Brendan Duke: Flat to the mat and the Buzz isn’t gone yet

Racing connoisseur Brendan Duke runs the rule over the season and hopes to sign off with the November Handicap winner on Saturday ...


The British turf season limps to a conclusion on Saturday. Last Sunday at Naas saw the Irish curtain fall. If ever there was a week to review the flat season gone by, this is surely it.

If the future is more interesting to you, which is a perfectly reasonable state of being, just scroll to the bottom for a weekend prediction.


What do we make of it all then? The Classic generation looked up to scratch. Roaring Lion’s season ultimately faded to dust on the dirt track at Churchill Downs last Saturday. Unfortunate, but that gamble was in keeping with his three-year-old campaign.

He ran nine times, only twice below the top level. The improvement in his aptitude and attitude through the season was a credit to connections. It was a shame he didn’t take up the opportunities to race against either Cracksman or Enable. That was probably down to all three being housed in the same yard.

Nonetheless he regularly lit up the campaign and potential breeders will surely prize his ability, robustness and tenacity.

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Alpha Centauri took most of the season by storm. Her unbeaten run was book-ended by excusable defeats at Leopardstown. The three midsummer demolition jobs in Ascot, Newmarket and Deauville will live long in even my cloudy memory.

Injury means we won’t see her again. Fingers crossed that fate doesn’t befall her competition for three-year-old old filly of the year. Sea Of Class progressed markedly in the six runs between her April debut and closing, in more ways than one, run in the Arc.

She has been handled with care by her trainer. It seems she was a little bit tricky to train early on. There’s every reason to expect further improvement next term. A thought to warm us over the winter.

The older horses gilded the season too. The start of the year promised us more Cracksman, Enable, Battaash and Harry Angel.  To a degree it was promised unfulfilled. Somehow they all managed to put up big efforts but never against one another and not on a consistent basis.

Harry’s comeback win at York must rank as one of the strongest pieces of form all year and Battaash took the breath away at Goodwood. That was it though. For one reason or another they never got close to those performances again. The power vacuum they left in the sprint division was filled by a host of limited, if likeable, performers.

October made sense. Enable won the Arc and Cracksman the Champion Stakes. The months before were disappointing. Cracksman got through the spring okay, but by summer his fancy lightly turned to thoughts of love. Either that or his old bones didn’t enjoy the rattling quick ground. Enable didn’t appear until September. She pocketed £4 million in three runs and is now tucked up for the winter.

The chances are she will stay in training. Locking horns with Sea Of Class again is a tantalising prospect. Mind you, having envisioned a trilogy between herself and Cracksman this time last year, I’m prepared to be disappointed again.


The two-year-olds, the colts in particular, look very promising. Too Darn Hot rightly dominates the Guineas and Derby betting. He might just have to be as good as he looks though. Quorto, Calyx, Ten Sovereigns, Persian King and Madhmoon to name but five, all look formidable rivals. The Guineas can’t come soon enough. The fillies are harder to get enthused about.

As this season has proven though, the potential for diamonds in the rough is always there.

The year was also memorable for the continued renaissance of the Godolphin operation. As I mentioned after Masar’s Derby win, Charlie Appleby’s rise has been a source of pleasure for the meritocrats. His string have been a factor at all the major racing festivals. He places his horses shrewdly and has picked up Group 1’s on three continents.

A Melbourne Cup win this week put the tin hat on a glorious year. John Gosden was in rampant form all season and can reasonably expect further major victories next year. A down year for team Ballydoyle. They were highly unlikely to improve on a record breaking 2017. One positive was the performance of No Nay Never’s first crop. They also bought into U.S triple crown winner Justify.

The dividends from their policy of trying to corner the market in descendants of the late lamented Scat Daddy will be interesting to monitor.

And so to the future. This weekend sees the return of more NH stars. Footpad is the most eye catching entry. We will have one more crack at the Flat though. The November Handicap at Doncaster is typically competitive.

With more than 10mm of rain due Friday night the ground will likely ride soft. This is good news for my selection, Buzz. He has a very wide draw and the bend comes up quite quickly after the start in this race.

Despite this, horses with double-figure draws have a good record in the race. Buzz didn’t enjoy an ideal trip at Newbury, latest. He still found enough to get up on the line. That looks strong form. The extra two furlongs on Saturday look a positive.

He’s only had nine career starts and bar a blip at Nottingham, is progressing admirably.

Expect another step up in Donny.

He looks a solid each-way play and the Power is paying the first 6 places.

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What do you think?