Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)
On the 5th of May 2012, Roger Charlton unleashed a new star on the British middle-distance racing division. A four year old son of Dubawi that lit up the Newmarket turf when powering away from the likes of Dunaden, Meandre and My Quest For Peace for a facile victory. For Al Kazeem, a comfortable victory in the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes looked to earmark the horse for potential Group 1 glories before the end of the season. However, injury was to put paid to his chances of running in the very best races in 2013, a cruel twist of fate that halted the colts progression before he had a chance to explore the exciting lands of Group 1 competition.
Twelve months on, Al Kazeem is back, still firing and still winning races. A first start since that Group 2 victory at Newmarket last season, this was not supposed to be a runaway success for the five year old, yet the manner of victory was taking and continued to show the same old signs of progression. With the talent still prominent, the class reserved in bucketloads, this one still has a chance to achieve the Group 1 glory he seemingly deserves.
Victory in Saturday's Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown Park from the strong-running Thomas Chippendale, a consistent four year old from the yard of Sir Henry Cecil, was a true test for Al Kazeem. A test that would've found any chink in his armour, any lack of fitness, any areas exposed - a test in which he passed with flying colours whilst his stable are yet to hit the ground running this season. "We know he gets the mile and a half, but a mile and a quarter is a more commercial distance" said Charlton, "As long as he can win at a mile and a quarter he'll stick to that. He'll probably go for the Tattersalls Gold CupGold Cup [26th May - against Camelot] and then Royal Ascot.". Also at Sandown Park on Saturday, whilst AP McCoy was crowned Champion Jockey for the eighteenth consecutive season, Nicky Henderson was crowned Champion Trainer for the first time since 1987 and his 2012 Champion Chaser, Finian's Rainbow, looked to hold a live chance to gain glory for the trainer in the Grade 2 Celebration Chase. No Sprinter Sacre for this two mile chase, that stunning steeplechaser took part in an away trip to the Punchestown Festival in midweek, and instead it was down to Finian's Rainbow, who travelled effortlessly throughout the race despite giving weight away to all of his rivals, to bid for his first victory since the Aintree Festival of 2012.
However, a season which has unkind to the exceptionally talented Finian's Rainbow, it wasn't to be for the ten year old son of Tiraaz, as the contest went to a novice chaser for the second consecutive year. Sire de Grugy, trained by Gary Moore - father of Ryan, threw down a powerful, sustained charge after the last fence to comfortably account for Finian's Rainbow (below), running away for a one-and-three-quarters length success.
In the traditional curtain closer for the National Hunt season, Andrew Tinkler was to acquire his greatest victory aboard Quentin Collonges in the Bet365 Gold Cup. A gruelling test over three mile and five furlongs, Quentin Collonges was always in the leading pack of the race, yet looked to be booked for second place as Nigel Twiston-Davies' smooth-travelling Cheltenham Festival victor, Same Difference, pressed the leader towards the final fence.
Landing a quarter-length in front, Same Difference was outbattled in the run-in by a determined, battle-hardy Quentin Collonges under a fantastic ride from Tinkler, acquiring Quentin Collonges his second big-race victory of the season at odds of 14-1.
Photo Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)