PEGASUS WORLD CUP
No, it’s not part of his mission to ‘make America great again’ (though maybe his spin doctors are working on it), but only a week or so after Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, Gulfstream Park in Florida will stage the $12 million Pegasus World Cup. That trumps the prize fund for the Dubai World Cup to become ‘the world’s richest thoroughbred horse race!’ in the words (and punctuation) of the event’s website. Twelve stakeholders have each paid a million dollars for the privilege of booking a place in the line-up, among them the owners of California Chrome (2016 winner of what was formerly the world’s richest race) and already the highest earner in racing history. Frankel’s name appears too, though before anyone books the flights it’s not the great one being lured out of retirement (see below) – this is prominent American owners/breeders Ronald and Jerry Frankel. Juddmonte will, though, be represented instead by California Chrome’s Breeders’ Cup Classic conqueror Arrogate, having recently purchased Coolmore’s reserved spot. That sets up a fascinating rematch between the world’s highest-rated pair of horses, one of whom will have been named America’s Horse of the Year just a week earlier at the same venue. The result of the Pegasus World Cup could vindicate the outcome of that vote, but on the other hand…
CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
Pegasus would no doubt have taken some catching over fences, and Thistlecrack, despite a lack of both wings and chasing experience, did a pretty good impression of him at Kempton’s open ditches on the way to an historic and exhilarating King George victory. We can look forward to more of the same from Thistlecrack in 2017 when he’ll attempt to emulate Coneygree by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a novice. 2015 winner Coneygree could be one of Thistlecrack’s main rivals in the Gold Cup, and the prospect of these two powerful gallopers and superb jumpers matching strides around Cheltenham, with the likes of last year’s winner Don Cossack (due back from injury before too long), Cue Card and Djakadam breathing down their necks, is something to relish.
Frankel, of course, is busy making his millions in the breeding shed rather than on the racecourse nowadays, and enjoyed a tremendously successful 2016 with his first crop of two-year-olds. A handful of them are already pattern winners, among them Lowther Stakes winner Queen Kindly. Such success so early in his stud career was a somewhat unexpected bonus, and generated plenty of hype, but 2017 will be the acid test of his first crop, many of whom are still to appear on a racecourse. Of those that have, the likes of Aljezeera, Atty Persse, Cracksman, Eminent, Icespire and Mirage Dancer, who each won their only starts at two later in the year, are among those to look out for. If Frankel doesn’t get a classic winner in Europe, there’s always Soul Stirring in Japan. A daughter of the very smart Stacelita who won at the highest level in France and the USA, she’s unbeaten in three starts and was Japan’s top two-year-old filly.
While we wait to see if Sheikh Mohammed responds to his Dubai World Cup losing its status as the world’s most valuable race, there were signs in 2016 that the slumbering giant of his racing operation, Godolphin, could be about to reawaken. Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore partners enjoyed a hugely lucrative year, but there’s the exciting prospect of Godolphin providing stiffer competition at the top level in 2017. There were Group 1 wins in France in the autumn for two-year-olds Wuheida (Prix Marcel Boussac) and Thunder Snow (Criterium International), while the handful of Godolphin horses sent from Newmarket to run in Australia towards the end of the year enjoyed plenty of success, helping Charlie Appleby to win the International Trainer of the Year title at the recent Derby Awards. Godolphin’s Hawkbill got the better of Ballydoyle’s The Gurkha in the Eclipse Stakes in the summer, and it would be a good thing for racing at the top level if that scenario was played out a bit more often in 2017.
Finally, let’s look forward to another year of international challenges. Tepin’s North American connections, for example, were rewarded for stepping out of their mare’s comfort zone by sending her to Royal Ascot where she won the Queen Anne Stakes. She could be on her travels again in the New Year, this time to Dubai. Not all foreign ventures end in success, of course, but there were some unsung heroes in 2016 whose international exploits should provide inspiration. From Ireland, there was Heartbreak City who was bought out of a claimer in France, campaigned unsuccessfully over hurdles to begin with but ended up finishing second in the Melbourne Cup for Tony Martin and his enthusiastic band of owners. Few American horses contest all three legs of the US triple crown, let alone those from overseas, but Japanese colt Lani did just that after winning the UAE Derby, finishing third in the final leg, the Belmont Stakes. Could 2017 finally be the year Japan wins the Arc, or will it at last be the turn of a British-trained horse in the Melbourne Cup?