The curtain on the flat season has nearly fallen, and with only the November Handicap left to run at Doncaster, it’s an apt time to reflect on what has been a magical, history-making season. From Enable’s Arc and Breeder’s Cup Turf heroics to Stradivarius’ Millionaire breakthrough, the flat has certainly given fans a 2018 to remember. Of course, no season goes by without some hiccups and surprises, and here are the five biggest shocks of the 2018 Flat season.
2018: Five Biggest Shocks
1. Alpha Delphini, 2018 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes
It was billed to be the fastest horse in the world’s defining moment, gaining vengeance from his defeat at York 12 months previously, but the Battaash bubble well and truly burst on the Knavesmire again. It was left to the northern contingent of Mabs Cross and Alpha Delphini to fight out a pulsating finish.
It was heartbreak for the Mabs Cross team, but adulation for everyone associated with Alpha Delphini, who was an unconsidered 40/1 shot but prevailed in a photo finish by a mere pixel on the click of the camera.
The north had yet again struck in their most prestigious sprint race, and while the shock of Battaash’s defeat remained in the air in the aftermath, nobody could begrudge how fitting the success was for Alpha Delphini and co.
It was Bryan Smart’s first top level victory since Tangerine Trees in the 2011 Prix De L’Abbaye and on a more emotional scale, jockey Graham Lee’s first since returning from a successful battle against depression.
(Credit Racing UK)
2. Billesdon Brook, 2018 Qipco 1000 Guineas
Cast your minds back to the blistering bank holiday weekend at the start of May, Saxon Warrior roared away to win the 2000 Guineas and many expected team Ballydoyle to double up in the fillies’ version with Happily.
History was made in the race, however not in the way anyone at the Rowley Mile. Unfancied chestnut Billesdon Brook, whose best form to date was a weak group three win at Goodwood and a fourth in the Free Handicap two weeks earlier, stormed to an al-the-way success under Sean Levey.
In the process, not only did she give trainer Richard Hannon a second classic success, but became the longest-priced winner in 1000 Guineas history at 66/1.
Racegoers were left scratching their heads to where that performance came from, with her beaten rivals including the dual group one winner Wild Illusion, and classic winner Laurens, who in fact caused the next biggest shock…
(Credit ITV Racing)
3. Laurens, 2018 Matron Stakes
On good ground, Alpha Centauri was nearly unstoppable. Nearly.
The grey had pulverised her opposition all Summer, and the Irish Champions Weekend was expected to crown her the Queen of the Mile division. But, just as earlier in this piece, a tough, gutsy northern horse had other ideas.
Laurens put up one of the most teak performances, as she had done all year, to fend off Alpha Centauri’s challenge to silence the Irish in the crowd, which many rarely do.
Her price of an unconsidered 10/1 was no doubt an insult, especially given she was a three-time, classic winner by this stage. Nonetheless, only a hardy few will have seen Laurens dethroning the Queen, and in turn, becoming one of the most durable and well-liked horses in training.
(Credit RTE Racing)
4. Masar, 2018 Investec Derby
The hype surrounding Saxon Warrior was raging. The son of Deep Impact’s 2000 Guineas win had already prompted many astute racing experts to declare him the first winner of the triple crown since Nijinsky. Oh how wrong were they.
Saxon Warrior wasn’t meant to be, Roaring Lion didn’t pass the extreme test, but under-the-radar Masar did, giving Godolphin their first ever success in the Royal Blue.
He was a 20/1 shot in the morning, and still only went off at a hefty 16/1 by post time, yet Masar powered away on the downs, to the delight of few racegoers who had a simple sum on him.
The race was one of the highlights of the season, and it was a real shame that shortly after, Masar was ruled out for the season with injury, and wasn’t able to confirm his Derby form against the stars that came out of the race.
(Credit Racing UK)
5. Poet’s Word, Prince of Wales’s Stakes
The final shock seems to follow a familiar theme to many: all the hype, no performance.
That was the case with the lacklustre Cracksman, who found the improving Poet’s Word too good on the day in the blistering Ascot heat.
While being a typical Sir Michael Stoute improver, many expected Cracksman to bounce back from another previous lacklustre performance. But it wasn’t to be, in James Doyle aboard Poet’s Word took heed of Cracksman’s tardiness throughout the contest.
Many undue names were given to Cracksman in the aftermath of the shock of being turned over at such a short price, yet a month later at the very same track, everyone associated with horse racing had a moment of realisation.
In the wake of Poet’s Word’s admirable King George and Queen Elizabeth Stake’s success, the penny finally dropped that Poet’s Word was a fantastic middle-distance horse in his own right.