The first line in the sand for the mile division was drawn here yesterday by Peeress, a stylish winner of the Lockinge Stakes. And in taking the Group One event the five-year-old chestnut extended the remarkable record in the race of both her trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, and owners, David and Patricia Thompson. She put Stoute in seventh heaven and notched six of the best for the Thompsons.
In its 48-year history, good, even great, horses have taken Lockinges, starting with the inaugural winner, Pall Mall, and including the names Habitat, Brigadier Gerard, Kris and Selkirk. Since 1995, it has been the first top-level contest for older horses on the domestic programme and for three of the past five years has identified the season's champion miler.
Whether Peeress can fend off all comers in the ratings from here on in, as did Medicean, Hawk Wing and last year's victor Rakti, remains to be seen. But hers is the mark others - both the seniors and the three-year-olds, when they join open competition after Royal Ascot - must now aim for and she could do no more than dispose of a good field with some authority.
Stoute's harvest began with Scottish Reel 20 years ago and progressed through Safawan (1990), Soviet Line (1995 and 1996), Medicean (2001) and Russian Rhythm two years ago. Though the Thompsons did not own Soviet Line, they bred him at their Cheveley Park Stud, and also scored with the John Hammond-trained Polar Falcon in 1991.
Though Peeress was only the third filly to triumph in the race, after Cormorant Wood in 1984 and Russian Rhythm two years ago, she started the 4-1 second market choice yesterday to another distaffer, the five-times Group One heroine Soviet Song.
And Kieren Fallon was peerless on Peeress as she blew her rivals away in the teeth of a gale. Mindful of the strong headwind, the Irishman sought shelter for his mount in the rear ranks as the 7-2 favourite's pacemaker, New Seeker, led the field of nine down the straight mile. More than a furlong out, she was tugging at him like a kite and when he said go, she flew.
Perfectly at home on the rain-softened ground, she swept past Kandidate and Court Masterpiece with disdain and although Majors Cast came out of the pack and chased her with a will, she had a length and three-quarters to spare at the line. Court Masterpiece was three and a half lengths third, with Soviet Song only fourth.
"I took cover alongside Soviet Song," said Fallon, "and I could she was travelling easily and although I wanted to sit in behind a bit longer, I thought I'd better kick on and do something, put the other one under a bit of pressure.
"And to be able to quicken like that, into a headwind, makes her some mare. But then she has always been classy and over the winter has grown up a lot, physically and mentally."
Peeress did not get credit for her previous Group One win, in a muddling Sun Chariot Stakes against her own sex last October but has now made her point. "She improved all last year and now she's upped a gear again," said a delighted Stoute, "and once she was asked, she won it quickly, didn't she? She's top class."
Next stop for Peeress, a strong, handsome daughter of Pivotal, is the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, where she is likely to be reopposed by Majors Cast and Soviet Song. "A mile in that company in that ground stretches him," said the runner-up's trainer, Jeremy Noseda, "but I don't want to take anything away from the winner."
It was a good day for Stoute: Peeress was the middle leg of a 109-1 hat-trick started by Distinction, ridden by Mick Kinane, in the mile-and-five Listed contest and completed by Pearly King in the 10-furlong handicap. In catching and defeating Balkan Knight in the final stride after a dour head-to-head up the length of the straight over a distance short of his best, Distinction hardened his position at the head of the Ascot Gold Cup betting.
Come all-age competition over a mile, the star three-year-old colt George Washington, another of Fallon's rides, is going to enter the equation. The jockey reported the 2,000 Guineas winner unlikely to be inconvenienced should soft ground prevail at the Curragh for Saturday's Irish version of the Classic. "It won't be any softer there that what he's been working on at Ballydoyle all winter," he said.
BETS OF THE DAY
Jihaaz (5.15) will be sharper for his reappearance over seven furlongs and should enjoy today's step up in trip.
If Tamatave (3.10) can be persuaded to settle, the ex-Godolphin gelding is not without ability.