Top Five Flat Moments of the Decade: Veteran steals the show

Veteran sprinter The Tatling (left) was one of the feel good stories of the last decade.
Veteran sprinter The Tatling (left) was one of the feel good stories of the last decade.

Nick Seddon looks back on a momentous decade for Flat racing, and picks out his personal top five moments, which perhaps features a surprising winner…

5. Drama aplenty in the 2013 Falmouth Stakes

We kick things off with a moment which admittedly is rather left-field, but it is a race which to this day never fails to send me into a whirl of both fury and excitement. The race in question is the 2013 Falmouth Stakes, which is held during Newmarket’s July Meeting and is the first opportunity for fillies from the classic generation to come up against their elders.

The filly who was graduating into open company on this particular occasion was the Richard Hannon-trained Sky Lantern, who arrived here having won both the 1000 Guineas and the Coronation Stakes on her previous two starts. She headed a select field of four, and was a warm order in the betting to see off the challenges of the four-year-old Irish challenger Elusive Kate, the five-year-old French raider Giofra and fellow three-year-old Purr Along.

Elusive Kate was the main market rival to Sky Lantern, and she was quickly taken to the front by William Buick in what immediately became a highly-tactical affair, with Richard Hughes stalking her on the 4/7 favourite. The pace that Buick set was a particularly slow one, and it was only after the three furlong marker that he quickened the tempo – bringing about drama aplenty.  

Sky Lantern came alongside Elusive Kate from two furlongs out, but she was unable to get past her particularly game rival, who proceeded to carry her right across the track before holding on at the line – and it was a notable sign that Richard Hoiles declared her to be ‘first past the post’ during his commentary. The betting exchanges quickly erupted into a frenzy, and both sides seemed to have creditable arguments for and against amending the result.

What followed was one of the most remarkable Stewards’ Enquiries I’ve ever seen, televised for all to see on Channel 4. Both jockeys put forward sustained arguments; with Buick correctly pointing out that he had his whip in the correct hand, while a clearly aggrieved Hughes argued that his less-experienced mount had twice been struck on the head in the closing stages.

Clare Balding and her team expertly commented on the saga throughout, and after a 15-minute long debate, the stewards came to the conclusion that Elusive Kate hadn’t gained an unfair advantage - and the result stood.

The debate rolled on, however, with Sky Lantern’s connections appealing the result and attending a hearing in London six days later. The race was scrutinised over three hours, and again the result remained unaltered, with the complainants ultimately losing their £500 deposit – suggesting that the authorities felt it was an unjustified appeal. Our system is a highly complicated one, as Matt Chapman will undoubtedly tell you during the next stewards’ enquiry he muses over on Sky Sports Racing, though on this occasion the benefit of the doubt was given to Buick, who served a three-day ban for his troubles.

The right call? Take a look for yourself…

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4. A Royal winner in the Gold Cup!

The sight of the Queen’s colours being carried to victory is enough to light up even the most mundane of Mondays at Yarmouth, though Estimate’s victory in the 2013 Ascot Gold Cup felt particularly special.

Her Majesty has enjoyed plenty of success as an owner during her lifetime, though the 21st Century had proven to be rather barren up to that point compared with the one before – something which was made more pertinent by Carlton House getting within a length of winning the elusive Epsom Derby in 2011, a race which the Queen to this day has never won.

She did, however, have a promising filly in the staying division in the form of Estimate, who had provided her with a winner at the Royal Meeting 12 months’ previous when striking in the Queen’s Vase. Sir Michael Stoute had campaigned her cunningly, and she arrived at Ascot having won the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at the same track the month before over two miles – a race which regularly acts as a good indicator for the Gold Cup.

Punters quickly latched onto the story, and Estimate was sent off as a well-supported 7/2 favourite despite being unproven at two and a half miles. Under Ryan Moore, Estimate stalked the pace, before getting into a titanic battle inside the final two furlongs. The game filly picked up the lead inside the final furlong, and held off the sustained challenges of Simenon, Top Trip and last year’s winner Colour Vision to prevail by a quarter of a length in a thrilling four-way finish.

The cameras quickly panned to the winning owner, who had become the first reigning monarch to win the Ascot Gold Cup in its 207-year history. The pictures were enough to hearten even the most downcast of onlookers, and we even got a (fleeting) smile from Ryan Moore!

3. Frankel dazzles on the classic stage

Considering that he’s just been crowned as the ‘Horse of the Decade’ here on, you’d be perfectly entitled to devote the entire article solely to the great Frankel, though one moment stands out more than the others.

Ian Bartlett can perhaps take plenty of credit for that with his now iconic commentary, but Frankel’s performance to win the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2011 was simply majestic. It seems strange now, but he was still very much just an exciting prospect back then, and he rocked up at the first classic of the season on the back of a stunning juvenile campaign, and a flawless success on reappearance in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury the month before.

Racing fans and analysts alike were beginning to suggest that this son of Galileo could well be the second coming, and this was the performance which well and truly exploded him onto the scene. Sent off as the 2/1-on favourite, Frankel’s speed out of the stalls was electric, and Tom Queally seemed to be nothing more than a passenger as his mount bolted into a remarkably large lead.

It was a burst of speed which convinced many that Frankel had a July Cup in him, and it allowed him to build up a lead which prompted Bartlett to exclaim “he’s FIFTEEN lengths clear!” at the bushes. Almost every other horse would have been unable to keep that gallop up, but remarkably Frankel just kept on rolling, and he blasted home to defeat Dubawi Gold by six lengths – having spent the entirety of not just a top-level contest, but a classic, in splendid isolation.

It’s testament to the great Sir Henry Cecil that he was eventually able to train the fizz out of Frankel, so much so that he fell out of the stalls on his swan song in the Champion Stakes the following year. We all know what Frankel went on to achieve, but this was some statement of intent, the likes of which we will absolutely never see again in a classic race.

2. Nolen drops his reins on the Aussie superstar Black Caviar

In my personal opinion, the measure of a great commentary is being able to get a clear picture of a race without even watching it – both the positions and styles of each and every runner, plus the stories and emotions that come hand in hand with the closing stages.

As far as I’m concerned, ‘Aussie’ Jim McGrath is the best caller I’ve ever heard (I’m too young to remember the likes of Sir Peter O’Sullevan), and his commentary of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes is one of my personal favourites.

The fact that there was a story-and-a-half behind it obviously helped, and in the days before a certain Winx, another mare was getting all of the attention down under, Black Caviar. The indestructible wonder mare had won all 21 of her starts in Australia - 11 of those at Group 1 level - and the time that she was around meant that she was inevitably compared with another unbeaten horse, Frankel.  

Black Caviar was a sprinter, however, meaning that a race between the two was never a realistic hope, but her ambitious connections were brave enough to send her to England for a tilt at the Royal Meeting.

The European sprinting scene wasn’t particularly daunting at the time, and Black Caviar looked to have a penalty kick as far as the betting was concerned – being sent off as the 6/1-on favourite. Fellow Aussie raider Soul, who had moved to the Northern Hemisphere at the beginning of that season for Godolphin, set a blistering pace, and Black Caviar smoothly picked up the lead under urgings from Luke Nolen at the two furlong marker.

The French-trained pair of Moonlight Cloud and Restiadargent were hot on her heels, but Black Caviar seemed to have things under control as her compatriot McGrath ramped up the volume with his iconic tones. Australian jockey Nolen looked confident, perhaps too much so, and he alarmingly dropped the reigns in the final 50 yards or so, having seemingly mistook the winning post.

Nolen denies doing so, but either way his mistake opened the door to Moonlight Cloud, who got within a whisker of pinching the spoils, before Nolen regained control of his mount and bundled her home by the absolute skin of his teeth.

The BBC cameras panned to a scene in Melbourne, where fans had gathered to watch the race in the middle of the night, and they weren’t half made to sweat.

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1. The Tatling bows out with a fairytale success

It may seem a baffling choice to place a 0-60 sprint handicap at Wolverhampton above all others, though that December affair back in 2011 brought to a close a truly remarkable career.

In his pomp all the way back at the beginning of the decade, The Tatling was a top-class sprinter, proving good enough to win a King’s Stand Stakes at the Royal Meeting in 2004 and finish second in back-to-back renewals of the Nunthorpe Stakes at York in 2003 and 2004.

Having started his career back in 1999, The Tatling showed an unrivalled love for the game, particularly since joining the Milton Bradley yard in 2002. His immediate career would take him to prestigious places like Longchamp and Sha Tin, and although his legs slowly began to go, he would become the horse who refused to retire.

"We were going to retire him at one time but he hated it, Bradley told The Guardian in 2010.

 "You put him out in a field, a lovely field with a pony, and he'll come and stand by the gate. When the other horses go out and he sees them go up the road, he follows them up the field. He wants to go out with them."

The years would pass and pass, and although the locations became significantly less exotic, The Tatling rolled on.

He was still getting stuck in at the grand old age of 14, and after a majestic 175 visits to the racecourse, in which he won on 17 occasions, placed 47 times and collected in excess of £680,000 in prize money, connections decided that The Tatling’s 176th visit to the racecourse would be his last.

Lining up off an official mark of 60, the 14-year-old was tasked with giving weight away to the field in the five-furlong contest under the lights at Wolverhampton, and he was an unfancied 16/1 shot to bow out with a win.

As he had become accustomed to, The Tatling fell out of the stalls, and a winning swan song seemed remote swinging the bend for home, as he had just a handful of rivals behind him and Grand Stitch had fizzed into a commanding lead.

Richard Kingscote got to work, however, and as the leader began to come back to the field, The Tatling began to respond to his rider’s urgings, and Kingscote weaved him through a wall of runners. The old boy began to really swing into momentum, and just as winning could not seem more remote, he flashed home in the shadows of the post to steal an emotional victory in a photograph, and defeat a rival in Novabridge who was 11 years his junior.

Simon Mapletoft, as he usually is when it comes to anything on the sand, was awash with excitement in the aftermath, and I will unashamedly admit that I have never and will never shout more at a lowly all-weather dogfight.

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