Coral Champions Club: Chopin at the bit!
For a country renowned for producing footballing geniuses, Formula One world champions, Wimbledon legends and Alpine greats, Germany is fast adding another string to its bow. Through the exploits of its thoroughbreds, it now befittingly finds itself dining at Europe’s top table, mixing it with the O’Brien’s, Stoute’s and the Hannon’s of the racing world .
The genial Andreas Wohler has contributed more than most to that burgeoning reputation and the country’s status could receive yet another boost on Saturday afternoon when his charge, Chopin, bids to give Germany another Group One success on British soil in the JTL Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
Woehler, 52, is certainly no stranger to plundering big overseas prizes. Silvano and Paolini had long secured his standing as an astute handler noted for big race wins. The Arlington Million, QE II Cup in Hong Kong and the Dubai Duty Free at Nad al Sheba measure up to an impressive racing résumé.
Last summer, his talents where again accentuated by the brilliant Novellist, who gave Germany back-to-back triumphs in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot when he emulated the previous year’s winner, Danedream, in winning Britain’s premier all-aged Flat race and breaking the track record by two seconds in the process. From his 100 plus string at his Gutersloh base, situated between Dortmund and Hanover, Wohler collected six Group One contests in 2013.
This summer’s harvest may not prove as plentiful but the fruitage begins on Saturday afternoon when Chopin, who already created his own bit of history when becoming the first ever runner to represent Germany in last year’s Epsom Derby, lines up for the Lockinge Stakes. Wohler expects his colt to put up a bold showing.
“He did his last piece of work yesterday (Tuesday) and I was really happy with it. Everything has gone smoothly since his last run so we’re really looking forward to it. I was pleased with that run behind Amaron. He will be strip a lot fitter for it and he has a chance. – I couldn’t be happier with him. “It’s a hot field and the obvious danger is the favourite Olympic Glory. He is the horse we all have to beat. He would prefer the ground on the soft side. We’d like some cut ourselves but I’m hearing the forecast is for a dry spell but I still think he will run a very solid race”.
Jockey Jamie Spencer is equally confident of big run.
“Chopin ran very well in Germany on his first start this season. We were very happy with him. He needed it as he hadn’t run since and was his first run since Ascot last year.
“The Lockinge should be a good starting point for him. He has Olympic Glory to beat. He only disappointed twice, when he was drawn out in the car park in the French Guineas and at Santa Anita when the ground was firm and he was probably over the top. He wears blinkers but he’s a genuine horse and will love the ground. The Aidan O’Brien horse Verrazano will be interesting. We don’t know how good he is. But my fellow has had a run, he won’t mind the ground and is in good form so we’ll see where that takes us”.
This will be Chopin’s third visit to the UK having finished seventh in both the Epsom Derby and the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot. But Wohler believes the 4yo will be a better horse during this campaign. “He ran well in last year’s Derby but the ground wasn’t to his liking and the fast ground was really against him at Royal Ascot. He’s looks and feels like a better horse this year and there’s a nice race to be won with him”.
Wohler has won plenty of those during his 28 year tenure as a trainer. His most outstanding early success was Lomitas who won all his races as a juvenile in 1990 before following it up with success in the German Derby a year later.
In truth, every handler needs a ‘special’ horse when starting out and Lomitas was it. The affable German endured something of a baptism of fire to his training career due to the untimely death of his father in 1986 and at just 24, he was forced to give up his studies and take over the yard at Bremen.
“The plan was always to eventually take over from my father but this happened a lot earlier than expected. He was a very successful jockey and trainer, so it was a big challenge but Lomitas provided me with a great start. Having brilliant horses like Lomitas and Novellist makes this job a lot easier”.
Wohler will return to Ascot in June and for another stilt at the Gold Cup with Altano. His staying stable star, who won the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on Arc day last October, made a very pleasing reappearance when winning at Hoppegarten earlier this month and one detects an air of confidence in the German’s voice when asked about Altano’s chances of a German victory in Britain’s most prestigious event for stayers and arguably the centrepiece on offer at Royal Ascot.
“I was really pleased with his run last weekend. He won quite easily in the end. He’ll go to Ascot with a big chance. He was fifth in the Gold Cup last year and was running on strongly at the finish. The ground was firm that day and if there was a bit of ease in it this year I would be confident of a big run”.
More immediately though it is Newbury that will occupy Andreas Wohler’s mind as Chopin, named after a Polish born composer, Qatari owned and Irish ridden looks to provide yet another big race winner for Germany, horse racing’s most emerging nation.