On his best form - his second place in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe two years ago - Mubtaker would have been a penalty kick in yesterday's company. There was a but, though; his early-season form had seemed to indicate that age had taken some of the speed from his legs and zest from his heart.
Both notions were refuted roundly as the chestnut, trying a mile and three-quarters for the first time, hit the front a furlong out and passed the line an easy two lengths clear with his ears flicking, perhaps an acknowledgement of the affectionate and deserved cheers ringing in them from the stands.
His trainer, Marcus Tregoning, joined rider Richard Hills in bestowing grateful pats on the copper neck as Sheikh Hamdan's old warrior jauntily returned to a reception as generous as his 11-4 starting price. "He's one of the nicest horses I have ever had in the yard," he said. "He's had his problems in the past, which is why he has not really got that many miles on the clock for one of his age and it is great to see him winning again."
The victory was Mubtaker's 10th from 24 outings, and his first for more than a year. On his previous run he had showed some of his old spark when denied close home in his attempt for a fourth successive win in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury. This could well be his last campaign, but retirement was not a word bandied about yesterday and Mubtaker will be back at Group level next time, with the Prix Foy, the older-horse contest on Longchamp's Arc trials afternoon a fortnight hence, a possibility.
Mubtaker was only second favourite yesterday as the money went with Frankie Dettori and 9-4 chance Centaurus. The Godolphin colourbearer, a 15-length winner at Newmarket last month, set off in front but proved one-paced as Unfurled, cut to 16-1 for the St Leger, and then Mubtaker, went past, and will miss the final Classic at Doncaster in 13 days' time. "He ran well, but wasn't good enough," said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford, "but he'll be a nice horse for next year."
For Dettori, there may be a silver lining in the colt's defeat, for his absence from the St Leger could open the door for the Italian to replace suspended Johnny Murtagh in Motivator's saddle in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on the same afternoon. "It will be up to Sheikh Mohammed and what our stable's arrangements are on the day," said Dettori, "but it would be nice to ride a Derby winner, something I've never actually managed before."
The best horse Dettori sat on yesterday was undoubtedly Proclamation, whom he will partner for Jeremy Noseda in the Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday and on whom he had a getting-to-know-you session on the gallops in the morning. The Sussex Stakes winner, who will be dropping to six furlongs for the first time in the Group One contest, showed blitzing pace in his work over that distance.
One of his putative opponents at Haydock, Iffraj, was ruled out of a prep run in the Hopeful Stakes at Newmarket in the afternoon when his trainer, Michael Jarvis, deemed the ground on the July course too tacky. In his absence Quito did his own bit for the grey pound as Jamie Spencer brought him with a perfectly timed late swoop to catch Lafi well inside the final furlong. Like Mubtaker, Quito is a P-reg model, but has a fair few more miles on the clock. Yesterday's run was the 90th of an honourable career that has now brought 17 victories. "A grand old horse," said his trainer, David Chapman. "I wish I had a yard full of ones like him."
There was speedy compensation for the runner-up's trainer, Dandy Nicholls, when Tax Free landed a massive gamble in the day's richest contest, the William Hill Trophy. The three-year-old, backed from 7-2 to 9-4 favourite in the morning, bettered Intrepid Jack after a stirring final-furlong battle to take the £56,306 prize by a neck.
Soviet Song, half a length behind Proclamation in the Sussex Stakes, was yesterday ruled out of the Matron Stakes - in which she famously beat Attraction last year - on the Irish Champion Stakes card. James Fanshawe's charge is still recovering from a respiratory infection picked up after Goodwood, and is now on schedule to reappear in the Sun Chariot Stakes in early October.
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