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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Frankel sets a new standard

Having started the weekend on Friday by looking forward to a weekend of action-packed racing, today we end it by looking back on a few things we learnt over the last few days.

Frankel is going to be hard to stop no matter how good our juveniles are

First things first and we start with the weekend's most impressive winner and the one who could well become racing's next household name. It's far too early to make silly comparisons with Sea The Stars who was the last horse to break into the outside world of every day punters, but Frankel is undoubtedly special.

Henry Cecil claims not to have had a juvenile like him for almost four decades and he has had some right ones in between. There is no doubt that Sea The Stars would have beaten a better calibre of horse in his juvenile year than Frankel has, but the manner in which Cecil's colt has gone about his business is quite enthralling.

British racing is currently being bogged down by 'Racing For Change' with their decimalised odds, bigger number cloths and other such stupid things. But Frankel could well be the only recipe they need, along with the important ingredient of the ever intriguing Cecil, who has been up and down like an escalator in recent years but now seems to be back where he belongs -- in the limelight.

Pathfork is currently Ireland's leading juvenile and his form was franked yesterday at the Curragh in a big way. But there is no doubt about it, Frankel is the best we have seen this year and while both look set to run once more this season, with Pathfork Breeders Cup bound, we will have one more chance to assess the situation. Few will disagree though that Frankel sets the standard and any colt willing to step up to the mark will have to winter extremely well.

John Kiely is as good as they come ...

Also on Saturday and on a much smaller scale, there was an intriguing all-jumps fixture at Navan. It was the track's first of the jumping season and while there was no real press-stopping equine stars on show, there were a few noteworthy efforts.

John Kiely is as shrewd a trainer as there is and he secured his first treble for six years by claiming the opening two maiden hurdles and the concluding bumper with three promising sorts.

One of them was ridden by Ruby Walsh who also teamed up with Willie Mullins to boot home a double as he did at Clonmel on Sunday, while Davy Condon enjoyed a treble of his own at Navan.

But Kiely deserves special praise. His horses are always turned out in immaculate order and he is no stranger to coming upon a good one.

It's been a memorable time for the trainer who hit the mark again at Clonmel on Sunday with Wise Old Owl. Along with other recent winners -- Taking Stock and Head Of The Posse, and Saturday's treble of Oneeightofamile, Araucaria and Shuil Sheeran -- it could be a quite prosperous winter ahead.

... and so is Michael Halford

There is the saying that a bad tradesman will always blame his tools, but Michael Halford is certainly a good tradesman, who, with the right tools, can prove to be up with the very best trainers this country can boast.

A dual-purpose trainer, who now concentrates more on the Flat, Halford enjoyed some great days with Golden Cross over hurdles, including a Grade One win but at the Curragh yesterday he secured his first Group Two winner.

Pathfork had recently denied Casamento of Group One glory at the Curragh, but there was no doubt that the Sheikh Mohammed-owned colt will be heard a lot more as he completed a brace for Halford on the day and in a manner that really impressed his pilot, Pat Smullen.

Incidentally, Hujaylea instigated the brace, winning his third on the bounce that started in the Cambridgeshire and he has mopped up over €100,000 in the last month.

But the very fact that Halford is training winners such as Casamento in races such as the Beresford Stakes and for owners such as Sheikh Mohammed is the proof in the pudding that once Halford has the ammunition he won't miss the target.

Halford has a bit of humour to boot. Being owned by Sheikh Mohammed, there would be a question mark over where Casamento will be trained next season, but when asked how far he thought the colt would stay in the future, the Kildangan-based trainer quipped: "I don't think he would mind another two furlongs but I just hope he stays in Kildare, that's where I want him to stay!"

Frankie loves Ascot, and the QEII was as fascinating as expected

Canford Cliffs may have been a major absentee from Saturday's big race, but in terms of entertainment, there could be no points deducted from the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.

Makfi was sent off the even-money favourite but could only finish fifth on a track at which he has now twice disappointed.

Rip Van Winkle was always prominent going in search of a second successive win in the race.

Johnny Murtagh sent him on two furlongs from home and did everything right shrugging off outsider Red Jazz only to be agonisingly collared by Frankie Dettori on Poet's Voice in the final stride of a thrilling contest.

The winner was well fancied by connections and continued Dettori's love affair with Ascot as he went on to record a four-timer on Saturday's card.

The form book would suggest that Canford Cliffs probably would have had enough class to shine through, but that's something we will never know, but anyone who saw the race would have thoroughly enjoyed it, and that is what sport is all about.

Even Aidan O'Brien has to wait for some big race glory

Aidan O'Brien may have been out of luck with Rip Van Winkle and the Curragh yesterday may have provided little consolation, but the master of Ballydoyle was clearly delighted after claiming the Irish Cesarewitch for the first time.

Bright Horizon gave O'Brien his first win in the lucrative €70,000 handicap and despite being run over a gruelling 2m, Colm O'Donoghue's mount turned the race into a procession finishing five-and-a-half lengths in front of his nearest rival. It was certainly refreshing to see O'Brien getting such a kick out of a big race winner.

Wayne Lordan remains one of the most under-rated jockeys on the flat

Wayne Lordan is capable of riding at any weight on the flat, and is often first choice for David Wachman and Tommy Stack's powerful yards, yet never seems to get the credit he deserves.

Lordan enjoyed three winners this weekend, including a Curragh double yesterday which featured the very decent looking Chrysanthemum who claimed the Group Three CL Weld Park Stakes.

A Group One winner earlier in the season was well deserved and will undoubtedly be the first of many, but as long as the winners keep coming, the long overdue recognition will soon follow, and a major job might some day too.

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