Michael Kinane seemed ready for taxidermy a year ago, when the loss of his posting as stable jockey at Ballydoyle seemed to suggest the sun was going down for the multiple Irish champion jockey.
This, however, was to ignore the steadfast skills which had propelled the man who will be 46 next week to the summit of his profession. The old dog displayed that he still has a few tricks with which to slap his juniors here on the Knavesmire yesterday when he registered a 195-1 treble, including the central jewel of victory on Azamour in the Prince of Wales's Stakes.
Azamour has adopted the characteristics of his partner - cussedness and a refusal to be overhauled in the face of misfortune. The rain-soaked turf here was supposed to be against John Oxx's colt, but then it was sliding terrain that suited few. He coped with it best.
Despite the conditions, Azamour was made favourite for the Group One race on the back of worries that Ouija Board, the returning superfilly, would not have the gas fully turned up for this seasonal debut. Those fears proved well founded.
Elvstroem for Australia led the way, but this was a meeting which was determined by weird movements in the straight. The field fanned out as they turned for home and it became a noisy and disjointed spectacle as the whips came out and horses bore down on the grandstands from all angles, like redskins falling on the wagon train.
It became a much different question than the course had posed on the good to firm of the previous day, the answer to which was more about fortitude than flashier traits. This played to Azamour's strengths.
The four-year-old had shown his splendour when he won the St James's Palace Stakes at this meeting 12 months ago, but now more yeoman characteristics were employed. Kieren Fallon played his hand on Ace, but Kinane possessed the trump, forging past for a length and a half triumph.
This was rather pleasant for the stern-faced Kinane, who had won the Windsor Forest Stakes on Peeress and was later to capture the Sandringham Handicap aboard Beautyandthebeast. It was not rotten either for the plumper and considerably jollier Aga Khan, who had collected an initial Group One race, the Queen Anne Stakes with Valixir, the previous day.
"We kept Azamour in training at four because his three-year-old career was not a true reflection of his ability," the owner-breeder said, "and we thought there was improvement to come."
Oxx added: "Azamour did not look that happy early on. The ground has become chopped up near the far rail so Michael brought him up the centre, where it is less worn. We know that Azamour stays and he always runs to the line in his races. He had a nice target to aim at and was pricking his ears at the winning post and won handily enough in the end."
Some potent gladiators are now massing for the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, which will be run at Newbury next month. Azamour is an 8-1 chance for the high-summer championship, in company with Bago and Grey Swallow, with North Light a point behind. The market is led by Motivator and Yeats.
Less warming was the performance of the filly which had rushed into our hearts last year. There was not the semblance of a spark from Ouija Board, who limped in next to last, metaphorically and actually.
Well before the end of her journey, Jamie Spencer, her jockey, was looking down for damage. It transpired the filly had lost a shoe during the race and may also have put her foot in a hole.
This was certainly not the animal we witnessed sweeping away the Oaks and the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. "She appears OK, but we won't be sure until later," Ed Dunlop, her trainer, said. "It's too early to suggest she's not the filly she was last year.
"We had reservations running on this ground. We took a chance but it didn't work. Life goes on and the most important thing is that she is OK."
Nap: Postgraduate (Ascot at York 4.20)
NB: Something Exciting (Ascot at York 3.05)
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