With only five runners, a tactical contest was always on the cards, and the early pace, set reluctantly by Perfectperformance, was pedestrian. Hughes was the first to react; with the leader looking increasingly uncomfortable on the firm ground, he sent Notable Guest to the front at halfway, wound up the gallop off the turn into the straight and kicked clear. The advantage gained was never ceded; indeed, the four-year-old, a 5-1 shot, was going away again at the finish, where he was three lengths in front of the odds-on David Junior.
Hughes's reading of the situation made victory certain, but he may have been on the best horse anyway. Notable Guest, a powerful, rangy bay, is exactly the type with which trainer Sir Michael Stoute excels, a well-bred, improving third-season horse, rewarding patience. The son of Kingmambo, stepping up to a Group Three success after two from three in handicaps this year, is out of Yenda, a Group One-placed half-sister to Derby hero Quest For Fame from one of Khaled Abdullah's best families.
"He settled well when he jumped out," said Hughes. "The plan was to sit in behind and get him relaxed. But with the pace they were going he was starting to get too keen, so I just let him stride on and once he was up there he relaxed again. I decided to start squeezing about half a mile out, and when I picked him up and asked he flew. He has been headstrong in the past, but slowly but surely he's learnt to relax and he's very much going the right way now."
Notable Guest holds no fancy entries, yet, but David Junior's inscription into the York International now looks over-optimistic. Made 4-6 favourite after a good butunplaced run against more formidable opposition in the Sussex Stakes 10 days previously, the three-year-old may have been caught somewhat flat-footed, but had no change of gear to match the winner's.
The Rose of Lancaster Stakes had a fine record as a stepping stone; those who have taken the prize of late include subsequent Group One winners Mutamam, Greek Dance, Ekraar and Nayef. So has the day's other Group Three contest, the Sweet Solera Stakes at Newmarket, with Soviet Song and Maid's Causeway two of its last three winners.
Three tough, talented fillies, all of whom hold top-level entries later in the year, fought out the finish of the latest renewal. Confidential Lady, on a four-timer, and Deveron went head to head through the last three of the seven furlongs, but no sooner had the former prevailed than she was mug-ged on the line by Nasheej.
The Richard Hannon-trained winner, ridden by Pat Dobbs, had finished an unlucky third at Sandown last month to Confidential Lady, who carried a penalty yesterday for that Listed win. "Our filly got into trouble that day," said Hannon. "She was in a pocket and couldn't get out, and I was confident of reversing the placings. And if we had won that day she would have had the penalty this time, and I'd rather win the Group Three than the Listed."
Nasheej, by Swain, has next month's Fillies Mile on Newmarket's Rowley Mile course pencilled in. A more immediate pointer to next year's Classics comes at the Curragh this afternoon, where the ante-post 2,000 Guineas favourite George Washington is expected to continue his progress in the Phoenix Stakes. His trainer, Aidan O'Brien, has won six of the last seven runnings of the six-furlong Group One race; last year Damson denied Oratorio's bid to follow in the hoofprints of One Cool Cat, Spartacus, Johannesburg, Minardi, Fasliyev and Lavery.
The British raiding party comprises Coventry Stakes winner Red Clubs (Barry Hills) and Guest Connection (Mick Channon), and a much larger one heads for Deauville and the afternoon's other top-level prize, the Prix Maurice de Gheest, where eight of the 13 runners, including last year's winner Somnus (Tim Easterby), are British. Course specialist Whipper leads the home defence.
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