Top Five Flat Moments of the Year: Mohaather dazzles in the Sussex

Mohaather won a vintage renewal of the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.
Mohaather won a vintage renewal of the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

Nick Seddon picks out his five favourite Flat moments of the past 12 months, in a year which proved to be rather unorthodox from start to finish...

5. Zodiakos offers a welcome return to normality at Newcastle

This year has been a bleak one in every sense, and as the seriousness of the pandemic started to become more and more apparent in mid March, racing was cast into immediate uncertainty with the suspension of all elite sport, as the country went into lockdown.

We all hoped that those measures would be temporary, but weeks quickly turned into months, and doubts began to arise about whether we'd even be able to start the new Flat season at all, or whether it would go the same way as the Grand National - which was cancelled for the first time since the Second World War.

Like almost every other sector, racing was hit hard by the shutdown, but after 76 days the sport was given the green light to resume - in much different circumstances to what we had known before. Protocols were tight, and the turf was replaced with an all-weather surface, but the British Flat season kicked off on a Monday afternoon at Newcastle, courtesy of a 0-65 handicap over a mile.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the bookmakers who were smiling the widest as the seven-year-old Zodiakos caused a 22/1 surprise under James Sullivan, but those opening 100 seconds or so of the new season brought about a much-needed familiarity to a year which to that point had been without many.

The Cheltenham Festival

4) Stradivarius dazzles in the Gold Cup

The staying division is one which has been nothing short of dominated by Stradivarius over the past few years, but he began this campaign in the twilight of his career as a six-year-old, and on the back of a rare defeat to Kew Gardens on his final start of the previous season in the Long Distance Cup.

Stradivarius would be defeated again on his seasonal reappearance in the Coronation Cup (for all that he shaped well over an inadequate trip), and there seemed to be a feeling that he may not have things all his own way as he aimed to seal a third straight win in the Ascot Gold Cup - facing off on unfavourable soft ground against rivals which included a high-class opponent in Cross Counter, and two improving four-year-olds in Nayef Road and Technician

Nayef Road ensured it would be a test by setting a strong pace up-front under Ryan Moore, though Frankie Dettori sat motionless on Stradivarius, and he cruised into contention around the turn for home. Nayef Road was still in front at two furlongs out, but Moore was hard at work, and he could only watch on as Stradivarius breezed into the lead, before pulling clear to record one of the most devastating victories that this race has ever seen. 

Cheltenham Festival Races

3) Battaash dominates the sprint division

Battaash is horse racing's answer to marmite, and for every adoring fan that he has, there are those who are rather put off by his frenetic inconsistency. There can be no doubt that he is one of the best in the business when he's on form, and his electric speed is nothing short of breathtaking, but his tendency to get too fizzed up before his races can often prove to be his downfall, and he's long been criticised as a horse who needs the right conditions to be seen to best effect.

Age seems to have settled Battaash, though, and he returned as a much more composed model as a six-year-old, something which could rather ironically have been aided by the lack of crowds on a racecourse. His ideal conditions are undoubtedly a lightning fast five furlongs at Goodwood, though the fact that he would regularly let himself down at the likes of Ascot, York and Longchamp meant that there were some onlookers who still didn't consider him a sprinting great. Battaash had conquered York in no uncertain terms the previous year when tearing to success in the Nunthorpe, and next on his agenda was the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, a race in which he'd finished second to Blue Point in the previous two renewals.

That rival has since retired, and in his absence the six-year-old was electric, blasting his 10 rivals in devastating fashion, and sealing a third Group 1 success in the process. It felt like Battaash's time to shine, and having set a track record when winning his beloved King George Stakes at Goodwood in July, we saw a different side to the six-year-old in the Nunthorpe. On ground that was slower than he prefers, he was forced to fight at a course which had gotten the better of him in the past, and despite briefly looking in trouble behind the speedy Que Amoro, he refused to buckle, and showed his class to grind things out and round off the perfect campaign. 

Cheltenham Festival Tips

2) Double delight for O'Brien at Epsom

The delayed start to the season meant that the pattern had a rather chaotic look to it at the best of times this year, and the first ever running of a Guineas in June meant that the Epsom Derby would be put back by four weeks to the beginning of July, on a Saturday which coincided with the re-opening of pubs in the UK. The logistical challenges behind closing off a racecourse in Epsom that is littered with public footpaths brought about another irregularity, too, as it was decided that both the Oaks and the Derby would be held on the same day.  

That would be where the oddities ended, however, as Aidan O'Brien set the tone for the afternoon by winning his fourth Oaks in six years with the outstanding Love, who sauntered to a hugely impressive nine-length success in the fillies' classic. Ballydoyle have a similar taste for the Derby, and the completely unfancied maiden winner Serpentine recorded a remarkable front-running success under Emmet McNamara, being some 12 lengths clear of the field as he rounded Tattenham Corner. That win was O'Brien's sixth Derby success in nine years, and rounded off an excellent but rather unorthodox card - one which by just going ahead gave the firm message that racing was well and truly back on track.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

1) Mohaather strikes in a vintage Sussex Stakes

It's been a while since we've had a standout star in the one-mile division, and that lack of star quality has meant that we've been without a blockbuster event over the past couple of years, one which we've grown particularly used to seeing in Goodwood's Sussex Stakes. The Group 1 contest is the traditional first opportunity for the classic generation to face their elders over a mile, and the omens looked good for a high octane clash this year, as two excellent 2000 Guineas winners emerged on both sides of the Irish Sea in the form of Kameko and Siskin.  

Both horses were entered for the event along with the English Guineas runner-up Wichita, and it set up a mouth-watering clash with two high-class older horses - the admirable Queen Anne winner Circus Maximus and Mohaather, who looked for the world like an unlucky loser at Ascot in June, when failing to get a clear run under Jim Crowley. Mohaather had since romped to victory in the Summer Mile at the same track a month later, and he arrived looking to seal a first top level success, having missed the majority of his classic campaign through injury.

The race promised plenty and didn't disappoint, with the four market principals all holding a genuine chance inside the final furlong. Followers of the short-of-room Kameko can certainly feel slightly hard done by, but it was difficult not to be impressed with the way that Mohaather was able to sweep to the front late on, and he looked like a top-class colt in the making with the manner of his performance. Injury meant that Mohaather was unable to stamp his authority on the division in the autumn, but he bowed out as the new king of the division.  

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