Enable and Australia’s leading equine lady Winx cemented their places in racing’s record books in a 2018 season that produced a landmark Melbourne Cup success for Godolphin and a Triple Crown for Justify.
Over jumps the Grand National was captured by Tiger Roll, the smallest horse in the field displaying the heart of a lion to prevail in a pulsating finish to the world’s most famous steeplechase.
Buveur d’Air defended his Champion Hurdle crown with stablemate Altior taking the Champion Chase but their trainer Nicky Henderson was denied a historic Cheltenham Festival treble when his Might Bite was foiled by Native River in the Gold Cup.
But it was two representatives of the fairer sex that stole the season’s headlines.
The John Gosden-trained four-year-old filly Enable overcame injury to defend her Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe crown at a renovated Longchamp in Paris in the autumn.
Under the masterful guidance of 48-year-old Italian jockey Frankie Dettori, she then became the first Arc winner to go on to capture the Breeders Cup Turf at Churchill Downs.
“She conquered America!” exclaimed Dettori.
Owner Prince Khalid Abdullah has confirmed his superstar stays in training in 2019 with the objective of becoming the first-ever triple Arc winner.
Bookmakers make her a 4-1 shot to succeed where only 2013/2014 winner Treve has tried, the French filly only missing out in 2015 to Golden Horn, trained by Gosden and ridden by Dettori.
Australia’s wonder mare Winx added a record fourth Cox Plate in October to extend her remarkable run to 29 wins in a row.
“I can’t believe it,” said long-time jockey Hugh Bowman afterwards. “The electricity that came through my body when I turned into the home straight.
“Everyone watching gets so much joy and pleasure out of this wonderful horse,” he added.
“The fact that she’s been able to do it so many times consecutively just speaks volumes for the management of her.”
– O’Brien upstaged by sons –
And, like Enable, the omens are encouraging for racelovers that she will be back racing as an eight-year-old in March.
One race Winx will never contest due to stamina limitations is the Melbourne Cup, which this year went to Cross Counter, ending two decades of frustration for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stable, which also enjoyed Epsom Derby success with Masar.
Legendary Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien suffered heartache when his Melbourne Cup contender Cliffs of Moher had to be put down.
After last year’s heroics in setting a new record for Group/Grade One wins, O’Brien had a quieter 2018 season.
One of the big races he missed out on was the Irish Derby, but he was all smiles despite defeat as he congratulated winner Latrobe’s trainer and jockey — his sons Joseph, 25, and Donnacha, 19.
In May, O’Brien had high hopes that Mendelssohn would become Europe’s first-ever winner of the Kentucky Derby.
But his runner wilted in the ‘Run for the Roses’, trailing in last behind Justify, with Bob Baffert’s colt going on to sweep the Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the 13th horse to capture the coveted Triple Crown.
Sadly injury intervened to scupper his bid to end his career on a high in the Breeders Cup Classic. A lucrative stud career now beckons.
Another major racing figure — human not equine — heading off into well deserved retirement is Luca Cumani.
The Newmarket-based Italian trainer, 69, is bowing out after a career spanning more than 40 years with his haul of major race victories featuring a brace of Epsom Derby triumphs for Kahyasi (1988) and High Rise (1998).
Trailblazing Irish jockey Katie Walsh, who came closest to becoming the first woman to ride a Grand National winner when third on Seabass in 2012, has also decided to withdraw from racing’s frontline.
One man not considering imminent retirement is Mark Johnston, the 58-year-old Scotsman who in August sent out his 4,193rd winner to become Britain’s record-breaking trainer.
That’s 600 more than John Dunlop, the English training great who saddled 10 British classic winners and who died aged 78 in July.