Ireland’s top sprinter, Sceptical, sustained a fatal injury on the gallops on Tuesday, robbing Flat racing of one of its rags-to-riches success stories.
In less than 12 months, the four-year-old reached the top of the sprint rankings in his own country, finished third at Royal Ascot and second in the July Cup, winning more than £120,000 – all for an original outlay of just £2,800.
He was being prepared for a Group Three race at the Curragh on Sunday when tragedy struck, dealing a crushing blow to his trainer, Denis Hogan, and owner, James McAuley, who have forged a reputation for success with cast-offs, of which Sceptical was the star.
Bred by Godolphin, he was sold as an unraced gelding at a bargain-basement price a year ago on Friday. He won four of his seven starts and had an exciting career ahead of him.
Hogan said: “We have been dealt a devastating, cruel blow with the loss of our superstar sprinter Sceptical. He was a horse of a lifetime and a game changer for my training career.”
Sceptical and his jockey, Frankie Dettori, had become one of the headline acts of ITV Sport’s summer coverage of British horse racing, which it was announced on Tuesday would continue free-to-air on the network until 2023.
After a drawn-out process, ITV will have exclusive rights to nearly 100 days of racing each year when the present deal, which began in 2017, runs out. It includes guaranteed coverage of racing’s marquee events – the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National, Derby and Royal Ascot – on ITV’s main channel.
The conclusion of the deal, for which ITV is reported to be paying £8-£9 million a year, an increase from £7.5 m, will be a major boost to racing, which has had to take place with no spectators, resulting in prize-money cuts.
ITV has succeeded in delivering increased viewing figures, with this year’s Royal Ascot meeting, despite having to take place without the Queen and any of the traditional pageantry, drawing eight-year high figures and the Derby being watched by more than 2.2 million, the highest since 2012.
This year, ratings for both ITV and ITV4 combined are 22 per cent higher than last year, and 45 per cent higher than when Channel 4 held the contract.
Although Racecourse Media Group was criticised by Sir AP McCoy, who works as an ITV pundit, for the length of time it has taken to close the deal, racing insiders claimed this was largely due to the unexpectedly aggressive negotiating position taken by ITV, which led to hold-ups over digital rights and main channel slots for the major race meetings, which have now been resolved amicably.
In the wake of the abandonment of racing at Yarmouth on Monday over concerns about the safety of the track after a horse suffered a fatal fall, Friday’s fixture at the track has been moved to Wolverhampton while further checks are carried out.
Fancy Blue leads in race for Cartier Horse of the Year
Fancy Blue, who became the first Group One winner in Britain for his 22-year-old first-season trainer Donnacha O’Brien, is the new leader in the race to be crowned Cartier Horse of the Year 2020.
The filly’s victory in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, following a Classic triumph in the Prix de Diane in July, put her ahead of Stradivarius, whose fourth victory in the Goodwood Cup was one of the highlights of the meeting. Having secured his status as one of racing’s all-time great stayers, Stradivarius’s target could now be the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Europe’s biggest Flat race is also the principal goal for stablemate Enable, who is seeking an unprecedented third victory. Stradivarius’s presence would mean Frankie Dettori having to desert one of his favourite partners at Longchamp. Enable confirmed she remains among the best in the world with a historic third victory in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and keep herself in the running for Cartier Horse of the Year honours, which she won in 2017 and 2018. No horse has won the prize three times.
Goodwood was the venue of another stellar performance by Battaash, who lowered the track record to win the King George Qatar Stakes for a fourth time, ahead of his next Group One assignment in York’s Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes.