First printed in the May edition of Owner Breeder  

As the European flat season gets into full flow, it’s worth looking back at the Australian season, which came to a climax recently with two days of championship racing at Randwick in Sydney. There is so much to be admired about how Australians organise their racing industry. The product is nothing short of outstanding with full fields and extremely competitive high-class racing conducted at iconic racetracks. The debate as to whether Australia’s stayers are up to the standard found in Europe seems to be a moot point, with the top imports simply adding to the whole spectacle and providing a constant barometer of how the locals are shaping up internationally.

This season has seen the continued trend where some high-class overseas horses have given the locals plenty to think about, none more so than Dubai Honour, who posted the fastest closing 200 metres of any horse – sprinter or stayer – at the Championships when landing the Queen Elizabeth Stakes over 2000m from Australia’s much beloved nine-time Group 1 winner Anamoe. The handicappers at Timeform were obliged to rate Dubai Honour 127+ for his efforts, which is all of nine pounds higher than his best European form. As things stand, he’s the country’s joint top-rated alongside sprinter I Wish I Win, who was also successful at the Championships taking the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes over 1,200 metres.

There are also the well-founded viewpoint that the black-type system is bloated, with many of the nation’s Group races run as handicaps. And with new richly endowed races springing up on a regular basis, there are plenty of ways in which top-performers can avoid taking each other on. By my calculations there have been 30 individual Group 1-winning three-year-olds this season and only three won more than once at the highest level. The mere fact that there are Group 1 races confined to the Classic generation right to the end of the season must suppress inter-age competition, which can leave you wondering about the relative merits of the best three-year-olds. 

Timeform’s idea of the best three-year-old is Giga Kick, the 125-rated sprinter by the Redoute’s Choice stallion Scissor Kick, who is now based in Tunisia, having failed to live up to expectations at Arrowfield Stud. Having won the Everest in the spring, Giga Kick had to wait until the final Group 1 of the Sydney Autumn Carnival to win for the first time at the highest level in the All-Aged Stakes, one of the comparatively rare occasions when a three-year-old established his credentials while racing against his elders.

The next two highest rated on the three-year-old log are the ex-James Ferguson pair El Bodegon (124) and Deauville Legend (121), which speaks volumes about the dearth of International class stayers in Australia. We have to go down to Communist (by Russian Revolution), Golden Mile (by Astern) and Lindermann (Lonhro), all rated 118, to find the first three-year-old Group 1 winners at 1600 metres and beyond. In between, we have two more speed merchants in Australia’s top-rated three-year-old filly In Secret (by I Am Invincible) plus Jacquinot (by Rubick), both dual Group 1 winners this season, rated 120.

The pecking order among the two-year-olds, as is usually the case, is all sorted in just two or three races. Shinzo, by Snitzel, was decisive when winning the Group 1 Golden Slipper Stakes and has been rewarded with a 120 rating, five pounds clear of his stablemate Militarize (by Dundeel), who picked up both the Group 1 Sires’ Produce Stakes over 1,400 metres and Group 1 Champagne Stakes over 1,600 metres. Also on 115 is Godolphin’s Golden Slipper second Cylinder, a son of the evergreen Exceed And Excel. Australia’s other Group 1-winning youngster, Little Brose (by Per Incanto), winner of the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes, is on 114, alongside the best juvenile filly in Steel City, a second-crop daughter of Merchant Navy.

On the stallion front, it looks like a second title for Yarraman Park Stud’s I Am Invincible, although New Zealand-based veteran Savabeel has put up a fine show in second place, thanks to an extraordinary autumn which saw I Wish I Win become Australia’s top sprinter, a welcome surprise for the Waikato sire, who normally produced stayers. His other highlights at the Championships were Major Beel in the Group 1 Australian Derby, Atishu in the Group 1 Queen of the Turf Stakes and Mo’unga’s second to Dubai Honour in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

But in terms of stakes winners, it’s a straightforward tussle between I Am Invincible Spirit and four-time champion sire Snitzel. Remarkably, ranked joint third by stakes winners is Frankel with eight, a fine effort for a sire based outside Australasia, though none of the eight scored at Group 1 level, ex-British trained Francesco Guardi being just about the best.

Of the four sires locked on seven stakes winners apiece, three are sons of Sadler’s Wells’s Derby-winning son High Chaparral and are all are unsurprisingly stamina influences. The most progressive of the three is Arrowfield’s Dundeel, responsible for dual juvenile Group 1 scorer Militarize, and just about to reap the rewards of two richly endowed crops in 2020 and 2021, earned on the back of his success of his previous Group 1 Champagne Stakes victor Castelvecchio, who went on to triumph in the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas.

I Am Invincible also has the upper hand among sires of two-year-old stakes winners, his five featuring the 110-rated Golden Slipper third King’s Gambit. Snitzel’s son Russian Revolution had a pair of Group 3 scorers – Red Resistance (112) and Libertad (110) – among his three stakes winners, while heavyweights Exceed And Excel and Snitzel weighed in with quality youngsters like Cylinder (115) and Barber (110) and Snitzel’s masterpiece Shinzo (120). Remarkably, the fourth stallion to net a trio of stakes winners was Godolphin’s first-season sire Harry Angel, whose three Listed scorers include the very progressive Tom Kitten, who followed up his Fernhill success with a fourth place over the same course and distance in the Champagne Stakes.

Harry Angel: off to a bright start in both hemisphere – Photo: George Selwyn