Racing: Rob Roy fighting fit to reward legions of loyal followers
The vernacular of the Turf gives uncommon meaning to everyday words. "A good thing", for instance, specifically denotes a horse that cannot be beaten in a particular race. As Wordsworth said, however: "Of good things none are good enough."
He wrote those words beside the grave of the Highland hero, Rob Roy, and the colt of that name has frequently testified as much himself. Rob Roy has always trained with such flair on the gallops that he has repeatedly been hailed as a "good thing" on reaching the racecourse. To this point, however, he has lost more races than he has won, in two starts at Group One level finishing 19th of 19 and 14th of 15.
Yet it may not be too credulous to believe he will prove his championship calibre in the Juddmonte Lockinge Stakes at Newbury today. He was injured when last in the 2,000 Guineas last year and did not resurface until the autumn, when he did at least win a race but then failed to stay 10 furlongs in the Champion Stakes.
All in all, it was time for a fresh start when he resurfaced at Sandown last month. Once again, he was considered a good thing by those who had witnessed his preparations at home, and this time he showed why. Admittedly, it was hardly a flamboyant performance, but it was probably better than it looked as he travelled through the race with gusto before idling in front. If the strict form hardly qualifies him to beat Soviet Song and company today, for once in his life he may have a better chance than the odds suggest.
Certainly Soviet Song looks a vulnerable favourite. The mare has been beaten on her reappearance three years running, and her patient trainer tends to let horses build towards a peak as the season goes on. The one to beat may instead be Majors Cast, who reached the fringe of the élite last year and will be primed for further progress after that gentle resumption against a couple of inferiors at Haydock. But his trainer is anxious about the forecast rain, whereas Sir Michael Stoute waited for the ground to ease before committing Rob Roy (2.45).
He could not have his yard in better form and Distinction (2.10) can make his class tell in the Paddy Power Aston Park Stakes, where much his toughest obstruction would appear to be the penalty he earned in winning the Goodwood Cup last year.
One of the most progressive horses in Stoute's care is Notnowcato, and it is a half-brother to that colt who provides the most inviting opportunity of the day. Having obtained an attractive rating in sprint maidens, HEAVEN KNOWS (nap, 3.45 Thirsk) steps up to a mile for his handicap debut. He is proven in soft ground and his physique and pedigree make him a horse to follow.
The most momentous race of the weekend is in Baltimore, where Barbaro faces eight rivals for the second leg of the American Triple Crown. A spectacular winner of the Kentucky Derby a fortnight ago, Barbaro is hot favourite for the Preakness Stakes and success would expose him to three weeks of fervour as potentially the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Barbaro's trainer acknowledges that Brother Derek, the beaten favourite at Churchill Downs, is likely to prove more of a nuisance this time. "Brother Derek didn't have a clean run," Michael Matz said. "I think the fact that there are less runners will certainly help the rest of the field more than us." The likelihood remains, however, that this good thing will prove good enough.
Nap: Heaven Knows (Thirsk 3.45)
NB: Rob Roy
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