Top 5 Flat moments of 2019: The wondermare steals the show

Enable eye-balling Crystal Ocean in an unforgettable King George
Enable eye-balling Crystal Ocean in an unforgettable King George

Joe Tuffin looks back on a momentous year of Flat racing, and selects five of his favourite moments...

5. King Power Racing shines

The death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was a devastating one for many; with each of racing, football, the city of Leicester, the country of Thailand and an extensive list of other places, people and industries he so generously helped during his lifetime being deeply touched by the news.

I think, therefore, that the success of King Power Racing - of which he invested over £20 million into between 2017 and 2018 - is worthy of a place on this list.

Vichai’s dream of Royal Ascot glory was realised when Cleonte claimed victory in the Queen Alexandra Stakes - the last race of the meeting - bringing on some emotional scenes in the winners' enclosure. Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Vichai’s son, collected the trophy while his brother Apichet held a framed photo of their father - of whom the victory was naturally dedicated to.

“Everybody has been trying for my father. He planned everything for today, he wanted to win at Royal Ascot and just now we have won.” said Aiyawatt - who has inherited the duties as King Power and Leicester City Chairman - after the memorable victory.

To follow up on that success, Donjuan Triumphant, the first horse Vichai purchased, won the British Champions Sprint Stakes - an emotional first Group 1 victory for King Power Racing.

It goes without saying that the loss of Vichai was a great shame, but to see his legacy flourish in 2019 was fantastic for both the sport and a family who have had to deal with an unimaginable loss. Long may the success continue. 

4. Blue Point does the double

Blue Point’s Royal Ascot achievements probably didn’t get the recognition they deserved, if we’re being honest. To win the premier five-furlong event at the Royal meeting (the King's Stand Stakes) - doing so by beating one of the fastest horses in training in Battaash - before returning four days later to win the premier six-furlong event (the Diamond Jubilee Stakes), is a monumental achievement. 

In fact, he’s only the second horse in history do it after Choisir in 2003, though it's worth noting that it was more of a 'two birds, one stone' scenario with him considering he had travelled over from Australia for the Royal meeting.  

You could tell in the final strides of the Diamond Jubilee that his petrol tank had all but hit empty, and should there have been another few yards extra it would have been unlikely that he would have got the beating of Dream Of Dreams - who was bearing down on him at a vast rate of knots.   

But the talent he so clearly possesses pulled him through and he completed an historic double. Then, just when he’s at the top of the game, he’s retired to live a life of luxury at stud. What a rockstar.

3. Deirdre flys the flag for International racing

The first of August saw a bit of history made at Glorious Goodwood, when Deirdre became only the second Japanese-trained horse to win on these shores, 19 years after Agnes World won the July Cup in 2000.

It was a priceless moment for connections of the five-year-old, who managed to beat dual Guineas-winner Hermosa, the French Oaks winner Channel and the English Oaks favourite Mehdaayih in a thrilling renewal of the Nassau Stakes.

The video clips of Deirdre's connections that made the long trip to Britain for the Summer; Assistant trainer Yoshi Hashidam, groom Yuta Komiyam and racing manager Seiko Hashida Yoshimura screaming their mare home as she started to gather a head of steam up the far rail are ones we will all remember, and although she failed to secure another win while on her jollies in the British Isles, she has done a world of good for the International view of British Racing. 

It is something that should be wholeheartedly supported, it is not uncommon for British or Irish horses to make the trip abroad be it Hong Kong, Australia, Dubai or the States, but sadly we do not welcome half as many horses from those shores as we should. Deirdre’s success this summer could possibly change that, as she and connections boosted their reputation ten-fold; they took on some of Europe's best horses and now have prestige not many can boast - a British Group 1 success. Hopefully in the future we will become more familiar with these trainers from far-flung lands, as they set out to ‘Do what Deirdre did’.

2. Frankie’s magical Thursday

This had to make it in. Horse Racing struggles with transcending the sport past its passionate fans, and it usually takes an event such as the Grand National to get the regular man interested. Or it takes one man, four horses and all of the nation's bookmakers using words such as ‘worse ever loss’ and ‘bloodbath’. That’ll work also. 

I do not have a flurry of friends who are into the great game, but my phone was going crazy that day, with people whom I have not spoken to in quite some time asking me if Turgenev - who went off as a 2/1 shot from 25/1 that morning - was a good thing. I wasn’t even aware they had an interest in the sport - they likely don’t - but this wasn’t a great racing moment, this was a great sporting moment.

It was impossible to ignore, the man known for riding seven winners at Ascot back in 1996 looked as if he was set to do it again, and the eyes of the sporting world had tuned in to see if Stradivarius would win the Ascot Gold Cup - with Dettori duly gave him an absolute peach of a ride to make it four from four.

Of course, he didn’t quite manage to go through the card. There was a moment where it looked as if Turgenev could well make it five from five, until weakening and finishing second to Biometric, who was like that mate on a night out who drinks too much and wrecks the whole thing (take nothing away from the victory by the way, which was a fantastic one for connections).

Dettori admitted himself that he got ‘too excited’ and probably sent his mount for home a bit too soon, but for those brief few seconds from the two furlong pole to the line, there was probably nowhere else a sports fan would rather have been.

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1. THAT King George 

I really could write about this one all day. This was possibly the best race of the decade, never mind the year, a showcase of the two best equine athletes eyeballing each other for three excruciating furlongs for one of Britain’s most prestigious races, it was everything you could hope for and more.

Enable, drawn wide, was bullied by the army of Ballydoyle runners - who had strategically lined up to block the superstar mare and give the best opportunity to Anthony Van Dyck, the previous month's Derby winner and the best hope in the race for Aidan O’Brien. Enable, a natural front runner, had to adapt and slot in where she could - right at the back.

Meanwhile, Crystal Ocean, the highest-rated horse in training, quietly got on with his business fairly unnoticed until the chips were down and he moved into a position to strike.

It worked out like the script of a film, Enable v Crystal Ocean was the battle we all wanted to see. Ballydoyle’s runners added a subplot that Hollywood's finest couldn’t have thought up and the grand finale was award-winning.

Enable kicked on first, Crystal Ocean went with her, the two of them drawing clear of the chasing pack. Crystal Ocean was in front, then Enable, then Crystal Ocean again, then Enable once again. It is an overused cliche in racing but you wouldn’t be able to define ‘ding dong battle’ any better if you tried.

Enable of course came out on top, just. Dettori, who idolises the mare that has bought him 10 Group 1s, was physically shattered after what he described as the ‘toughest race of his career’ but I don’t think for a second he’d do anything different.

We were sadly denied a rematch as Crystal Ocean was retired soon after finishing second once again in the Juddmonte at York, but he played a main role in one of racing’s greatest ever scenes and provided us with unrivalled entertainment.

Enable went on to win the Yorkshire Oaks before a heartbreaking second to Walgeist in the Arc, who chased Enable and Crystal Ocean home that day, but we won’t be discussing that here as I don’t think I'm over that loss yet after just two-and-a-half months. 

Now if you excuse me I'm off to watch the King George finish for the 1000th time...

Richard Johnson's Rides
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