Racing: Fabre and O'Brien misfire in Longchamp trials
Anyone who has backed the favourite for either the Stan James 2,000 Guineas or the Vodafone Derby will have squirmed uncomfortably during the big race at Longchamp yesterday. Two of the most powerful thoroughbred arsenals in Europe had wheeled some heavy artillery on to the battlefield, but instead ended up spraying each other with water pistols. There may be alarming consequences for the value of ante-post vouchers about George Washington or Visindar.
So far as Visindar is concerned, the idea had been that Carlotamix would extend his unbeaten record on his reappearance in the Prix de Fontainebleau, so leaving his stablemate free to run at Epsom. Carlotamix, who is also owned by the Aga Khan, would then keep the home fires burning in the Prix du Jockey Club, run at Chantilly the day after the Derby.
Unfortunately he departed from that script with a stammering, choking display, soon off the bridle and never offering the remotest challenge. That he was far below his best can be measured by the fact that the race was won with authority by Stormy River, who had finished behind him in a Group One race at Saint-Cloud last autumn.
André Fabre has had some bitter experiences in the Derby - the race was the end of the road for Pennekamp, among others - and only the contrasting enthusiasm of his patron, who has such a good record in the race, was ever going to persuade him to risk Visindar there. But if Carlotamix is not going to fill the breach at Chantilly, Fabre is likely to turn some powerful arguments against the project.
For one thing, Visindar is by no means guaranteed to stay a mile and a half, and nowadays they only go 10 and a half furlongs at Chantilly. He is also a big colt, with a lavish stride, and may lack the peculiar agility required round Tattenham Corner. The intention is for Visindar to run in the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud on 15 May, partly to test him on a left-handed course, but it may be that the most significant battles are to be fought off the track.
Stormy River is in the Guineas but may stay at home for the local version, and the most pertinent Newmarket clues may have come down the field. Aidan O'Brien ran two colts, both accomplished performers last season, and both looked extremely rusty. Aussie Rules did find some belated momentum to finish fourth, but the fact is that he is just about the only Ballydoyle colt to have seen out his race this spring.
Half an hour later, for instance, Septimus ran a subdued race in the Prix la Force while, over at Leopardstown, Mountain could never land a blow in the PW McGrath Ballysax Stakes. The overwhelming impression is that the Ballydoyle horses are fumbling for the gearstick, and there are now just a dozen days before George Washington lines up for the Guineas. Two fillies have won this spring but the stable has drawn a blank from 14 other runners in Britain and Ireland so far.
George Washington, the champion juvenile, remains no better than 9-4 favourite, yet it demands a giddy leap of faith to expect a career-best performance from a colt who used his only public outing since last year to exhibit the kinks in his temperament. He breezed after racing at the Curragh a fortnight ago, but only after proving reluctant to exit the parade ring and then darting through a gap in the rails when going down.
Kieren Fallon's duties at Longchamp prevented him taking the mount on Ouija Board in Hong Kong yesterday, but he will have been an interested observer of his deputy's performance in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
As Frankie Dettori angled the mare wide with two furlongs to run, the Sha Tin commentator exclaimed that she would "have to be Wonder Woman to win from there". Marooned towards the rear at halfway, Ouija Board still had several lengths to find with the leader, Irridescence. In somehow managing to share a photo-finish, she certainly made it hard for anyone to mistake her rider for Superman.
Ouija Board finished so well that she was beaten only two heads, but Dettori deflected any criticism towards the mare herself. "She broke slowly and didn't have the pace to go with them early on," he said. "The winner had a four-length start on me and she has made up three-and-three-quarters of that. At a mile and a half she would have been the winner, I just ran out of track and things didn't go her way."
Ed Dunlop, her trainer, had not disguised his irritation with Fallon's tactics when Ouija Board finished fourth in Dubai last month, but there was no way she could have shaken up the winner that day. Here, however - albeit against rather lesser horses - she showed that her acceleration remains as potent as ever.
Dunlop indicated that she would be stepped back up in distance next time, and happily she is likely to do so on home turf, either in the Vodafone Coronation Cup at Epsom or the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot.
Irridescence was confirming the international calibre of her rider and trainer, the South Africans Weichong Marwing and Mike de Kock, and may yet follow Ouija Board to Europe this summer. Norse Dancer, meanwhile, ran deplorably under Darryll Holland and trailed in last. "He did not attack the gate and that was that," the jockey said. "He was in a hopeless position from then on."
Nap: Colmcille (Taunton 7.15)
NB: Strategic Mount
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