Horses are not supposed to get off the mark in Classics, but Bachelor Duke did just that at the Curragh yesterday. The colt took the 84th Irish 2,000 Guineas to notch his first success in five outings, and although he turned the form-book round on some better-fancied rivals there appeared to be no semblance of a fluke as he came wide and late to land a rather poignant victory in the famous straw colours of the late Duke of Devonshire, who died earlier this month.
For both Bachelor Duke's trainer, James Toller, and rider, Seb Sanders, it was a first Classic success. "A long time coming," said the Newmarket-based handler, in his 25th year with a licence. "But fantastic. It's just such a shame the owner couldn't be here to see it." Beforehand, the Group One mile contest was viewed as a straight fight between the local pair Azamour and Grey Swallow, separated by a length when third and fourth in the 2,000 Guineas on the Rowley Mile three weeks previously. Bachelor Duke was more than three lengths adrift in seventh place that day, but despite his maiden status had not been entirely unfancied and had started at 20-1 to Azamour's 25-1.
Yesterday, Azamour went off 6-4 favourite, with Grey Swallow 2-1, and once the John Oxx-trained Aga Khan colour-bearer found racing room between the early leaders Grand Reward and Leitrim House going to the final furlong it seemed the support would be justified. But Sanders, never worse than fifth, had the move covered and conjured a decisive change of gear from 12-1 shot Bachelor Duke to sweep past and land the €233,000 (£156,000) spoils by a length. Azamour confirmed his Newmarket superiority over Grey Swallow, by half a length this time, with Leitrim House fourth and Grand Reward fifth.
Bachelor Duke was the first maiden to land a major European Classic since Sun Princess took the 1983 Oaks. "It looked like he'd improved from the Guineas," said Toller. "He's been working well at home and the faster ground helped." The bay son of Miswaki, who had signalled his right to mix it at the top with his gutsy fourth in last year's Dewhurst Stakes, will renew rivalry with his Newmarket conqueror Haafhd in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot next month.
British-trained horses took both the other feature contests at the Curragh. In the Greenlands Stakes, The Kiddykid (Peter Evans) nosed out Arakan (Sir Michael Stoute), with Ringmoor Down (David Arbuthnot) third, to make it a clean sweep for the raiders. In the Ridgewood Pearl Stakes, Soviet Song (James Fanshawe) finally achieved the reward her consistency at the top level deserved.
This afternoon at the Co Kildare track 15 fillies contest the 83rd Irish 1,000 Guineas, headed by the Rowley Mile heroine Attraction. Mark Johnson's famously wonky-legged charge is defending an unbeaten six-race record and may find this stiff mile less to her taste than Newmarket. Secret Charm, fifth then after a troubled run, has apparently thrived since and can, like the colt yesterday, reverse the form.
Surprisingly, Aidan O'Brien has yet to take a Classic back to Ballydoyle this season, and fields a five-strong entry today, headed by Last Love, to try to remedy the omission. His next chance comes at Epsom next month, and yesterday he tried to allay fears over the wellbeing of Derby favourite Yeats after reports of a minor setback. "He was a shade stiff this morning after working the day before," he confirmed. "But it's probably nothing. This sort of thing is nothing unusual and it could turn out that he has just tweaked a muscle. Everything has been 100 per cent up to now." Grey Swallow has been ruled out of the Derby by trainer Dermot Weld after yesterday's effort, but this afternoon his stablemate Cairdeas has the chance to confirm himself one of the livelier Blue Riband long-shots on his seasonal debut in the Gallinule Stakes.
In the absence of Sulamani, suffering from an infected pastern, the Ballydoyle representative Powerscourt is likely to start favourite for today's other Group One contest in Ireland, the Tattersalls Gold Cup. Godolphin will now rely on Naheef, with Private Charter (Barry Hills) and Nysaean (Richard Hannon) also making the journey from England.
Yesterday's domestic fare was largely run-of-the-mill. At Newmarket, Fokine, in the late Robert Sangster's colours, earned his ticket to Royal Ascot and the Jersey Stakes by holding Peak To Creek in the King Charles II Stakes and Hazyview put a disappointing effort in the Lingfield Derby Trial behind him by beating Duke of Venice in the Fairways Stakes. At Haydock, Gatwick, who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, started the Manchester United manager's afternoon in style with victory in the Silver Bowl.
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