For part of this season Gerard Butler has been swatting away speculation that he was to take over from David Loder as the shepherd behind Godolphin's two-year-olds. That he could bear, barely, but there have been other elements to the campaign which have tested him even more greatly.
Setback No1 arrived even before games were under way, when the Thoroughbred Corporation informed him that a dozen beautifully bred horses in his care were to be relocated. That was not perfect, but it still left Butler with a colt of great promise, one which went on to win the Sandown Classic Trial.
Shield was a disappointing 10th in the Derby, but those at his stables considered that an aberration and that the son of Barathea would soon reveal his true worth. That was until a recent morning at the Oxfordshire yard when Shield emerged from a piece of exercise in the swimming pool. He was found to have fractured a pastern and had to be destroyed.
"I'd like to say that you just forget about it," Butler said yesterday. "But I can't. It still hurts, but you've got to move on. It was disastrous, but I can't go round with my chin on the floor."
Some sort of salvation might arrive today at York, where Jazz Messenger, who has now inherited the mantle of leading three-year-old chez Butler, goes for the John Smith's Cup. This is always, lazily, referred to as one of the most competitive handicaps of the season. It is not. Half the field can be all but ruled out straight away, as history tells us only a single-figure draw will suffice.
It is a contest in which even the greatest can be humbled by this factor. Sir Michael Stoute, who always has one for this contest, even saw Medicean beaten one year. This time he has been fortunate. His pairing of Researched and Hazim will emerge from boxes five and two respectively. Both ran in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot, when they were second and 10th, yet it would be no surprise to witness a turnaround, especially if Hazim's jockey, Richard Hills, is not guilty of the same misjudgement he displayed at Ascot.
Both though, may struggle to give weight to JAZZ MESSENGER (nap 3.05), who has the No.9 stall, from which three of the last 12 winners have emerged. More significantly, the colt is thought to have improved from the solid form of his latest wins at Haydock and Epsom. "I rode him work the other day and he seemed to have filled out," Eddie Ahern, his jockey, said. "He's more mature in his head now as well."
At Ascot, Tillerman (next best 2.00) and Right Approach resume combat from the Queen Anne Stakes at the Royal meeting, in which they were second and third respectively. The handicap for money on the card is tricky, but whichever way you shake the names it is impossible to get Zibeline (2.30) out of the frame.
Tomorrow is the Irish Oaks at the Curragh, in which the first two from the Epsom equivalent, Casual Look and Yesterday, do battle with the principals from Royal Ascot's Ribblesdale Stakes, Spanish Sun and Ocean Silk. It is generally held that Yesterday should have won at Epsom and was denied only by the repeated interruptions of the fates. "Yesterday could have been unlucky," Andrew Balding, Casual Look's trainer, said yesterday. "We will find out just how unlucky she may have been."
There are other facets to the contest. Hanami, who was sixth in the Oaks when unsuited by the track, has since won over this course and may be the best of the Epsom refugees.
For the winner, though, try another filly which received an unsatisfactory ride at Ascot in Ocean Silk (4.15) who would have won in another stride at the Royal meeting.
The Australian sprinter Choisir has run his last race after being bought by Coolmore Stud following his second in Thursday's July Cup. The son of the rising stallion star Danehill Dancer will go into quarantine in Ireland before beginning his new career at Coolmore's Australian base in New South Wales for the upcoming stud season. He will stand at a fee of Aus$32,500 (£14,000).Reuse content