Undoubtedly Brando was the star of 2016, racing through the handicaps before proving himself in group class. The Ayr Gold Cup win was a day that will live long in the memory and that was the last time Brando would be seeing handicap company. Already a Group 3 winner, he then went on to finish a good 3rd in the Group 1 Champions Sprint. That meant over the winter connections could start plotting his path through the group sprints. The Group 3 Abernant stakes was the start, and it was a perfect start as Brando took the event and was one of the first sprinters to lay his claim for the season ahead.
Brando had started last season at the same time of the year, although at a slightly lower grade. Winning a 5f handicap at the Craven meeting, off a mark of 88, it was the first steps in his fruitful year which saw him reach his potential. It was always felt that Brando could be a very smart sprinter, but just how far he could go was anyone’s guess. He went to all the big meetings, ran with great credit each time and gave owners Angie Bailey & Pete Tingey one of their greatest days racing when running away with the Ayr Gold Cup.
This season’s plan was all about the Group races and Kevin just had to make a plan about when and where to start Brando off. His pre-season work had been good and fortunately the big chestnut came to hand early, just as he did last year. It was a case of working back from Royal Ascot so the obvious races were the Duke Of York and the Abernant. Knowing that sprinters can possibly take a couple of runs to get into full gear, Kevin chose to start early in the Abernant, a race that he had won twice in the last two years.
When the declarations came out it was a small field and Brando was the clear pick on form. At this stage of the year form can go out of the window and nothing was being taken for granted for Brando’s first start. Regular partner Tom Eaves was on board and although he was confident, having ridden him work through the winter, there were a couple of small doubts. The ground was a slight concern, quicker than ideal, plus fitness too, there is only so much you can do at home and it is during the race when they really get put through their paces.
It was Tom who helped Brando reach another level last year and it was mainly due to his confident tactics. Brando showed a lovely turn of foot last year and obviously Tom wanted to utilise this. Unfortunately with only 6 runners there wasn’t a definite pace angle but everyone was hoping the speedy Ornate might go on. Ryan Moore duly obliged and immediately sent Ornate out to lead, blistering away and opening up a length lead in the first few strides. Tom confidently allowed them to go on and tucked in to about fourth position, a good couple of lengths off the leader.
For a big horse Brando is very well balanced and happily strode out over the undulations of the Rowley mile. Moore was not hanging about and opened up a clear three length lead through the first couple of furlongs. The rest didn’t seem too bothered by this and let the leader kick on. By halfway it was a clear advantage and most people were probably just wondering if Ryan had gone too quick. Tom was riding with utter confidence and didn’t move a muscle through the first half of the race which must have instilled belief in Brando’s backers.
As the field moved towards the 2f they began to run down into the dip. Ornate was still going great guns and Moore even allowed himself a look around. What he saw was a good 3-4 length lead and his rivals starting to get to work. All around Brando’s rivals came under pressure and the leader kicked for home. Tom was still confident and just sat still rolling down into the dip, keeping his mount balanced and filling up the lungs for a final push. Although still travelling well, Brando had a lot of ground to make up and Ornate was not stopping.
The rising ground was upon them and Tom was now ready to go after the leader. The rest were beaten and one paced so it was up to Brando to close the gap on the leader. Slowly he began to make up ground but it was steady progress at first. They passed the 1f marker and the deficit was still 3 lengths. Ornate was still going and Brando’s headway was not the cutting into the margin quickly enough. Tom still oozed confidence and was riding hands and heels. As they ran up the rising ground Brando changed his legs and suddenly found another gear. Now he was motoring and eating into the leader with every yard. The pair now sensed victory was imminent so Tom gave Brando a couple of slaps to ensure. Full speed was reached and now it was game over. Momentum was with Brando, he was flying down the stands side and swept passed the gutsy Ornate. Brando ran out a ready 1 length winner and secured his second group level success.
It was a great start to the season and really sets up Brando for the top sprints. The quicker ground was a slight concern but he handled it and this answered questions for the season ahead. Although he was in great order, he is likely to have needed that run too and will improve for that. Tom rode the horse with extreme confidence and this style of running will be better suited to bigger fields. Brando is a classy horse and Group 1’s are the main target for the season. Next stop will probably be the Duke Of York before looking towards Royal Ascot. Obviously he will need to continue to improve but it looks like the purple and yellow will be flying high again this year.