Above: Cracksman, partnered by the inimitable Frankie Dettori
John Gosden, champion British flat racing trainer in both 2012 and 2015, could well give the all-conquering Aidan O’Brien a serious run for his money this season in the top middle-distance races for older horses.
The trainer of last season’s star filly Enable, and last term’s Qipco Champion Stakes winner Cracksman, looks set to prove hard to beat in the top British and European races for older horses over 10 and 12 furlongs, and the victory of the Frankie Dettori-ridden Cracksman on Sunday in the Group 1 Prix Ganay at the newly reopened Paris Longchamp augured well for the coming months.
Racing in the famous colours carried to so many big race victories just three seasons ago by the great Golden Horn, Cracksman proved himself a high-class performer last season. He was beaten just a length in the Investec Derby when third to O’Brien’s Wings of Eagles before again being denied by a Ballydoyle colt in losing out by just a neck in the Irish Derby four weeks later to Capri.
The son of the great Frankel returned to rout the opposition in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes at York’s Ebor fixture before easily winning the Group 2 Prix Niel at Chantilly last September. But it was his seven-length drubbing of the smart Poet’s Word in Ascot’s Group 1 Qipco Champion Stakes in late-October (see video below) that signalled the Gosden inmate was a horse very much to look forward to in 2018.
Expected to improve for his seasonal reappearance, Cracksman was nonetheless made 3/5f for Sunday’s Prix Ganay, even though his rivals included last year’s Prix Ganay winner and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Cloth of Stars, O’Brien’s Rhododendron, runner-up in both last season’s 1000 Guineas and Investec Oaks and winner of the Group 1 Prix de l’Opera at Chantilly, and Ralph Beckett’s progressive Air Pilot, winner of the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt at Longchamp three weeks earlier.
Despite the high quality opposition Cracksman proved different class (see video below), powering to a four-length win over pacemaker Wren’s Day, a 24/1 shot who made the running for stable companion Cloth of Stars (7/2) who finished a further three-quarters-of-a-length back in third. Rhododendron was a similar distance back in fourth.
“I was thrilled because as he passed me at the furlong pole he got down and low, he stretched, which is always great to see,” Gosden told reporters. “He’s a stronger horse this year and is filling out from three to four, let alone four to five. I’m impressed how cool he is, how relaxed and professional he is.
“He could go to Ireland for the Tattersalls Gold Cup if he was in great nick, then the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. I know that’s what Mr Oppenheimer is thinking.”
Cracksman is a top-priced 6/4 shot with bet365 for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 20, for which his brilliant stable companion Enable, undefeated in five Group 1’s last term over 12 furlongs, is also a possibility and offered at 5/1 with William Hill.
Gosden has also made it clear that he wouldn’t be against the pair taking each other on in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July, a race won last year in brilliant fashion by Enable, who is a top priced 2/1 with Paddy Power to retain her crown. Cracksman can currently be backed at 5/2 with Boylesports.