ANNIKE BYE HANSEN
Skoganstallen sweeps 5 awards
Leading role: Hard One To Please
Poster girl: I Rest My Case, of course!
28 Jan 22: The annual awards ceremony, when Norwegian thoroughbred racing celebrates last year's champions, became a night to remember for Annike's great team. Hard One To Please, a dead cert to grab the headlines once again, picked up no fewer than three awards; Horse of The Year, Three-year-old of The Year and Stayer of The Year, while I Rest My Case was handed the award as Best Homebred of The Year. To top it off Annike was handed the Achievement of The Year award. Five awards to our excellent stable. While I Rest My Case saw off a couple of lively challengers in her division, Hard One To Please was lengths clear in his categories – just like he was in his two impressive Derby winning performances.
Takeko (filly & mare division), as well as General de Vega and Youonlyliveonce (both the sprint division) were also nominated but had to settle for minor honours on the night. The ceremony and dinner was held at Thon Hotel Oslofjord i Sandvika on Saturday evening, with these winners announced; Hard One To Please (Horse of The Year, 3yo of The Year, Stayer of The Year), I Rest My Case (Norwegian bred), Master Zone (2yo of The Year), Could Be King (Sprinter), Duca di Como (Miler), Ascot Brass (Filly & Mare), Canmore (Handicapper).
Hard One To Please – Horse of the Year
Last year's undisputed star in Scandinavia, Hard One To Please, was voted 2022 Horse of The Year in Norway, a title that was never in much doubt. What was, however, was his prospects of landing the odds in the Stockholm Cup International (G3), a race where he looked a certain loser turning for home – only to produce a tremendous finish and get up to beat the English challenger Outbox in a thrilling photo finish. That must have been one of the most exciting races of the season. Hard One To Please showed us a new dimension that day, as he proved that not only did he have the talent to get himself out of trouble, but also that he was well equipped for a street fight.
Landing a punch is one thing, and he had seen him doing that to some effect, but being able to take a punch is quite different. Some highly talented runners have been lacking in that department, many because they had become too accustomed to winning with ease. Not Hard One To Please. He knuckled down gamely as he was chasing the leaders coming down the home straight at Bro Park, and he found another gear in the closing stages. It was as easy as his two classic wins, in the Swedish Derby and the Norwegian Derby, both won comfortably. Actually, that's not quite right. His winning run at Jägersro, where he proved himself on dirt, did ask a lot more of him than his stroll back on turf in Norway, and perhaps it was a valuable learning experience. He came from off the pace to win the Swedish Derby by 2 measured lengths from Steinar, with the rest a long way further back. Steinar went on to win big himself next time out and it was rather obvious what horse they all had to beat when we came to the Norwegian Derby in late August. Derby Trial winner Pas de Faux had his supporters and was backed as as if he would have a serious chance, but looking at the formbook one might say “really?” The answer out of the course was an emphatic “not at all”. Hard One To Please, who had been ridden by Oliver Wilson in the Swedish Derby but now had Jacob Johansen on board, absolutely trounced his rivals to win by 14 lengths. Pas de Faux was outstayed by the fily Sea Lodge for second as the two Neuroth trainees filled out the trippel. The runner-up went on to win the Danish Oaks two weeks later. That result made the Norwegian Derby form a bit easier to assess, it was undoubtedly the best seen amongst the three-year-olds in Scandinavia.
The next test would be a lot more informative. Hard One To Please was being pointed at the Stockholm Cup International (G3) at Bro Park in September, when he would be facing older horses. The Cup, often billed as Scandinavia's 'Arc', drew a solid field of 15 runners. Amongst them was the German trained Virginia Storm, who had run third to Prix de l'Arc winner Torquator Tasso and second to German Derby runner-up Alter Adler at home. Virginia Storm's best form made him one to fear. Then we had Outbox, flying the English flag for a second time at Bro Park, having run such a good second in the 2021 edition of the Stockholm Cup, Oslo Cup (G3) winner Quebello and local hero Espen Hill. Ulf Zeider, one of the best judges of form in Sweden, gave this prediction in his racecard preview; Hard One To Please first, Outbox second, Virginia Storm third. He wasn't far wrong. Virginia Storm ran no sort of a race and finished second last, running as if something was amiss, while Hard One To Please pipped Outbox to win by a nose. Master Bloom, like Outbox another horse to have been placed in a previous edition of the event, ran third, while Quebello took fourth.
His win at Bro Park, where he was partnered by Pat Cosgrave, gave Hard One To Please a unique treble; the Swedish Derby on dirt, the Norwegian Derby over the undulating and testing course at Øvrevoll, and the Stockholm Cup at Bro Park, a flat, more US-style oval. Will this treble ever be repeated? It may, but it's probably long odds-on that he won't happen anytime soon. Väsby Häst AB's top performer is an unusually versatile performer, and a well deserving Horse of The Year. His 2023 campaign could be really exciting, though there will be no more cruising runs against his own age group only. The gloves will come off more than once in 2023, as he takes aim at the top races in Scandinavia. Those with similar aspirations have one thing in common; they all know that they will be up against a true champion. GS
Homebred of The Year
I Rest My Case - she's the poster girl
Presenting the winner of the award as Best Homebred of The Year in 2022; I Rest My Case, Skoganstallen's popular poster girl.
I Rest My Case earned more prize money than any other horse in running in Norway last year, when she won the valuable Drømmemilen on Derby, picking up 312,000 kroner after what looked like a racecourse gallop, and the historic Brukseier Eivind Lyches Minneløp – an important event for homebred horses. She was also runner-up in the Breeders' Prize, Skandinavisk Mesterskap and against imports in the Derby Trial, a performance that posed the question “should she go for the Derby?”. Well, she didn't – instead taking in the mile race on Derby day, which she won with ridiculous ease, cantering home by 15 ¼ lengths from No Compromise. It was as hard to assess the value of this form as it was not to be impressed by the performance. I Rest My Case won the race with such ease and it would have taken a very good horse to keep up with her on this occasion.
Her win in Lyches Minneløp was also a bit of a stroll, as she outclassed her rivals to win the 1980-metres turf contest by 5 ¼ lengths. Buckybelle finished second, and Queen of Antaktis filled third place, beaten almost nine lengths. This was also a case of I Rest My Case being far too good for her rivals.
She was being tested against better performers though, and ran solid races to be placed in important events. She was second to Hear The Drums in the Skandinavisk Mesterskap for 3yos in July, going down by a neck at the end of a hotly contested race over 1800 metres / turf. Semper Fi was 1 ½ lengths behind her in third, with Sugar Crust fourth. The Derby Trial, run in early August, meant a step up in distance + a clash with good imports. The trip, 2160 metres, did not get the better of I Rest My Case, she stayed all right, but Pas de Faux did. He beat her by 3 lenghts and soon became many people's idea of the 2022 Derby winner. As we know, Hard One To Please had other ideas, but Pas de Faux did frank the Derby Trial form by running third in the Derby – after having been committed far too soon.
Derby day results thus underscored the fact that I Rest My Case was a homebred somewhat out of the ordinary. Such horses are bound to end up in the top races for Scandinavian breds, and I Rest My Case next shipped to Bro Park, to contest the 15-runner Breeders' Trophy Classic. Things had gone pretty smoothly in her previous races but that was not the case at Bro Park, where she faced an impossible task after a very slow start. She stayed on gamely in the home straight but was beaten by five of her rivals. Titannia, the Danish Derby winner, came out on top, beating Giant Fortune narrowly. I Rest My Case passed the winning post 3 ½ lengths behind the winner. Compared to Titannia, who made all, I Rest My Case's start loss was about twice that margin. Her next run, in the Breeders' Prize Classic back home, was better – but also a bit unfortunate – as she ended up on the wrong side of the course when delivering her challenge. Hear The Drums beat her by a length and I Rest My Case was a quarter of a length in front of the third placed runner, Chianti. Good Fortune finished fourth and Titannia disappointed to came home third last.
I Rest My Case rounded her season off in the Norwegian Oaks, run in mid-October. She went off second favourite behind Sea Lodge, who had run second in the Derby. On paper, the classic looked like a two-horse affair, but 18-1 shot Crack The Sky upset the two leading contenders to win from the front. It was an excellent winning ride by Per-Anders Gråberg. Sea Lodge beat I Rest My Case by a neck for second.
What can we expect from I Rest My Case in 2023? It's dangerous to have too high expectations, as her four-year-old campaign must be altogether different to 2022. There will be opporunities in races for Scandinavian breds, but not as many as these horses enjoy when they are three, and I Rest My Case will have to step up against imports. Stakes events for fillies and mares are well worth considering, although the official handicapper has I Rest My Case 8kg below Ascot Brass, 6kg below Iron Butterfly and Silent Night, and 5kg below Takeko. There's a gap to close there, no doubt, but don't be too surprised if I Rest My Case proves to be up to it. GS 290123