A disastrous dress rehearsal is popularly supposed to mean that it will be all right on the night. But in Dylan Thomas's case, there will be no curtain-up in next month's Breeders' Cup Classic; the Irish Derby winner opened and closed his dirt campaign on the same night in New York, fluffing his lines big-time in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained son of Danehill, even with the help of first-time discomfort-masking drugs, floundered in his first attempt on an artificial surface. He was in trouble from the off and came in a tailed-off, eased-down last of four as the superlative Bernardini notched his sixth win on the bounce. "He just didn't have the wheels," said jockey John Velazquez of the Irish colt.
Given that Sheikh Mohammed has spent something like £50m at the yearling sales in Europe and the States thus far this autumn in his search for Pegasus on earth, there is a certain irony in the fact that the winged three-year-old flying in his colours was nurtured in his own bosom. Bernardini, winner of the Preakness, Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes before Saturday night's success, is a product of his Darley breeding programme.
The A P Indy colt, whose consummately easy six and three-quarter length victory brought his winning distance aggregate to 40 lengths, has hardened to 11-8 favourite for the Classic. Tackling older opposition for the first time, he tracked five-year-old Wanderin Boy into the straight before dismissing him with his trademark nonchalant change of gear, though Javier Castellano, his jockey, confirmed he was barely out of second.
"I had so much horse today," he said. "I didn't want him on the lead because I want him to be focused on his next race. In the Breeders' Cup someone else may want to go for the lead, there's more pressure and more pace in that kind of a race. I liked the way he acted today, settled perfectly behind the speed horse. He's some special horse. He's my spoiled baby."
Though Bernardini's display made him appear a shoo-in for the 10-furlong $5m (£2.9m) finale to the Breeders' Cup meet, one of his potential rivals picked up the gauntlet just 15 minutes later on the other side of the continent. Tough five-year-old Lava Man, the pride of the West Coast, took his unbeaten seasonal run to seven as he trounced Kentucky Derby fourth Brother Derek at Santa Anita.
But Bernardini's trainer, Tom Albertrani, was delighted with his charge. "That was exactly what I was hoping for," he said. "It looked like he was enjoying himself and I've got a fresh horse for the Breeders' Cup now. He does things so easily, I don't know if anyone can give him the kind of race where he has to fight."
Elsewhere in Sheikh Mohammed's camp, unborn domestic fowls remain untallied ahead of Churchill Downs. "It was great to see him do it against older horses, he didn't have a hard race, and it's so far so good," said John Ferguson. "But the Breeders' Cup Classic is the ultimate test so we do not count our chickens until they are hatched."
The New York card is dubbed Super Saturday for its plethora of Grade One contests and plenty more Breeders' Cup credentials were laid out. The Sprint candidate Henny Hughes, in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed's son Rashid, took the Vosburgh Stakes; Fleet Indian heads for the Distaff on a roll of eight wins after taking the Beldame Stakes; leading turf filly Honey Ryder prevailed in the Flower Bowl Invitational; and English Channel disposed of France's Freedonia and Royal Highness in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
Though the Breeders' Cup Classic has been ruled out for Dylan Thomas, he may yet travel to Kentucky. "It was obvious he didn't handle the dirt after only a furlong," said O'Brien. "He definitely won't run in the Classic but the Turf is an option."
Dylan's flop apart, there was cheer for Ballydoyle over the weekend. The French 2,000 Guineas winner Aussie Rules bounced back to his best to take the top-level Turf Mile at Keeneland on Saturday and yesterday at the Curragh two-year-old Eagle Mountain bolted up by seven lengths in the Beresford Stakes under Kieren Fallon to give his trainer his ninth win in 11 years in the Group Two contest. Later, last year's St Leger winner, Scorpion, made an encouraging return to action after 12 months off. On heavy ground he beat all bar trailblazing Frank Sonata in the 12-furlong finale.
Eagle Mountain, by Rock Of Gibraltar, now has the Racing Post Trophy at Newbury on Saturday week pencilled in. "He's getting better and better the more racing he has," said O'Brien, "just like his father."
With the Flat season in its final stages, jumpers are imposing their presence. Noel Meade's young hurdler Iktitaf, warmed up by winning yesterday's Irish Cesarewitch and at Limerick Dusty Sheehy's high-class chaser Justified made Tony McCoy's journey worthwhile.
Nap: Scotland The Brave (Ayr 3.15)
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