Author: Nicholas Godfrey

CYNICISM, healthy or otherwise, is usually my default position when it comes to gimmicky new concepts. However, albeit with some pretty hefty reservations, I must admit to being intrigued by the prospect of ‘City Racing’ hitting the streets of Europe and beyond after last week’s successful trial on the old motor racing circuit at Aintree. Three eight horse trials over three and a half furlongs were conducted in Liverpool as a prelude to what has been described as a ‘racing revolution’ to bring the sport into the heart of the metropolis in a manner similar to athletics, cycling and Formula One. Okay, let’s get the obvious caveats in first. You don’t need to be a doomsday merchant to worry about the prospect of eight tonnes of Thoroughbred charging about in an urban setting surrounded by screaming crowds. These are not inanimate objects; they are easily spooked. The possibility of an equine breakdown or worse, a calamity involving the crowd, does not bear thinking about. Doubtless those involved are painfully aware of such potential issues, however. Looked at more positively, organisers, led by the Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips, the City Racing chief executive, have their eye on a new, younger audience. They are forecasting the City Racing could do for the sport what Twenty20 has done for cricket. Last week’s Aintree trials were conducted on Equaflow, a sand based allweather surface which was used for the equine events at Greenwich at the London Olympics in 2012. But although it received the thumbs up from trainers and jockeys involved, there is still a fair way to go as the trials were nowhere near racing pace. A rather optimistic prognosis suggested the first two cities set to host races will be ready for 2019; financial realities scuppered plans for an inaugural event in Paris on the eve of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October. That said, the Jockey Club are on board in backing the idea, so perhaps it isn’t quite as fanciful as it sounds. A series of six race meetings in cities around the world, each contest an eight runner 0-90 handicap involving a band of top jockeys and, according to their own website, the City Racing Global Series will kick off in Europe, before branching out to Australia, Asia and the US. Frankly, it must be rated a longshot City Racing will ever happen; it is a long way from half speed gallops inside a racecourse adjacent to the Grand National fences to fully fledged sprint handicaps down Oxford Street or Fifth Avenue (or, for that matter, Sheikh Zayed Road). But let’s not write it off just yet. Even allowing for necessary scepticism.

Almond Eyes Dubai

IF THE advent of a new multi million dollar race at home is hardly likely to increase the chances of any Australian influx to the Dubai World Cup meeting, there was some very welcome news from Japan last week. Clearly they don’t mess about mulling over their options in the Far East, because connections of Almond Eye, the nation’s new superstar, have stated their intention to run her in either the Dubai Turf or Sheema Classic on 30 March. Presumably nobody needs reminding of the Japanese record on World Cup night and given that her nation’s fillies’ Triple Crown winner was nothing short of spectacular in the Japan Cup, this wonderful daughter of top sprinter Lord Kanaloa promises to be a formidable opponent for anyone. Now all we need is Enable! Almond Eye smashed the track record by a second and a half. Okay, they went hard throughout and the surface was like concrete but it still seems outlandish. Handicappers seemingly weren’t massively impressed either, as a Racing Post Rating of only 120 for the winner suggests. Can’t help thinking they’re a bit on the low side. One final point regarding the Japan Cup, which I seem to repeat every year. Considering the relative strength of Japan’s middle distance crop, there is now no major turf race on the global calendar that is tougher to win for visiting horses. Long gone are the days when second tier horses could be competitive, and there seems little point going in armed with anything less than absolute ‘top notchers’. Thundering Blue and Capri, lovely horses that they are, were duly run off their feet.

Pegasus needs wings

The THIRD running of the Pegasus World Cup, no longer the world’s richest race, is less than two months away and once again the silence has been almost deafening since the advent of a new $7 million turf race was added to the Gulfstream Park schedule on 26 January. The cost to secure a spot is now $500,000 per race, and while European stables don’t appear so far to have been clamouring to take up the kind offer for the new Pegasus Turf, there is still time. Maybe one or two of those in Hong Kong this coming weekend will have a closer look. Be that as it may, word reaches us that the Coolmore team are among those who have secured a place in the field for the 1900m contest. Also set to line up is Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Catapult, whose owners Woodward Racing have also put up the ante for the race. That said, any ‘half decent’ Godolphin runner would certainly add lustre. The main event, now worth $9m (down by the $7m up for grabs for the new grass race), looks a rather more attractive proposition given that the stakeholder fee has been cut in half. Breeders’ Cup one-two Accelerate and Gunnevera, plus last year’s Florida Derby winner Audible and Leofric and Bravazo, the principals in a photo finish for the recent Clark Handicap, are other names in the frame. Seeking The Soul and City Of Light are another pair to emerge as likely contenders.

Don’t write off City Racing – but don’t hold your breath either