Farhh holds off Cirrus des Aigles (middle) and Ruler of The World in the British Champion Stakes. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
Special to America's Best Racing
ASCOT, England — There is only so far money can go in racing. For all their riches and access to seemingly whatever they want in life, even oil barons and heads of state cannot be guaranteed victory at the racetrack.
Take Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen rolled into British Champions Day at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday the favorite to win another trophy. Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing came in with a horse that has done more rehabbing than racing this year.
Plot spoiler: The delicate horse won for His Highness the Sheikh of Dubai. The favorite did not for Her Majesty the Queen of England.
Less than a year after surgery to deal with bone chips in his ankle, Farhh justified his status as the 11-to-4 second favorite and won the $2.1 million British Champion Stakes. In only his second race in 13 months, the 5-year-old, subsequently retired to stud, finished a neck ahead of 2011 winner and 6-to-4 favorite Cirrus des Aigles with hard-charging Ruler of the World finishing third in a thrilling finish.
FARHH AFTER WINNING CHAMPION STAKES
Farhh’s win also rubbed the Champion Stakes off Godolphin’s über-rich bucket list. Like the Kentucky Derby, it is one of the few prizes that had eluded the Sheikh Mohammed’s stable since he created it 21 years ago.
“It’s great to end up as champion owner,” said racing manager Simon Crisford of Godolphin, which collected more British wins than any other stable in 2013. “That’s a great testament to the operation we run. To end on a note like that is fantastic.”
There was another testament that was not so fantastic for Godolphin this year. That was this spring’s steroid scandal that had its operatives ducking camera flashes rather than seeking them. Trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was found guilty by the British Horseracing Authority of giving the illegal performance enhancers to 11 horses. Al Zarooni is now serving an eight-year suspension, and Godolphin is trying to restore its good name.
Asked about the year as a whole, Crisford only acknowledged the negatives with a sigh in his voice.
“It’s been a good season,” he said. “We’ve done very well.”
SCENES FROM BRITISH CHAMPIONS DAY
Farhh had not raced since May, when he won the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes by four lengths at Newbury, England. But preparing for the prestigious Royal Ascot races in June, the son of Pivotal suffered a setback, pulling up lame. The unscheduled break meant yet another challenge for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
“It wasn’t really easy to train him,” Suroor said. “You have to look after him really well for a long time. You have to treat him different than any horse in the yard, just in case.”
But Suroor said he was encouraged by a recent workout. “It gave us some confidence to run him in this big race. He ran his best race today.”
Expertly ridden by Brazil native Silvestre de Sousa, Farhh stayed within striking distance of early pacesetter Hunter’s Light before he making a decisive move to take the lead into the final furlong. Cirrus des Aigles, who gave the undefeated world champion Frankel everything he could handle in last year’s race, did the same to Farhh on Saturday with Ruler of the World making it a party of three.
Farhh simply had something extra that the other two did not down the stretch.
“My horse traveled like a dream and the winner throughout the race,” de Sousa said. “I was concerned that he would get in front a bit too soon on that [soft] ground. But he is a marvelous horse. It was some performance from him. He’s had plenty of problems this season, but we know he goes well fresh.”
The Queen’s filly Estimate came up short in the day’s opening race. After Her Majesty attracted the gaze of countless pairs of eyes in the paddock beforehand, Estimate finished only seventh as the 2-to-1 favorite in the British Champions Long Distance Cup.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II AT ASCOT
Instead, the ironically named Royal Diamond – trained and ridden by Johnny Murtagh – came home a 20-to-1 winner to the disappointment of most of the 24,290 in attendance on Saturday.
The 3-year-old Olympic Glory, who is ticketed for the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita in two weeks, wore blinkers for the first time and won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes by 3¼ lengths for trainer Richard Hannon and jockey Richard Hughes.
OLYMPIC GLORY IS HEADED TO THE BREEDERS' CUP MILE
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Irish sprint star Slade Power won by a neck over Jack Dexter in the Sprint Stakes, and lightly raced 16-to-1 longshot Seal of Approval won for the first time in a group race when she finished four lengths clear in the Fillies and Mares Stakes.
But the day belonged to Farhh, the unlikely star who was not supposed to steal the spotlight from Estimate or Cirrus des Aigles. Or was he?
“He was the top-rated horse going into the race,” Crisford said, referring to one of the indicators that attempts to quantify past performances numerically. “He was the best before the start of the race, and he was certainly the best horse at the end of the race.”