Kieren Fallon and Sir Michael Stoute warmed up here yesterday for today's greater task at the Curragh with a feature-race double. The jockey and trainer associated with Derby hero North Light, odds-on favourite to add this afternoon's Irish Derby to his Epsom title, scored at their local track with First Charter in the Fred Archer Stakes and Arakan in the Criterion Stakes.
As Arakan stood sweating in the winner's circle, Stoute glanced at his watch. "He should be just about there now," he said, referring to North Light and his journey to Ireland, the land of his birth. "The flight should have been no problem for him, he's a pretty relaxed character. His preparation has gone smoothly and he's in good shape."
The son of Danehill has certainly looked the part since his most famous victory, with an extra strut to his step in his work and exercise. "I am sure that winning a good race, and all the attention that goes with it, can give a horse extra assurance and confidence in himself," said Stoute. He added: "I hope he's the one they have to beat", pointedly touching a wooden rail in the unsaddling enclosure just to make sure.
With his Group 3 success, Arakan, who quickened on demand through the final of the seven furlongs to hold Desert Destiny by a cosy three-quarters of a length, earned himself a step up in class to next month's Lennox Stakes at Goodwood, in which he was beaten an unlucky head last year. "He's a good horse," said Stoute, "and has good six-furlong form too, which gives us options." The next engagement for First Charter, one of North Light's regular galloping companions, is with the auctioneers at Tattersalls next week, as Lot 284 at the July sales. The five-year-old wore down Westmoreland Road, making an encouraging seasonal debut, to take the Listed mile-and-a-half contest by half a length.
Yesterday's most valuable domestic contest, the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, went to a 33-1 shot having only his second run on the Flat in almost five year. Mirjan, trained by Len Lungo in Dumfriesshire, had finished last in a hurdle race at Kelso on his most recent outing, but stayed on resolutely inside the final furlong under strong driving from Paul Hanagan to best 20-1 shot Swing Wing and 5-2 favourite Anak Pekan by a head and three-quarters of a length. Three lengths away Collier Hill pipped Kristensen by a short-head for fourth.
The moral honours undoubtedly went to Swing Wing and Anak Pekan, who were conceding the winner 18lb and 15lb respectively, but the £104,400 first prize - the greatest for any two-mile handicap bar the Melbourne Cup - went to Mirjan. Lungo had described the gelding's participation as "a shot in the dark" before the race; afterwards it seemed a cunning plan had been afoot. "I thought about this race a few months ago," he said. "He gets two miles six over hurdles, so I thought we would have a go on the Flat over two. If he had won a little race beforehand he would have gone up 8lb and that would have spoiled his chance in the big one, so I just thought I would keep the powder dry. And Paul gave him a peach of a ride as this horse hasn't to be in front too soon."
The victory was a change of fortune for Hanagan, who had picked up a 28-day suspension during the week for repeated instances of not riding to his draw. "This has done my confidence a world of good," he said. "I was just a bit worried when I missed the break, but I got a lovely run through on the far side and was able to pull out and go just when I wanted to." Another jockey was in trouble yesterday, though: apprentice Robert Miles was suspended for 21 days after dropping his hands and losing second place on Anousa at Chester.
Yesterday's Group 1 showpiece, the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh, came back to Newmarket courtesy of a courageous front-running display by William Haggas-trained Chorist, who had enough left in reserve under Darryll Holland to repel the favourite Alexander Goldrun by half a length.
This afternoon in Co Kildare North Light will again face the three who chased him home at Epsom, Rule Of Law, Let The Lion Roar and Percussionist. The last-named's stablemate Day Flight, fourth in the French Derby, will be withdrawn if trainer John Gosden judges the ground too firm. Five of the home side's six-strong defence hail from Ballydoyle, with stable jockey Jamie Spencer opting for maiden winner Cobra ahead of the yard's two Royal Ascot winners, Moscow Ballet and Five Dynasties. Earlier in the afternoon at Longchamp, France's best three-year-old colt Bago bids to take his unbeaten run to six against just three rivals in the Grand Prix de Paris.