-brother to Aktabantay, who was our first group winner. Aktabantay was a tank of a horse, and Baydar is not quite so robust or as masculine in looks, but I’ve no doubt he’s a black-type performer, who has improved again from three to four, and is pleasing in his work.
The only blots on his record last year came on his return and his final start, both excusable, the first on ground which was far too fast and the last coming after a series of hard races, which were beginning to show on him. At this stage, it would take quite a leap of faith to enter him at the highest level, and I plan to start him in the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown later this month.
He won over course and distance in a competitive three-year-old handicap last August despite not enjoying much luck in-running. The Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot appeals as being an ideal next step, and I look forward to plenty more good days with him.
Hugo will be back next week to preview the Craven meeting, but he has also spoken exclusively to betting.betfair about his crop of three-year-olds for the current season.