The nonsensical way we choose our racing champions

Here we are in early May. A tantalising time in the Flat season. We’re just digesting the Guineas meeting yet no sooner have we’ve added Saxon Warrior and Billesdon Brook into racing’s pantheon of classic winners than sights are fixed four weeks hence to Epsom. Derby and Oaks trials start tomorrow at Chester, then Lingfield and Leopardstown at the weekend before York’s Dante meeting next week. Hang on a minute the flat season has barely got going! 

It is fair to say that the rhythm of a flat season makes little sense. We have four of the five classic winners known by the first weekend in June.  Merely two or three weeks later we get the glamour,  pageantry and fantastic spectacle of Royal Ascot, not to mention some brilliant high class racing. Then the season settles down with a series of milestone races through the summer; the Eclipse, King George, Glorious Goodwood and York’s Ebor meeting before we prepare for the growing Autumn festivals all looking to crown a champion. These include the Irish Champions weekend, Newmarket’s Future Champions meeting, Ascot’s Champions day, Arc weekend and for the those interested, the Breeders Cup in early November. 

You could ask who are the champion horses really? Ratings evolve as the season continues. Last year’s devastating winner of the Champion Stakes Cracksman ended up as the highest rated 3 year old in Europe yet was beaten in both Derbys at Epsom and the Curragh. But history will remember Wings of Eagles as the (shock) Derby winner long after Cracksman has been forgotten about. 

I’m sure if you started afresh with the racing calendar and plotted out an approach to finding a champion then we wouldn’t do it the way we do. And it’s so different in National Hunt racing where the season is all about pointing horses towards Cheltenham’s all encompassing festival.

Saxon Warrior’s win on Saturday at Newmarket has got some people talking him up as a certainty for Epsom now, and should he win the Derby then the lure of the Triple Crown will be difficult for the Ballydoyle/Coolmore operation to turn down. They came close with Camelot a few years ago. I was at Doncaster when the unheralded Godolphin horse Encke shocked the racing world when winning the Leger and I’ll be there again if Saxon Warrior is poised to make history in September. Of course it was Ballydoyle who supplied the last Triple Crown winner when Nijinsky achieved equine greatness in 1970. 

Talking of the Triple Crown, in US racing the Triple Crown means something different with a punishing schedule of three races in a five week period 

Last weekend we saw the unbeaten Justify win the Kentucky Derby, He will now go for the Preakness at Pimlico in a couple of weeks, and if successful there, to Belmont Park for the 1m 4f Belmont Stakes – a distance horses in the US are rarely ever asked to run. Having waited 37 years since Affirmed (ridden by a young Steve Cauthen) won the triple crown we had the brilliant American Pharaoh, trained by Bob Baffert finally achieving US racing immortality [3] years ago. Can Baffert do it again so soon with Justify? 

By the way talking of Steve Cauthen, I noticed he turned 58 the other day. That made me feel old! 

So some very different systems – and let’s not forget the French season where it is all different again and is really all about the Arc weekend, the first weekend in October, and in particular the Prix De L’Arc de Triomphe itself. 

Maybe we could always ask the many world boxing associations to come in to help simplify things?  

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