The only man at November’s Breeder’s Cup World Championship of Racing to come away with two victories, was Stronghold and Russian Revival’s trainer, John Gosden. Here’s a man who graduated from Cambridge University still confused about his future, and took a year off working in agriculture in Venezuela. The son of a distinguished horseman in his own right, the late Towser Gosden, John soon realised that despite a mind better suited to a professorial calling, he was going to devote his life to a career with horses.
That this was a choice of unusual wisdom, has been evidenced often enough, and the events at the Breeder’s Cup simply re-emphasised the extent of his tactical astuteness.
The intricacies of the turf and the exploitative strategic value of a life spent in observation and interpretation, was what made the difference for Princess Haya’s charge Raven’s Pass, in the big event on the card, the Breeder’s Cup Classic where he tore down the colours of the world’s highest ranked racehorse of the time, Curlin. This is Gosden’s account of how it happened……
“I learned a lot when I was on a show in the early 80’s with Eddie Arcaro, Bill Shoemaker and Charlie Whittingham. I was just a kid, but they were talking about riding on different surfaces – dirt, turf, firm turf, to loose wet turf, cuppy tracks, tighter tracks and so on – and they pointed out the most important thing was that if you want a horse to accelerate in the latter part of a race it has to be able to get hold of the track more than anything else, which is why on a cuppy track, or on a track that isn’t tight, or on loose turf it’s very hard to do that. The key thing about Santa Anita is that with the surface they are on now you can put your foot down and really spring off it.
The one thing that was very clear to me about Curlin, good horse though he is, he wins races by grinding them into the ground. He’s a relentless galloper. He just gallops and gallops, and like all dirt horses he’ll go the last quarter slower than the first but he’ll just stay on. That was where he was vulnerable, because if you can sit on him – and he was drawn beside us, so the game plan was always to track him – and you are still travelling at the quarter pole you are in business. We’ve got a turn of foot, and he hasn’t. We have what European horses are trained for – acceleration – and he hasn’t. Goldikova has it and Henrythenavigator has it. That’s where we caught him. I don’t think he’d ever had two horses come either side of him and I think it shocked him, and it shocked the jockey too, because he was in the perfect spot. On that surface a horse can really show you a burst of speed. We call that class in Europe. In dirt races you don’t see it happen. You think it’s happening but it’s an optical illusion. What it means is that the horse in front is dying and the other one is just staying on at the same pace. That’s why he was vulnerable, and that’s why we went for that race.”
(article by Graham Dench, Pacemaker December 2008)
Grand Prix motor racing is a sport followed by tens of millions around the globe, and its aficionados will tell you that it’s the tactical aspect of the sport that attracts them. Truth is this, and thus most times, it’s the fastest car that gets you home, provided there’s a modicum of competence behind the wheel. Motor racing is a limp fish though next to horse racing when it comes to the complexities behind the tactical appraisal of the possibilities of a contest, and it’s people like John Gosden and our own Mike de Kock, who separate themselves from the ordinary through their instinctive wisdom.