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Owner Anthony Oppenheimer has described Cracksman’s season as “difficult” as the Frankel colt bids to emulate his sire with a second win on Qipco British Champions Day.
Last year’s startling success in the Champion Stakes earned him the accolade of the third best horse in the world, but he has struggled to reach the same heights this season.
It all started well in the Prix Ganay in France, but the John Gosden-trained Frankel colt only scrambled home in the Coronation Cup and raced lazily in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, when beaten by Poet’s Word.
So lazily, in fact, he will wear blinkers for the first time on what will be his final race before departing for stud duties.
“It would be nice if he can win it again, it’s just a relief to be able to run him, it’s been a difficult year,” said Oppenheimer.
Gosden discusses Cracksman and Roaring Lion with Nick Lightfoot
“This year I really wanted to see him in the King George, but he couldn’t run in it because it was too fast and a few years earlier Golden Horn couldn’t run it because it was too soft, which is extraordinary in mid-summer.”
As well as the King George, Cracksman also missed the Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe due to the fast ground.
“It was the right decision not to run him in the Arc. Most of the jockeys described it as very fast ground and one or two horses broke down,” said Oppenheimer.
“I would have liked to have seen him take on Roaring Lion on Saturday, but I suppose on soft ground it wouldn’t have been fair on him as he doesn’t like it, but we’ve still got some opposition – Crystal Ocean is very smart.
“He’d worked in blinkers a few times and they seemed to really work, but then he did a gallop the other day without them and went really well. I have a feeling it’s just to make sure he concentrates.
James Willoughby and Tom Stanley analyse the Prince of Wales's Stakes
“John doesn’t want to take any risks. They may help him, but I suspect he’d be the same horse with or without them.
“It would be a lovely way to sign off – one keeps horses to race, not to stare at every day!
“He’s so well bred it’s going to be exciting breeding from him. He’s a lovely-looking horse and while he doesn’t have the sheer beauty of Golden Horn, he is a very good looker.”
Gosden has put the blinkers on in the belief that Crackman’s mind was not fully on the job at Royal Ascot.
“It is hard to criticise a horse that has won two Group One races this year and been second in a Prince of Wales’s at Royal Ascot run in a very good time on fast ground and he wasn’t quite mentally with us that day, that’s for sure,” he said.
“I thought he ran a very good race considering he wasn’t quite there. He got very interested in the girls (fillies) walking back from the Windsor Forest! He has worked well since.
“He exploded in the Ganay and I’m not sure he has been the same horse since rolling down that hill (at ParisLongchamp), but it’s a criticism of the track as two or three weeks later the jockeys refused to ride.”
Gosden also runs Monarchs Glen, a winner at Royal Ascot albeit at a lower level in the Wolferton Stakes. He has not been seen since.
Our experts put the King George under the microscope
“It was a great run last time. We had a couple of spots for him, but decided than rather than go for the Prix Dollar at Longchamp, where we were concerned about the ground, or the Darley Stakes at Newmarket, where the ground was too quick, we would save him for Ascot,” said Gosden.
The 100-1 outsider Maverick Wave is the third member of the Clarehaven team.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean is Cracksman’s biggest danger, according to the bookmakers, and showed when second to stablemate Poet’s Word in the King George that he belongs at this level.
Stoute said: “It would have been better for the owner if he’d won the King George, but it was a very brave effort and we’ve really been pleased with the way he has progressed.
“He will be dropping back in distance, but he is effective at 10 furlongs.”
Watch Capri finish fifth in the Arc this month
Aidan O’Brien’s Capri missed a large part of the season through injury, but showed he retained most of his ability with a fine run to be fifth in the Arc.
He does, though, need to prove he has the pace for 10 furlongs as a St Leger winner.
O’Brien said: “He’s in good form and seems to have come out of the Arc well. We’ve been happy with him since.
“We were very happy with his run at Longchamp.”