European Racing Report: Business as Usual

Published in the Aug. 18 issue of The Blood-Horse
California rider David Flores made his first trip to Britain pay off when he rode two winners on the Aug. 11 Shergar Cup card at Ascot, but it was business as usual the following day when Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien collected a group I double in Leopardstown's Independent Waterford Wedgwood Phoenix Stakes and Deauville's Prix Maurice de Gheest.

Johannesburg won the first European group I for the younger set with a dazzling burst of acceleration inside the two-furlong pole to sprint five lengths clear of Miss Beabea and nine others over Leopardstown's straight six-furlong course. The going was yielding to soft but it didn't deter Michael Kinane as he hand rode the 2-5 winner to his fourth consecutive success and the top of the betting market for next year's Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I).

"There is no doubt that this is a brilliant 2-year-old," O'Brien told the Racing Post. "He has two extra gears and that acceleration is electric. He's a serious horse and has never been extended. The plan was to come here and then go for the Prix Morny (Fr-I, Aug. 26) followed by the Middle Park (Eng-I, Oct. 4) and Dewhurst (Eng-I, Oct. 20), but we'll take it one race at a time."

This was the fourth consecutive victory in the Phoenix for O'Brien with a Michael Tabor/John Magnier-owned colt, and the third straight Phoenix win for Kinane. "He's as good a 2-year-old as I've ridden," said Kinane. "In fact, I don't think I've ever ridden a better one."

Earlier in the day in France, the Tabor silks again were to the fore as King Charlemagne won his fifth consecutive race in the 6 1/2-furlong de Gheest. Only one French sprinter could be found to take on eight raiders, but Danger Over could finish only fifth as odds-on King Charlemagne was driven on by Jamie Spencer to beat Godolphin's front-running Three Points by a neck. The pair could meet again in the Stanley Leisure Sprint Cup (Eng-I, Sept. 8) at Haydock Park.

"We missed the break, so I took him (King Charlemagne) to the outside," Spencer said. "He has a lot of speed, is an easy ride, and I thought we'd win from two out."

Godolphin suffered another setback when Coronation Cup (Eng-I) winner Mutafaweq finished last of eight in Cologne's Credit Suisse Private Banking Pokal (Ger-I), being eased by Frankie Dettori in the final furlong. Sabiango, trained by Andreas Wohler and ridden by Andreas Suborics, won the 12-furlong affair by a half-length from Boreal.

"There's nothing wrong with Mutafaweq," Dettori said. "He just lost his action on the patchy ground."

The Shergar Cup had its first running at Goodwood in 1999 and flopped because IMG Group doubled the price of admission and the weather failed to cooperate. Moved from May to August the following year at Ascot, attendance went from 5,000 to 18,000 partly because free tickets were handed out. For this year, the format was changed from an owners' competition to a jockeys' team event and attendance rose nearly 4%.

Two teams of six riders, one representing Great Britain and Ireland, and the other the Rest of the World, went at it for six races with mounts being allotted by draw. ROW jockeys wore white caps and breeches, GBI red. Points were awarded to the first five finishers, the winner receiving 15, the fifth three. Familiar European names like Fallon, Eddery, Kinane, and Murtagh peopled the GBI team, but ROW riders, captained by Dettori, were less well-known. Italian champion Mirco Demuro was on hand along with Gerald Mosse from France, Norihiro Yokoyama from Japan, Australian Craig Williams, and Flores.

The local sextet were favored to lift the trophy, but ROW came from behind by taking the first three places in the last race to win 125-115. Flores completed a 119-1 double on Orientor in the last and was the only jockey to ride two winners, prompting a flying dismount.

"It's not part of my routine at home, but I did it to honor our team captain Frankie Dettori -- I understand he's quite an expert," said Flores, who also won two races on the Dubai World Cup card in March. "One fact struck me more than any other well trained the horses are in Britain. They're proper professionals who do exactly what you ask them. There's no fussing or messing around. I just put them in the game at the right time and they did the rest."