Racing: Grand Slam beckons as Nayef grows in stature

Royal Ascot: A colt that has struggled to live up to lofty expectations thwarts the Godolphin favourite thanks to sound tactical teamwork
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The Independent Online

The stench of underachievement which has hung around Nayef for far too long was finally blown away in the cool Berkshire breeze here yesterday. The more pleasant fragrance of sweet success surrounded the massive colt as he charged away with the feature race of the afternoon, the Prince of Wales's Stakes. At last, the bouquets arrived.

Nayef has suffered interminably from aspirations almost as monstrous as the beast himself, a consequence of an extravagant victory in this acre as a juvenile. He disappointed as a three-year-old and, even three Group One victories on, there were plenty happy to portray him as a false god. Until yesterday. Only now that Nayef's formidable architecture has been underpinned by maturity can he show his true, and considerable, worth.

Now the five-year-old will leave this sport with a different marker and leave his trainer with indelible memories. "I'll never forget the horse," Marcus Tregoning said. "He's done a huge amount for us all so we'll never forget a horse like this. The good horses are magic. You get very attached to them."

It was a faultless performance, from the moment Nayef ambled through the trees into the parade ring, tall and composed for the assignment ahead. Elsewhere, there was Godolphin's chestnut pairing of Grandera, the winner of last year's Prince Of Wales's, and Moon Ballad, the mount of Frankie Dettori.

Moon Ballad was frothing as he played with his tongue strap. The paddock people called to his jockey, but Dettori's response was a vertical forefinger over his lips. Moon Ballad was perfectly capable of boiling over himself without any encouragement from the terraces.

The visored Ekraar, Nayef's stablemate, led the field round the oval as strategy dictated he should have done in the race proper. The Kingwood House No 1 had been a six-lengths third behind Moon Ballad in the Dubai World Cup in March, when the winner was allowed a free run. Tregoning determined Moon Ballad would not be allowed the luxury of isolation yesterday.

The plan, however, appeared in ribbons before the stalls had stopped shuddering. Ekraar missed the initial beat, which meant it was going to be a struggle throughout his short sphere of influence. It took all of Willie Supple's muscle to wrestle through the field. While he never got past Moon Ballad, Ekraar's snorting presence was enough to announce himself to the favourite.

"Willie did a marvellous job because the situation looked hopeless from the start," Tregoning reported. "Ekraar was in there to run his own race as he's a good horse in his own right. However, that also meant he would inconvenience Moon Ballad, who likes to dominate."

Ekraar, ironically, was the property of Moon Ballad's owners for two seasons until returned to Tregoning's Lambourn yard. Godolphin do not need old friends like him.

In behind, as Ekraar fell away, Nayef was moving nimbly. He was level with Moon Ballad before the turn and in front soon afterwards. Then Richard Hills unfurled the long legs to go clear. The fried egg helmet of Philip Robinson, on the 50-1 outsider Rakti, emerged briefly from the pack, but soon it was all Nayef. He was going away and was two and a half lengths clear when the line came. Islington, the only filly in the race, was third.

"Nayef travelled so well today," Tregoning added. "You couldn't have expected a horse to win more easily. He's won emphatically. It was a superior performance because that was a seriously good race. He's a super racehorse, everybody's dream of a racehorse."

The future plans itself. As a winner of one of the first legs of the Summer Triple Crown, Nayef is now almost compelled to run in the next round, the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, for which he is 7-4 favourite. Then it will be the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes here and a possible £1m bonus. There is also the fantasy of the International Stakes at York, which Nayef won last year, with a £5m Grand Slam bonus.

Tregoning is keen on the King George, in which Nayef was second to Golan last year. For those made heady by the big horse's victory yesterday it is a sobering thought that if the positions had been reversed, Nayef the racehorse would probably have been finished.

"I guess if he'd won the King George there wouldn't have been a lot more to prove," Tregoning said. "So today might never have happened."