11/20/2014 3:17PM

Hovdey: Juddmonte Farms enjoying European awards success


Europeans, having better things to do, dispense with any late-season jibber-jab over their Thoroughbred championships by presenting the trophies in early November and calling it quits for the year. This frees them up to enjoy whatever holidays they still celebrate and pack for Barbados.

The season over there essentially ends with the Breeders’ Cup over here, after which a three-headed tally system is cranked up to determine the best of the best in seven divisional categories, plus Horse of the Year. The whole deal is sponsored by Cartier, which presents a very handsome equine statuette, although if given a choice, those honored might prefer one of the watchmaker’s extra large 47-millimeter Ballon Bleu Chronograph Diamond models, priced to move at $233,000.

Comparisons to the Eclipse Awards are inevitable. The North Americans hand out baubles in 12 horse and six human categories, including a handicapper of the year. Both offer an Award of Merit. The Eclipse Awards are determined by the aggregate vote totals from three constituencies – the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form , and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. The formula for the Cartier Awards is based 40 percent on performance points in group races, 30 percent on the subjective opinions of racing journalists, and 30 percent on a fans’ poll conducted by the Racing Post, the Daily Telegraph, and Channel 4, the sport’s primary broadcast home.

“I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to an Eclipse Awards,” said Teddy Grimthorpe, who manages Juddmonte’s European runners for Prince Khaled Abdullah. “But I can tell you what the Cartier is like.”

No kidding. While Grimthorpe leaves American bows to Juddmonte President John Chandler and stateside racing manager Garrett O’Rourke, he has been front and center the last several years for a giddy string of European honors. Their unbeaten Frankel had a run of three championship seasons from 2010 through 2012, including the last two as Cartier Horse of the Year. Then, last week in London, Juddmonte dominated the evening with Kingman as 2014 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old and Noble Mission, Frankel’s full brother, as champion older horse. One would think that by now the outfit would become jaded.

“Not at all,” Grimthorpe said. “It’s a really good evening at a top London hotel, and a seriously good dinner. As for the awards themselves, they are important. They represent recognition of your peers. The awards, of course, are all for individuals, but I think in a way they also point to the enduring excellence of the Juddmonte broodmare band.”

Kingman, who won 5 of 6 races in 2014 for trainer John Gosden – four at the Group 1 level – has been retired to stand alongside Frankel at Juddmonte’s Banstead Manor breeding operation in Newmarket. Grimthorpe was asked why the racing rug was pulled out from under the Horse of the Year so soon. After all, Frankel raced through his 4-year-old season to even greater heights after proving himself a superior miler, like Kingman, at age 3.

“I think everybody wanted to see more of Frankel,” Grimthorpe said. “The same could be said of Kingman, although with Frankel, we were very confident he would stay a mile and a quarter, and he had a very definite agenda at 4 in terms of challenges. Also, Frankel had no ailments and was incredibly sound.”

Kingman’s season ended in August when he came down with a respiratory infection. His final start of the year was to have been in the Queen Elizabeth II at a testing mile at Ascot in October.

“Had he made that race, it might have settled the question of his ability to stay a mile and a quarter next year,” Grimthorpe said. “But there was a question. He is closely related to Oasis Dream, who didn’t get much more than six furlongs. Frankel, on the other hand, might have been out of a five-furlong sprinter, but he was by Gallileo, a mile-and-a-half horse.

“People always want to see more,” Grimthorpe added. “But Kingman wasn’t Frankel. No one is. What he did have was an electrifying burst of speed that really caught the imagination, a real turbo-charged explosion, which he showed at Royal Ascot and again at Goodwood.”

A week and a half before the Nov. 11 Cartiers, Grimthorpe could be found at Santa Anita, cheering on Juddmonte runners in Breeders’ Cup events. Flintshire came within a half-length of winning the Turf, but Seek Again was ninth in the Mile, Emollient ran ninth in the Filly and Mare Turf, and Close Hatches finished last of 11 as the second choice in the Distaff.

Combined with her poor previous race in the Spinster, the Distaff may have shaken some support for Close Hatches to add a 2014 Eclipse Award to Juddmonte’s Cartier haul. Between March and August, she rattled off wins in the Azeri, the Apple Blossom, the Odgen Phipps, and the Personal Ensign.

“It doesn’t really matter what I think, but we did wonder if her super workout before the Spinster might have just taken the edge off her,” Grimthorpe said. “Then she came back and worked nicely at Belmont, so she looked like she was back in her best form. We never envisioned her going out like she did, especially after her exciting start and middle of the year. Maybe she’d just done her bit.”

Even a breeding juggernaut like Juddmonte is faced with the tyranny of the calendar. Like Kingman, Close Hatches has been retired.

“That’s the trouble and the tricky part,” Grimthorpe said. “Now we start all over again.”