Not for the first time this season, Kevin Ryan upstaged the established guard in a Group One juvenile race. The Thirsk-based trainer did it last month when Amadeus Wolf won the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, and did it again here yesterday as Palace Episode took the Racing Post Trophy.
Shrugging off the testing ground that confounded some of his better-fancied rivals, the 20-1 shot, most confidently ridden by Neil Callan, powered clear of Winged Cupid to score by a length and a half. The victory of the Machiavellian colt, who finished only fifth behind Sir Percy in the Dewhurst Stakes seven days previously, may have come as a surprise to those who braved the damp autumn chill on Town Moor, but not to Ryan.
"We've always known what we've got with him," he said, "but we rather messed up last week. Over the seven furlongs we rather put the gun to his head and had him too prominent. Today, we'd worked out how to ride him."
Callan sat away from the pace as Kilworth and Winged Cupid led in the mile contest, the last at the top level in Britain this year, after crossing to the stands-side rail, before making headway after half-way and then forging to the front going to the final furlong. His timing was perfect, but it almost was not; his arrival at the track was seriously delayed by an accident on the nearby A1.
"He had pace and the tactical speed all the way," he said. "When I asked him to stretch he took two lengths out of them straight away. I think he's the real deal."
The bookmakers, at this stage, do not concur. Palace Episode remains among the outsiders for next year's Classics, as much as 33-1 for both the 2,000 Guineas and Derby. He is owned by the Irish dealer Con Marnane, who paid $100,000 for him as a yearling and declined to sell him at a bid of 44,000 guineas at the sale of two-year-olds in training here in the spring.
Ryan, the former journeyman Irish jump jockey, started training 10 years ago with 10 horses; he now has 80 in his care, of which 30 are juveniles. "We weren't the slightest bit worried about the ground today," he added. "They say a good horse goes on any ground, and he is and he does."
One who may be, but did not, was the 5-6 favourite Septimus, from Ballydoyle. The Sadler's Wells colt started floundering before half-way and did well to stay on for third place, just ahead of Sir Michael Stoute-trained Best Alibi and his own stablemates Dylan Thomas and Arabian Prince. His trainer, Aidan O'Brien, was not unduly concerned, though. "He's such a good-moving horse, he just couldn't cope," he said, "and we'll see better of him next year."
The day's sub-plot was the closing stages of the battle between O'Brien and Stoute for the trainers' championship. It was first blood to O'Brien when his Hurricane Cat beat Final Verse from the rival stable in the lesser of the juvenile tests, the Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury, but Stoute ended the day still some £60,000 ahead and looks set for his eighth title.
Tonight at Woodbine, as a transatlantic taster before the Breeders' Cup, O'Brien's charge Yeats, the Coronation Cup winner, is one of three Europeans challenging for the Canadian International. He is joined by his compatriot Grey Swallow (Dermot Weld) and Electrocutionist, winner of the York International, for Italy.
And in Australia yesterday morning the build-up to Tuesday week's Melbourne Cup continued as the sensational mare Makybe Diva, twice winner of the Flemington feature, swooped late to take the Antipodean version of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the Cox Plate. A decision has yet to be made as to whether the star eight-year-old will be making a bid for an unprecedented third Cup victory.
Disappointment for jump fans came with the news that the classy two-mile chaser Well Chief, trained by Martin Pipe and owned by David Johnson, has been sidelined for the rest of the season. The six-year-old, last seen beating Azertyuiop by four lengths at Sandown in April, has sustained a minor leg injury.