Arc de Triomphe would give Baaeed chance to rival the Brigadier Gerard’s versatility

With the Arc possibly next for Baaeed, John Ingles looks at other top horses who have won from a mile to a mile and a half in the same season.

Oxx reflections on sire’s star campaign

‘I was always reading about racing and great horses of the past. So when you grow up with the history of racing and the history of breeding, the landmark horses that come along over a century – to train one that’s in that league gives you the greatest satisfaction. Sea-Bird was the flashiest Arc winner in my time. Mill Reef was such a generous sort, he could stretch clear and win by wide margins. Brigadier Gerard ran a lot of races over a variety of distances and was outstanding. Nijinsky was a triple crown winner. They are the ones… it’s marvellous just that Sea The Stars is up there with them.’

Sea The Stars’ trainer John Oxx is no doubt also now following closely the career of that horse’s best son Baaeed, potentially another ‘landmark horse’, who recently joined his sire on the list of Juddmonte International winners and could now bid to bow out, as his sire did, with victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. But in other respects, father and son have had very different careers. Sea The Stars’ was retired to stud at the end of his three-year-old season (after three runs at two that included his only defeat, on his debut) whereas for Baaeed, unraced at two, his career was only just getting going at the same age.

If Baaeed were to go to Longchamp and win, he would match his sire’s feat of winning Group 1 races at a mile, a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half in the same season. But that’s a very different achievement, and a rarer one, for an older horse than it is for a three-year-old.

Stepping up in trip over the course of the year is a natural progression for a developing three-year-old and that’s reflected in the classic programme which, traditionally, in theory at least, lays out a path from the Guineas over a mile in the spring, to the Derby or Oaks over a mile and a half in the summer and then the St Leger over a mile and three quarters in the autumn. Nijinsky was the last colt to complete the Triple Crown in 1970, with Oh So Sharp achieving the fillies’ equivalent in 1984.

Sea The Stars completed the 2000 Guineas-Derby double (he wasn’t felt to have the necessary stamina for a Triple Crown bid) and, before returning to a mile a half in the Arc, dropped back to a mile and a quarter to win the all-aged Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes.

Nashwan and Dancing Brave are other three-year-old colts to have won top races at a mile, a mile and a quarter and a mile and half in the same season. Baaeed’s distant relative Nashwan also completed the 2000 Guineas-Derby double, as well as the Eclipse, and returned to a mile and a half to win the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. The decision to aim him at the Arc instead of attempting to complete the Triple Crown upset the traditionalists but defeat in the Prix Niel ended his Arc hopes and a temperature ruled him out of a final outing in the Champion Stakes. Dancing Brave, like Nashwan three years later, won the 2000 Guineas, Eclipse and King George, and while the Derby just eluded him, he was a brilliant winner of the Arc.

Among the fillies, Minding and the French-trained pair Mandesha and Zarkava were all Group 1 winners at three over a mile, a mile and a quarter or thereabouts, and a mile and a half. Minding was unusual in that, having completed the 1000 Guineas-Oaks double, she ended her season back at a mile with a win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, having won the Pretty Polly and the Nassau over the intermediate trip. Mandesha completed her hat-trick in the Prix d’Astarte, Prix Vermeille and Prix de l’Opera, while unbeaten Zarkava, also trained by Alain de Royer Dupre, won the Prix Vermeille and then the Arc having won both the French fillies’ classics beforehand.

After the age of three, however, in most cases a horse’s distance requirements are by then fairly well established, at least in the minds of connections.

A miler might step up to a mile and a quarter or a top middle-distance performer might switch between ten and twelve furlongs, but attempting to win top races at distances ranging from a mile and a mile and a half in the same season is rarely asked of an older horse.

Frankel team never tempted by Arc bid

Just like Baaeed, Frankel’s stunning performance to win the Juddmonte International, he too making his first start beyond a mile, prompted speculation that he’d go for the Arc (he was quoted at 4/1-on with a run). But any such ideas were soon quashed by Khalid Abdulla’s racing manager Lord Grimthorpe. ‘Being a jack of all trades is not the aim, the focus is to make him as good as we possibly can at the distances Henry [Cecil] feels he should race at.’

Similar sentiments were seemingly shared, at first anyway, by Baaeed’s connections after York, though they’re at least now entertaining the idea of an Arc bid. The alternative would be the Champion Stakes, in which case Baaeed’s four-year-old campaign would be a carbon copy of Frankel’s.

There are a couple of reasons why Baaeed might yet get to prove unusual versatility for a top-class older horse. One of them has already been alluded to – his three-year-old campaign was the opening chapter in his career, not the final one, and his best distance was still to be determined. He’d started off at a mile and proven so good over the trip that, in the short term at least, there was little incentive to experiment over further. But his pedigree strongly suggested that he’d be at least as good over further and his York win duly confirmed that in no uncertain terms.

Kalanisi scales the heights

A handful of other top-class older horses have been allowed to demonstrate their versatility. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained Kalanisi won the Queen Anne Stakes, Champion Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Turf as a four-year-old, though the Queen Anne Stakes was still a Group 2 contest in 2000. Three years later, only a narrow defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (beaten a head by dead-heaters High Chaparral and Johar) prevented the Luca Cumani-trained five-year-old Falbrav from winning top races at a mile, mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. He won the Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Hong Kong Cup at the intermediate trip and was supplemented to win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes back at a mile before the Breeders’ Cup.

Falbrav also won the nine-furlong Prix d’Ispahan that same season, a contest also won by French gelding Cirrus des Aigles as an eight-year-old in 2014. He never ran over a mile after the age of three but his d’Ispahan win came in between victories in the Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup.

‘The Brigadier’ sets high bar

But we probably need to go back to Brigadier Gerard who, as Oxx said, won over a variety of distances, for the best example of a top-class older European horse who showed his versatility in top races from a mile to a mile and a half, even if, in what were the early years of the European Pattern, not all of those were labelled Group 1. Brigadier Gerard’s only career defeat in eighteen starts famously came in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup (now the Juddmonte) as a four-year-old but his seven wins that season included the Lockinge and Queen Elizabeth II at a mile, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Eclipse and Champion Stakes at ten furlongs and the King George on his sole try at a mile and a half – he was entered for the Arc but the Champion Stakes, which he’d already won as a three-year-old, was always the preferred option.

After his King George win, Racehorses of 1972 reported that Brigadier Gerard apparently had the option of going for either the Benson & Hedges or the Nunthorpe at York, though his essay was quick to add the disclaimer that ‘we can’t believe that a run in the Nunthorpe was ever seriously considered’! Brigadier Gerard’s owner John Hislop makes no mention of that in the biography of his horse, The Brigadier, but on the other hand he says he had fully intended to run him in the July Cup as a three-year-old, though a hard race in the St James’s Palace Stakes beforehand ultimately put paid to that plan. It’s well worth quoting Hislop’s reasoning which no doubt many would agree with some fifty years later:

‘To those accustomed to the stereotyped patterns into which racehorses’ careers fall nowadays, this might seem an odd idea; but I have always felt that versatility should be part of the armament of a top-class racehorse and that for horses to be given the chance of exercising it on the racecourse would do much to enliven the sport.’

Brigadier Gerard’s sprinting capabilities therefore went untested, at least after the age of two. His four wins at that age were over five and six furlongs, including the Middle Park Stakes. His very best performances came at a mile – he beat Mill Reef (himself the Derby, Eclipse, King George and Arc winner later that season) in the 2000 Guineas – but his essay in Racehorses nominated his six-length victory in the 1972 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes the following season, in which he broke the track record, as the pick of his wins.

Finally, if Baaeed’s versatility does get tested in the Arc, he could face a rival whose career in Australia throws rather a different light on what counts for versatility by European standards.

Verry Elleegant won last year’s Melbourne Cup over two miles, but since then she has won her eleventh Group 1, the Chipping Norton Stakes earlier this year, back at a mile, while in 2020 she beat Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck in the Caulfield Cup over a mile and a half just months after winning the Winx Stakes over seven furlongs.

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