We have a champion. And his name is Almanzor. Jean-Claude Rouget’s remarkable season continued at Ascot on British Champions Day, as his brilliant three-year-old cemented his position as Europe’s leading performer with a superb victory in the QIPCO Champion Stakes, defeating Arc heroine Found by two lengths.
When this magazine spoke to Rouget earlier this year, the trainer spoke of his desire to enter the “big circle” alongside Aidan O’Brien, John Gosden and Andre Fabre. On British Champions Day that wish came true in a literal sense, with Rouget, O’Brien and Gosden all savouring Group 1 glory on a perfect autumn afternoon in Berkshire.
Almanzor’s acceleration at the end of the race was spellbinding; it was also noticeable how far he travelled past the winning post – in true Frankel style – before pulling up and returning to rapturous applause from the stands. A superstar, undoubtedly. So how much would one have to pay for his sibling? Well, not as much as you might have thought – €140,000 to be precise, the price his Falco half-brother realised at Arqana in October.
Considering the recent prices achieved at Tattersalls’ Book 1 Sale (see Sales Circuit, pages 68-78) that might seem a snip. However Falco, a son of Pivotal who was a surprise winner of the 2008 French 2,000 Guineas, is not regarded as an elite stallion, as his €2,500 stud fee would suggest. Yet the same could have been said of Wootton Bassett, the sire of Almanzor.
Found was second best in the Champion Stakes but it was still an outstanding performance from a filly that only 13 days earlier had claimed Europe’s showpiece middle-distance prize, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, as part of an unprecedented 1-2-3 for owner Coolmore, trainer Aidan O’Brien and, perhaps most importantly, sire Galileo.
Northern Dancer aside, has there been a stallion as dominant as Galileo in the post-war period? Perhaps our bloodstock experts Tony Morris and Andrew Caulfield can come up with some opposition to this giant but it seems Galileo has now eclipsed the achievements of his own sire, Sadler’s Wells, in terms of his production record and influence on the breed.
Galileo is now 18 and while his Group 1-winning sons at stud are plentiful it is hard to see any of them getting anywhere near their father’s number of top-class winners. But then who would have thought that Sadler’s Wells could be usurped by one of his sons?
Rouget achieved his desire, literally, of entering the ‘big circle’ with O’Brien and Gosden
Champions Day also saw Jim Crowley crowned as champion jockey for the first time. Talking to Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder in May, Crowley stated that his championship aspirations were “a work in progress – if I said I was going to be champion I could end up with egg on my face.” Well, Jim, no eggs needed here!
Crowley was one of the first jockeys to swap a career riding over jumps for the Flat game; he has since been followed, with considerable success, by both Graham Lee and Dougie Costello.
Others may disagree but it seems to me that the ex-jumping boys are at least as strong in the saddle as their Flat counterparts, if not stronger, which is perhaps not surprising given that they are used to pointing imposing chasers over formidable obstacles on testing ground over three miles. A fitness test, indeed.
Crowley’s title – special mention to Silvestre de Sousa for helping to produce an engrossing encounter over the past few months – was engineered by his agent, Tony Hind, who deserves huge credit for his behind-the-scenes role. Yet Crowley was the man doing the business, day in, day out, all over the country, with barely a moment to catch his breath.
The change to the parameters of the Flat championship did not please everyone in this sport but this was a title hard-earned and thoroughly deserved. So many congratulations to Jim Crowley on his achievement.