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Fingers crossed Masar can bounce back

Author: Nicholas Godfrey

07/08/2018
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On both sides of the Atlantic, summer’s premier skirmishes are continuing minus the main attractions. Just as the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park went ahead without Epsom hero Masar after a very late setback, Saturday’s King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes contained no Derby winners, to some extent removing its raison d’etre as Britain’s ‘all aged misdummer championship’. Moving Stateside, the following day’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in New Jersey did not feature Triple Crown hero Justify, retired last week owing to the ankle injury sustained after the Belmont. Unwelcome news in all cases, serving only to remind racing fans worldwide that our relationships with our equine stars is often a short lived fling rather than a more substantial, longer lasting romance.

Justify, for example, goes to stud after an abbreviated racing career comprising six races in under four months; the wonderful son of Scat Daddy was a shooting star indeed. Masar is a slightly different kettle of fish. Godolphin’s second Derby winner after Lammtarra (New Approach, by the way, was officially never a Godolphin racehorse) is already a more seasoned performer than his US counterpart with nine runs to his name, five of them as a juvenile. Moreover, his owners have already made it clear they intend to bring him back as a 4yo after he recovers from the soft tissue damage that has derailed his summer. Here’s hoping it works out: even allowing for a dismal run on the Meydan dirt, a winter in Dubai didn’t do Masar any harm last time around and Charlie Appleby can be relied upon to do the right thing.

However, here it must also be admitted the form book does not paint an entirely roseate portrait for Epsom victors who stay in training. The last two Derby winners to be raced at four were the Ballydoyle pair Camelot and Ruler Of The World, who scored at Epsom in 2012 and 2013 respectively. They won only one race each, neither at the top level: Camelot, who had come back from a colic operation, was twice beaten behind Al Kazeem before retirement, while Ruler Of The World won only the Prix Foy, posting lacklustre displays in Dubai on Tapeta and both the Arc and Champion Stakes. After adding the Arc to his Epsom laurels in 2010, Workforce fared a bit better as a 4yo; but the fact remains that he won just once more, and that a one length verdict over unheralded Poet in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes.

So much for the recent Classic heroes to return the following season, but what about the lessons from previous seasons? There is often much wailing and gnashing of teeth when a Derby winner is retired at the end of their 3yo campaign (or earlier, when injury intervenes) but there aren’t a stack of persuasive arguments for doing anything else in the modern era, when the Aidan O’Brien-trained High Chaparral looks the exception that proves the rule. He won both the Irish Champion Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Turf (via a dead-heat) as an older horse, when he also came third in the Arc. Perhaps significantly, he did not reappear until August in his 4yo campaign.

Others, though, have not done quite so well. North Light (Derby winner in 2004) and Sir Percy (2006) never won again after Epsom; from nine further starts, High-Rise (1998), unbeaten in four after winning at Epsom, landed just a weak renewal of the Dubai City of Gold (then a Listed race) at Nad Al Sheba in February 2000. Even worse, if anything, is the record of Derby winners who missed out on their summer campaign through injury, as my Racing Post colleague Julian Muscat pointed out in a recent column. “Prior to Masar, six Derby winners since Henbit in 1980 were so plagued and five could not overcome it,” he wrote. As well as the winless North Light and Sir Percy, Henbit (1980) was unplaced on both starts at four, while Slip Anchor (1985) was second in the Champion Stakes in the autumn of his Classic season and became temperamental at four, when he was beaten on his only outing in the Jockey Club Stakes.

Henbit returned at four to be roundly beaten twice; Slip Anchor (1985) was beaten in the autumn before a solitary 4yo outing brought about instant retirement. Quest For Fame (1990) did eventually win at five after being transferred to the States; he lost five times as a 4yo. “The sole exception was Teenoso (1983), who rebounded from injury to win the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and a fast ground King George at four after gaining his Derby triumph in hock deep ground,” added Muscat. On the plus side, Masar did not sustain anything as serious as a fracture, and he is more experienced than a typical Derby winner. Fingers, alongside everything else, are firmly crossed on his behalf.

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07 Aug 2018
Issue Number: Issue 647
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Busybody Tadhg looks to scale mountains after climbing Hills
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