In recent years, the Knavesmire track at York has come in for a fair amount of stick, which, to my mind at the time, was fairly justified. There appeared to be some patches of — well — patchy ground and despite it having a reputation for being a more than fair track, it was not unusual to see top-level performers come unstuck.
Last week, however, no such accusations were in evidence and credit must be due to William Derby and his outstanding team for delivering a fair and even racing surface that left no connections with any excuse. The best horses were seen to best effect and almost without exception, they won the races. Postponed, Idaho and Seventh Heaven all scored for the Ballydoyle team but, for me, it was the performance of Mecca’s Angel that was not only the most enjoyable in the Nunthorpe but also the most worthy of comment.
“Mecca’s Angel needs juice in the ground” is one of the ten commandments of the Flat season testament. Everywhere we turned it was said, repeated, believed and repeated anew. She’d won the race last year with juice in the ground; on firm conditions, she had flopped. So we all looked to the skies on Friday, and the promised rain failed to come. So Mecca’s Angel wouldn’t be winning. Except she not only won but she very nearly broke the track record.
It was a stunning performance from an out-and-out speedball, trained expertly by Michael Dods, which shattered — in an instant — the myth that surrounds so many top-class sprinters that prevailing ground conditions can make or break a horse. It is a bugbear of mine that so many horses miss engagements “on account of the ground”. The very best can go on a variety of grounds — take Frankel and Sea The Stars, for instance — and take their chances irrespective of mild variations in a climate like ours.
Hats off to Mecca’s Angel — truly one of the most likeable sprinters we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying — and to her connections, who keep rolling the big dice without furrowing their brows to the clouds or sun at every given opportunity.
In France, last Sunday, we were licking our lips at the prospect of once again seeing the phenomenal Lady Aurelia in the Prix Morny. I went on record at the time by saying her Royal Ascot win was the highlight of the week. On Sunday, she wasn’t quite as impressive but still reminded us — in victory — that she’s the most exciting two-year-old filly in the world at the moment.
We must pray to high heaven that she returns to these shores next summer — possibly for a campaign taking in the terrific Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot on the Friday of that meeting. It seems a lot of our decent two years olds — Mehmas and Queen Kindly included — could turn out to be sprinters rather than Guineas prospects. It’s time to get excited again about the need for speed.
I wonder if, like me, you are suffering from some post-Olympics blues? Although it took me the best part of a week to acknowledge it was underway, when the gold rush began I was hooked. Now it’s over, I’m at a loss as to what to do with my so-called free time.
The sight of Nick Skelton collecting his gold was an undoubted highlight and, although I suspect others on this site are likely to speak with more authority on his incredible feats, it did give rise to a discussion — on racing satellite channel ATR — as to whether there could ever be a place for horse racing at the Olympics.
I’m all for wild ideas and new concepts but I have racked my brains and cannot for the life of me think how this could work. We have the Shergar Cup — which I’ve written at length about in recent weeks, as a fan and advocate — and that’s about as near as we get to team events in racing.
Could it work? Possibly, with a leap of faith which I don’t possess. My own views are clear: purely because an event such as the Olympics is such a wonderful spectacle does not mean we need to gatecrash it with our own preferences. Let’s not waste too much time trying to see how our beloved sport can dovetail with a beloved institution. When I go to my local wine bar I don’t search for the best real ales, I enjoy the wine and go up the road for a decent pint. Celebrate the differences and let’s not worry!
Nemoralia came good for us last week, bringing to a merciful end my extraordinary feat of tipping losers. We’ve got the Celebration Mile at Goodwood this Saturday and given that my tipping at the Glorious meeting was far from glorious, I’m going to give it a swerve and offer you a different horse to follow as we move into what I consider to be the back end of the Flat season (if such a thing exists): Housesofparliament stayed on nicely in the Great Voltigeur behind stablemate Idaho and, although the latter is nearing odds-on status for the St Leger, the former is still a double-figure price. He may swerve Donny altogether but the next time we see him, I’m going to be taking fancy prices about an under-rated middle distance stayer.