Outlining why Ebraz’s ability to secure the PA Triple Crown is an achievement in itself

30.03.2020

Outlining why Ebraz’s ability to secure the PA Triple Crown is an achievement in itself

Ebraz (Amer) became the first horse to complete the PA Triple Crown sweep at Doha on February 22nd. This achievement has already been documented in our columns but, a few weeks on, it seems pertinent to dwell on this. It’s a truly exceptional feat and we are about to explain why.

No less than 35 countries throughout the world stage their own version of the Triple Crown for English thoroughbreds. It’s an important and unifying concept for the racing nations involved. The kudos attached to winning a Triple Crown lies in its difficulty. The English, for one, have been waiting 50 years for the next horse to come along and complete the celebrated triptych. The two main difficulties in achieving this lie in the level of competition –

it’s clearly more difficult to achieve this in Britain as opposed to Poland with English thoroughbreds – and the mechanics of what this actually entails.

Coming to terms with the nitty gritty. The PA Triple Crown has stop off points in France, Britain and Doha (Qatar), and the fact that three countries are involved renders this particular challenge even harder. The increased travelling involved is a destabilising factor in itself. However, the mantle of champion entails the need to adapt to every eventuality. Furthermore, between July 31st (Goodwood) and February 22nd (Doha), Ebraz reeled off five consecutive wins in the space of seven months. The risk attached to being required to race over a long period of time lies in the increased probability of it affecting a horse’s physical and mental well-being. By way of comparison, Camelot (Montjeu), the last horse to be in with a shout of completing the English Triple Crown, had raced four times in five months prior to suffering a narrow defeat, in particular circumstances, in the Doncaster Saint-Leger.

The level of competition. The second important element governing a traditional Triple Crown sweep is determined by the quality of the generation involved. If the designated 3-year-old generation is a weak one, the greater the probability of winning all three legs. The mere fact of competing in a country, with a strong breeding industry, reduces the likelihood that a generation will be found wanting when it comes to unearthing three or four very good candidates. The current crème de la crème of the US 3-year-old crop was forged in a year in which 20,000 foals were born. Similarly, the top English 3-year-old first saw the light of a day in a year when foal production numbered 11,000 births. A figure which represents the cumulative total of the Anglo-Irish production lines of English thoroughbreds, when jumpers are factored out of the equation.  So what is the situation with PA horses? Given that the PA Triple Crown challengers are in the 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8-year-old range, they are effectively the elite performers spanning five generations. This makes it practically impossible for the level of competition involved to be either weak or modest, for it is invariably a good one.

Furthermore, Ebraz beat the best horses, over the course of the three legs, which emanated from a number of top ‘breeding’ countries and for this read: France, Great Britain, Qatar and Italy. That’s without factoring in that he also measured himself against and dominated some of the very best horses from Russia, Morocco, Tunisia and Poland. It’s very difficult to quantify how many PA horses in some of the above ten countries are geared specifically towards the racing scene. So educated guesswork is called for. When the figures were made available, we estimate that the 4-year-olds represented three-quarters of the birth rate of a particular generation. In the absence of the data, we have extrapolated it from the number of races staged in the nation in question. These calculations are by their nature hit and miss, but it enables us to estimate that Ebraz beat the best horses from a total of foal crop numbering 7,500 split over five generations. If we factor in what a Triple Crown sweep actually entails, and we alluded to the great difficulty of achieving this in the previous paragraph, the measure the magnitude of what Ebraz has achieved can be measured. Lest we forget, some of the very top performers such as Al Mourtajez (Dahess) and Gazwan (Amer) both came up short in this domain.

An English drought which has lasted 50 years. Historically, the Triple Crown revolves around the classics, and entails landing the Guineas (1m) and the Derby (12f) in the spring, followed by the Saint-Leger (1m 7f) in the autumn. The latter race is the sole preserve of the 3-year-old generation. The English Triple Crown has great historical value in a European context. We are often reminded that Nijinsky (Northern Dancer) was the last horse to land all three legs of the English Triple Crown (Guineas, Derby and Saint-Leger) in 1970. However, the veracity of this statement calls for further study, as it is both true and false. If we limit the discussion to the colts’ sector only, then it’s true, as no three-year-old male has managed this feat since Nijinsky in 1970, and the ‘drought’ now spans five decades.

However, we shouldn’t forget what happened 35 years ago when Oh So Sharp (Kris) landed the fillies’ Triple Crown after annexing the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the Doncaster Saint-Leger in 1985.

The achievements of Oh So Sharp are often overlooked, and wrongly so, as the 3-year-old fillies’ generation in 1985 was an exceptional one. In the "Guineas", she beat Al Bahathri (Irish 1,000 Guineas & Coronation Stakes – a filly who has a Newmarket gallop named after her), and Bella Colora (Prix de l’Opéra). In the Oaks, the filly managed to clip the wings of the much heralded Triptych (Riverman). The latter was coming off a win against the ‘boys’ in the Irish 2,000 Guineas during a glittering career which yielded nine Gr1 wins.

Although Oh So Sharp wasn’t quite in the same level of form after beating the colts in the Saint-Leger in September, when the filly was confirmed as the winner following a stewards’ enquiry. Oh So Sharp’s Triple Crown successes are on a par with what Nijinsky achieved, as her classic wins were in the fillies’ equivalent of the colts’ classics. Since this considerable period of time, the horse which came closest to sweeping the English Triple Crown was Camelot (Montjeu) in 2012. Successes in the "Guineas" and the Derby were followed by a second place in the St Leger won by Encke (Kingmambo).

The biggest challenge in racing. In the US, there have only been three Triple Crown

winners over four decades, including American Pharaoh (Pioneerof the Nile) in 2015 and Justify (Scat Daddy) in 2018. Around 20,000 English thoroughbred foals are currently born per annum, which is far cry from the equivalent figure of 30,000 in 1990. In the intervening period when Affirmed (Exclusive Native) won all three classics in 1978, before Justify eventually followed suit in 2018, 40 generations of US 3-year-olds have been sighted on the track. Using a simplistic, rough calculation, and based on a deliberately low average of a yearly foal crop numbering 25,000, we arrive at a total of 1 million foals which weren’t in the picture - at a time when we had three Triple Crown winners. It’s mind boggling! Particularly, as the true figure is clearly in excess of a million.

The world at large. In simple terms, France doesn’t really have a Triple Crown of sorts for English thoroughbreds. Historically, the Gallic equivalent revolved around the Poule d’Essai, the Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix Royal-Oak. Perth (War Dance) was the last horse to win all three races in 1899. Japan has adopted the British model (Guineas, Derby & Saint-Leger)

as the basis of its own version. Since 2005, two authentic heavyweights, Deep Impact (2005) and Orfèvre (2011), have managed this. The annals of Japanese racing reveals that the Triple Crown’ sweep for colts has been achieved seven times. Practically each country has

its own brand of the triptych. Some countries are seemingly resistant to achieving this, as you have to go back a long way before tracing either an Irish or Italian Triple Crown winner. We’ve highlighted a few examples, listed by continent, of countries which stage Triple Crown events, plus the year in which all three events were won for the last time. If we scroll down the list of dates in relation to the very last winner, it allows us to conclude that any Triple Crown is difficult to win!

NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA
Country Winner Year
Chile Wolf 1991
Argentina Refinado Tom 1996
Canada Sealy (filly) 2007
US Justify 2018
ASIA
Country Winner Year
Hong Kong River Verdon 1994
Japan Orfèvre 2011
EUROPE
Country Winner Year
Ireland Windsor Slipper 1942
Italy Botticelli 1954
Germany Königsstuhl 1979
Great Britain Nijinsky 1970
OCEANIA
Country Winner Year
Australia It’s a Dundeel 2013

The Qatari season ends                                      

The Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club announced on March 15th that the 2019/2020 season had come to an end, which means that Al Rayyan Park has gone into recess. Although most of the big events have come and gone, one major meeting, due to have featured both the Qatar Gold Sword (Gr1 PA) and the Qatar Gold Trophy (Gr1 local), and earmarked for early April, has fallen by the wayside. These races are usually act as consolation prizes for the prestigious races on the 'Amir's Sword Festival card.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani is tops. Everything is now signed and sealed statistically speaking. The three jockeys whose mounts amassed most prize money were the French-based trio: Ronan Thomas, Olivier Peslier and Soufiane Saadi. They rode primarily for Umm Qarn, and this stable snared second place overall in the owners’ table, having finished on the heels of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani. However, if we add to the 'Umm Qarn tally (143 runners) to the earnings amassed by His Highness Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al Thani (in whose colours French King raced although he is French-trained), the dark red silks of the latter concern would actually leapfrog the blue colours (94 runners) of his main rival.

On the trainers’ front, Alban de Mieulle (649.267 QAR (Qatari Riyals) won over 232 races), snared another title. Giving chase were Gassim Ghazali (621.011 QAR won over 515 races) and Ibrahim Al Malki (364 .416 QAR won over 298 races).  Julian Smart was fourth (356.129 QAR won over 82 races) overall.

Photo: H.H. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Maxime Guyon and H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Thani.