THIS has already been a vintage season for John Gosden, one of the great gentlemen of the Flat. A magnificent seven Group One victories have left him in pole position to win the trainers’ title for the first time.
Gallipot’s impressive victory at Newmarket on Thursday saw Gosden’s winnings this season surge past £2m and see him edge ahead of Camelot in the trainers’ title race which is determined by prize money rather than winners.
Today’s two Group One races at Newmarket provide the 61-year-old – who trained successfully in California before establishing himself in Britain just over two decades ago – with a chance to consolidate his position ahead of Ascot’s Qipco Champions Day on October 20 which is likely to determine the Gosden versus O’Brien duel.
Gosden saddles the aptly-named Winning Spiral, a recent Doncaster second, in the Jaguar Cars Cheveley Park Stakes – a six furlong test for two-year-old fillies which also includes Mark Johnston’s Baileys Jubilee in the line-up.
Elusive Kate, a Group One winner in Deauville’s Prix Rothschild at the end of July, then carries the hopes of Gosden – and in-form stable jockey William Buick – in the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes for fillies and mares over the straight mile.
This is a fascinating contest; Mick Channon saddles York winner Laugh Out Loud while the unknown is Beauty Parlour, the French 1000 Guineas winner who will have her first run since being sent from France to Sir Henry Cecil’s yard by the influential Wildenstein family.
And then there is O’Brien, the four-times champion trainer on this side of the Irish Sea and who is looking for a change of luck after Camelot’s triple Crown reverse at Doncaster and a fire on Wednesday night at his Ballydoyle stables. He saddles Up in the Sun Chariot – and Gosden, for one, knows that she will not be making up the numbers.
Speaking about his title aspirations after Gallipot’s victory, Gosden was characteristically downplaying his chances: “We’ve been top of the table before but been shuffled back to second, Sir Michael Stoute came past us in the final furlong one year. You’d better ask me about that after October 20 (Champions Day).”
Typically, he was pre-occupied with looking to the future – and whether Gallipot will fill her undoubted potential next year in the colours of Lady Rothschild whose horses, like Eclipse hero Nathaniel and Irish Oaks heroine Great Heavens, have been instrumental in the likable trainer’s rise to the top.
“Gallipot has improved again, I’m thrilled with her, and she’ll make a nice Group race filly next year,” he said.
As for the rest of this season, Gosden’s hopes appear to revolve around Nathaniel’s bid for glory in next weekend’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp – Europe’s richest, and most prestigious, race.
A battling second to Ed Dunlop’s globetrotting Snow Fairy on his comeback in the Irish Champion Stakes, Gosden had warned pre-race the 10-furlong contest was being used first and foremost as a prep run for the Arc and that his charge would improve for the run.
Asked whether Nathaniel had progressed from his run at Leopardstown over a trip that was two furlongs shorter than the Arc distance of a mile and a half, he said: “I was pleased with his work on Tuesday and I think from that point of view, yes. Both the first two ran inside the track record at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion, so it was a smart race and he’s done nothing but run great races all year.”
Adding to Gosden’s confidence is the fact he believes the turning nature of Longchamp will suit Nathaniel ideally.
“I think he’ll like it. He’s got a lot of tactical speed this horse, he can be handy or back in the middle of the pack, he’s a versatile horse,” added the handler who won Doncaster’s Ladbrokes St Leger in 2010 and 2011 before saddling Michelangelo to a creditable third in this month’s renewal.
“The fact that he could go inside the track record on good to firm at Leopardstown indicates to me he can go on anything. He’s one of those horses that goes through soft ground like it isn’t there, whereas other horses struggle on it.”
Gosden also confirmed his top-class mare Great Heavens, not seen since running away with the Irish Oaks, was bound for a run in the Qipco British Champions Fillies’ And Mares’ Stakes at Ascot on October 20.
“Great Heavens is in great form,” said Gosden whose finest training hour came when winning the 1997 Epsom Derby with Benny The Dip.
She’ll need to be if John Gosden, rejuvenated by his inspired decision two and a half years ago to team up with racing’s ‘boy wonder’ William Buick, is to finally become Britain’s top trainer.
He has certainly earned that right with his patience, perseverance and astute placement of horses. Now he just needs to keep his nose in front as a tumultuous 2012 campaign enters its final furlong.