Has the Air Force Blue bubble burst?

By Lewis Syddall on |


The National Stakes at Curragh racecourse

What are we going to do about Air Force Blue?

Last season’s two-year-old champion emerged from the winter with the equine and bloodstock world at his feet. Stunningly impressive in the National Stakes last September, he was the blue-eyed boy for Ballydoyle until barely a month ago. Odds-on for the 2000 Guineas, he managed to beat only one horse home and in the Irish equivalent last weekend he was priced to restore his reputation but — again — beat only one horse home.

The jury is not so much out as they have reached an early decision that the bubble has well and truly burst. So what are we to do? It seems likely that the pained trainer, Aidan O’Brien, will step the horse back to the sprinting division for the second renewal of the hugely likeable Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

Over six furlongs and restricted to top-class three year olds, it is a race of immensely likeable dimensions, catering as it does both for the sprinters who were never going to get a Guineas mile as they went away for winter and for those who failed to get a Guineas mile in the past month. Air Force Blue fits the latter criteria and if he fails to sparkle over the sharper distance, he will be one of the more spectacular winter unravels we have seen. The history books are littered with horses who failed to train on into the Classic generation, but rarely has a collapse been so public. Let’s hope Air Force Blue salvages his reputation at the Royal meeting, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Harry the comedian

Last Thursday evening, I was privileged enough to attend the Walking The Courses Ball to pay tribute to the remarkable Richard Farquhar, who has spent the past 18 months raising funds to fight pancreatic cancer. Richard’s phenomenal feat — to walk between every single racecourse in the UK — was completed last month at Newmarket’s Craven meeting. In the presence of the Princess Royal, a good four hundred of us paid tribute to Farquhar’s efforts and enjoyed some fine wine and dancing. The “turn”, so to speak, came from Harry Herbert — of Highclere fame, among many other fames. Herbert is every bit the English gent but his impressions were out of this world. Who knew that he had such skills? If readers are ever on the look out for an after-dinner speaker with horses as the theme, be sure to collar Herbert at the races. He had us in creases!

End of a (short-lived) American dream

The American Triple Crown dream is over: Nyquist was beaten in last Saturday’s Preakness and while I tend to bristle at the views of armchair jockeys, it was not the finest judge of pace ever seen in the second leg of the US triple crown.

It was only last year, of course, that American Pharoah became the first horse since Alleged in the 1970s to land the Triple Crown. If Nyquist’s defeat shows anything, it shows just how extraordinary the feat was last year. For now, however, I’m already fast-forwarding to October’s Breeders’ Cup before I next revert my gaze Stateside.

Life of Riley for former jockeys

Earlier this week, I was enjoying another charitable event, albeit with a less overt racing theme. For the third year on the spin, I was lucky enough to join Ed Chamberlin on his charity golf day to raise funds for WellChild, a charity which I know Chamberlin cares for enormously.

For those who don’t choose to spend their weekends watching football on Sky, Chamberlin has been the hugely talented and extremely likeable host of Sky’s football coverage for a number of years. Rumours abound that he is on the brink of signing up to be the new face of ITV Racing from 2017 and while I have been relentless in my support of the current C4 team, many of whom are extremely talented, loyal and deserve to be treated better all round, I do think Chamberlin would be a popular choice. A former odds-compiler, he often spends his spare time at the races, where his enthusiasm is infectious.

At his golf day — held at Woburn golf club — there were no shortages of racing folk: from AP McCoy to Mick Fitzgerald, Rishi Persad, Andrew Balding, Harry Herbert (again) and racing TV execs of every hue. It was my first round for the best part of a year (and it showed) but I later noticed that McCoy and Fitzgerald were at another golf tournament — the Pro-Am, which took place at Wentworth this week. Last week, they were both telling me they’d played at the prestigious Close House event which Graham Wylie so proudly supports. I have often dreamt of being a jockey— but my new dream is to be a retired jockey… What a life they lead!

Breather needed!

With Epsom a little more than a week away, I’m resisting the temptation to tip up more losers for long-suffering readers before we arrive on the Downs next Friday for The Oaks. Almost inevitably, my fancy for last week — The Gurkha — now looks likely to shun the famous Classic contours in exchange for a tilt at the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. Yet again, I’ve done my money before even getting to the track. I think I’m going to take up golfing and give up tipping!

Have a week off and I’ll be back next week with a full Epsom preview.

Top image: The finish at a previous edition of the National Stakes at Curragh racecourse, by Florian Christoph via Flickr, CC BY 2.0


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