To start the New Year our first Palace House blog of features a review of the 2019 racing year and a look forward to 2020 with John Berry through a series of questions with the Beverley House trainer and Sky Sports Racing pundit.
What do you think was the best race in 2019?
Lys Gracieux’s recent win in the Arima Kinen in Japan struck me as the best performance of 2019, while the Grand National (as so often is the case was for me the most thrilling race, all the more so for being won by a truly special horse (Tiger Roll).
As regards Britain's two biggest races on the Flat, the Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (See right with Enable narrowly beating Crystal Ocean) both produced wonderful races again in 2019, as they generally do.
Does the dominance of Aidan O’Brien’s contingent in the Derby worry you?
Not at all. It would be worrying if Aidan O’Brien trained so many of the best Derby contenders and didn’t run them in the race; but as things are, these good horses all being in the same stable is not a problem at all. Aidan runs them plenty, often against each other, and that’s so good for the sport.
With four wins on Day 3 at Royal Ascot, victories on Enable and all those Group 1’s what makes Frankie Dettori so special as a jockey and to the sport in general?
The key to Frankie Dettori’s great season is that he rode so many of the best horses, but that’s because he’s a top-class jockey. He wouldn’t be John Gosden’s stable jockey otherwise. He’s a great asset for racing: the combination of his skill and his likeable, outgoing personality makes him a great ambassador for the sport.
In a year when Hayley Turner became the first female jockey to win at Royal Ascot in 32 years what do you think of the current group of female jockeys?
The ranks of female jockeys are getting stronger all the time. Hayley’s Royal Ascot winner and Hollie Doyle’s record-breaking seasonal total of 107 winners/wins were obviously notable milestones. Nicola Currie just needs to get on a top-class horse to be widely recognised as the top-class jockey which she is, and Josephine Gordon has already proved herself by being champion apprentice and then riding a century of winners the following season. And there are plenty of others too, including Sophie Ralston and Rachel Richardson. There are also numerous very good female apprentices, including Grace McEntee who is extremely good for someone who still claims 7lb.
Stradivarius had another fantastic year winning the Ascot Gold Cup. Where would you place him in the ranks of the staying horses over the past 25 years?
Stradivarius is a very good stayer indeed. Yeats stands supreme amongst stayers of the current era, and Double Trigger and Westerner were very special, but Stradivarius is putting himself in the same league. If he can be similarly dominant through 2020, he’ll be right up there in the pantheon with them. He was, of course, helped this year in that there was not a great deal of depth among the stayers’ ranks. If Kew Gardens is sound enough to race more frequently next season, there could be some very interesting battles ahead
How highly do you rate Pinatubo and do you think he is the one they all have to beat in this year’s 2000 Guineas?
Pinatubo impressed as a totally dominant champion two-year-old. He fully deserves to be a very short-priced favourite for the 2000 Guineas. I would be surprised if he were beaten in the race.
How would you summarise Enable’s attempt at winning her 3rd Prix and what do you think are her chances of winning in 2020?
Enable ran very well, as she always does. Waldgeist had consistently shown himself to be almost as good as she is, and things just fell right for him on this occasion under a superb ride from P. C. Boudot. It was a fiercely run race and I'm sure that if Frankie could ride the race again, he'd have ridden her a bit more quietly, with Enable tracking Waldgeist instead of the other way round. If that had happened, she may well have won. You'd have expected them to fight out the race again in 2020 but Waldgeist has (surprisingly, to my mind) been retired, so Enable, assuming that she can avoid injury, remains the horse they all have to beat.
Is there anything you would like to see change in 2020?
There are plenty of things I'd ideally like to see change, but it's generally a sound policy not to worry about things beyond one's control. It's the great prayer of asking for the courage to change the things one can change, the strength to accept the things one can't, and the wisdom to differentiate between the two.
Do you have a horse for us to look out for in 2020?
John Gosden had so many extremely promising two-year-old maiden winners this autumn. They can't all turn out to be top-class but some of them will. Two Kingman colts particularly caught my eye: Palace Pier who won twice at Sandown, and Waldkonig, a half-brother to Waldgeist, who won at Wolverhampton.
What was your own personal racing highlight of 2019?
My own personal racing highlight of 2019? That's easy enough: we've just had the worst year I've had in 25 years of training, so there weren't many personal highlights to choose from! Hope Is High (see right) narrowly winning a decent fillies' and mares' handicap at Bath in August under a superb ride from Megan Nicholls (yet another of the current crop of top-class female jockeys and apprentices) stands out.
We would like to thank John Berry for his help with this blog and to wish him a successful season.
Photos courtesy of John Berry (Roy Rocket and Hope is High) and Ed Byrne for the two Enable action shots.
Blog by Stephen Wallis