As the end of the year approaches, it is a moment to reflect. Racing in 2023 was full of drama and thrills, so we asked our top team — Racing Editor MARCUS TOWNEND and Racing Correspondent DOMINIC KING — to give us their highlights and look into a crystal ball for 2024.
There were so many special moments, what was your favourite?
MARCUS TOWNEND: Corach Rambler winning the Grand National. We followed his preparations closely in Mail Sport, with our columnist Peter Scudamore being assistant and partner to the gelding’s trainer Lucinda Russell.
Hopefully we conveyed the confidence the team had in the horse but no one expected Corach Rambler to win such a competitive and dramatic race so easily, with jockey Derek Fox sitting pretty as he cruised into the lead at the last fence.
DOMINIC KING: Standing by the winning post as Frankie Dettori lifted King Of Steel with one last thrust to win the Champion Stakes. We attend sporting events in the hope we get an ‘I was there’ moment and that’s what happened on October 21.
Mail Sport’s Racing Editor named Corach Rambler’s Grand National victory one of the year’s most special moments
Racing correspondent Dominic King tipped Frankie Dettori’s Royal Ascot swansong with King of Steel
Sean Kirrane’s victory on Live In The Dream at York in August was an impressive race showing
This was supposed to be Dettori’s final ride in Britain. He’s always written his own scripts but this was extraordinary. To hear the crowd cheering and chanting his name in the aftermath was unique in racing.
What was the best ride you saw in 2023?
MT: Sean Kirrane on Live In The Dream in York’s Nunthorpe Stakes in August. Some of his rivals probably underestimated the 28-1 shot but the jockey utilised his mount’s early speed to perfection by establishing a race-winning advantage in the first two furlongs.
From half-way, Live In The Dream’s lead was being eroded but he kept them all at bay to land a thrilling Group One for Kirrane and trainer Adam West with their first runner in such company.
Jockeys aim for rides that really make a difference and that’s what Kirrane produced.
DK: Ryan Moore on Auguste Rodin in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Aidan O’Brien, the colt’s trainer, was almost speechless in the moments after this win at Santa Anita because Moore’s effort was breathtaking, holding his nerve and coming up the rails.
Moore gave credit to his willing partner, then O’Brien, but everyone knew the best jockey out there had produced a world-class ride when it mattered. He just edges Frankie Dettori on King Of Steel at Ascot and Paul Townend on Galopin Des Champs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
What were the best horses you saw? One from the flat, another from the jumps
MT: Over jumps that is easy: Constitution Hill. His nine-length defeat of State Man in the Champion Hurdle was the outstanding run at the Cheltenham Festival. State Man fell on his debut for Willie Mullins but his only defeat in nine subsequent starts came against Constitution Hill.
On the Flat, the worldwide displays of Ace Impact and Equinox were memorable but the last-to-first swoop from Mostahdaf in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot sticks in the mind. He proved it was no fluke when making all to win the Juddmonte International Stakes at York.
DK: I can’t disagree with Marcus about Constitution Hill. All I can add is that we are blessed to have the opportunity to see him and every time he races should be a grand occasion.
Auguste Rodin travelled across the pond to swip the Breeders’ Cup Turf in early November
Constitution Hill caught the eye of both Townend and King when it came to jump racehorses
My Flat selection might raise an eyebrow but here goes: City Of Troy. I spoke to his co-owner, Michael Tabor, after the colt had won the Dewhurst Stakes. This flying machine has the potential to be extraordinary.
Did anything leave you disappointed? What was your lowest moment of 2023?
MT: The dearth of a quality performer from Charlie Appleby’s Godolphin stable cast a cloud over the summer. There were a few green shoots of recovery in the autumn, Ancient Wisdom being the standout, but it may be another relatively quiet year ahead for Godolphin.
Everything pales into insignificance, though, considering what happened to Graham Lee when he fell at Newcastle in November. To see a man who carved a place in history stricken was shocking.
DK: Absolutely right. The impact that incident had on the weighing room was profound and we can only wish Graham and his family the best. The Injured Jockeys Fund will be there for them every step of the way.
Let’s look ahead to 2024, do you think Frankie Dettori will ride in Europe?
MT: It seems inevitable Frankie will be back, with Royal Ascot firmly on his agenda. Until then, he will be busy in the US, and making trips for the big races in the Middle East. But Frankie’s love affair with Royal Ascot makes it a certainty he will seek rides there.
DK: I can’t shake the feeling he will pop up somewhere before Ascot. With John Gosden keeping Inspiral in training — and given how much Frankie loves that filly — I expect he’ll make his services available wherever she reappears. Newbury’s Lockinge Stakes in May has been mooted.
What horse are you most looking forward to seeing at the Cheltenham festival?
MT: It will be good to see if last season’s impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Marine Nationale can make it back for the Arkle Novices’ Chase. He is due to make his chasing debut at Leopardstown on Wednesday.
DK: I can only pick one? Marcus’s choice is a corker, with trainer Barry Connell refusing to believe that anything can beat Marine Nationale and already talking about preparing the gelding for the 2025 Queen Mother Champion Chase. I’ll stay away from the obvious and go with Burdett Road, who is favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Marine Nationale (centre, yellow star cap) could soon be dazzling in the Arkle Novices’ Chase
The gelding was a winner at Royal Ascot last summer and has bags of class. Harry Cobden says he’s the best juvenile hurdler he has ridden. He is very exciting for trainer James Owen, running in the distinct yellow and black colours of the Gredley family.
Give Mail Sport readers a horse to follow for 2024
MT: He got beaten on soft ground at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting, but when he encountered quicker ground, Rosallion showed why trainer Richard Hannon thinks so much of the son of Blue Point.
His trump card is his turn of foot, which he used to good effect when winning the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp on Arc day, cutting down subsequent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Unquestionable. The 2,000 Guineas and St James’s Palace Stakes will be on his agenda.
DK: Aidan O’Brien is spoilt for choice with two-year-olds, which explains why Henry Longfellow has gone under the radar a bit. Unbeaten in three races, he is going to run in the French 2,000 Guineas, then potentially the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
There is an argument that he is the best-bred horse in training — his father is super sire Dubawi, his mother is the multiple Group One winner Minding — and jockey Ryan Moore always has a twinkle in his eye when talking about him.
You will be hearing plenty about him going forward.
Finally, perhaps the easiest question of all — give us a certainty for next year
MT: There is no such thing as a certainty in racing! But I do believe Sean Bowen will be crowned champion jump jockey, despite some pundits talking up the chances of nearest rival Harry Cobden, who has the backing of champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
History tells us that recent titles have been won by accumulating winners in the summer. Sir Anthony McCoy had some of his titles virtually wrapped by October! Bowen has a significant lead and the buffer he has established will take some eroding.
King tips Stay Away Fay as a shoe-in to win the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase next year
DK: I beg to differ from my respected colleague and tell you there are not just one but two certainties for 2024!
You will have to wait until March 13 for the first one but Stay Away Fay will win the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. Traditionalists will know that race as the Sun Alliance.
If that’s not enough, I also say this with a degree of confidence. The Juddmonte International at York is run on August 21. John Gosden identified that race for Inspiral immediately after she had won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf in November.
You have been told!