Racing: Russian Rhythm hits a wondrous note

A filly born to be a princess became a queen here yesterday. Russian Rhythm, already winner of three top-level contests confined to her own sex, put the colts to the sword in the Lockinge Stakes, the first round of the Group One European miling circuit. The chestnut, trained in Newmarket by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by Kieren Fallon, had only half-a-length to spare over outsider Salselon but it was as decisive a half-length as you could wish to see.

A filly born to be a princess became a queen here yesterday. Russian Rhythm, already winner of three top-level contests confined to her own sex, put the colts to the sword in the Lockinge Stakes, the first round of the Group One European miling circuit. The chestnut, trained in Newmarket by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by Kieren Fallon, had only half-a-length to spare over outsider Salselon but it was as decisive a half-length as you could wish to see.

Russian Rhythm started favourite at 3-1, but not all gambles take place on the track. It was a brave call by David and Patricia Thompson to keep their pride and joy in training as a four-year-old, thus postponing her undoubtedly lucrative career as a broodmare, but this victory, to add to her 1,000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and Nassau Stakes last year, has already justified the decision.

She was the first filly to win a Lockinge since Cormorant Wood shared the spoils with Wassl 20 years ago but there was far, far more history involved than that comparatively recent (in racing terms) statistic. One of Russian Rhythm's rivals yesterday was Refuse To Bend, victor of last year's 2,000 Guineas, which set up one of the sport's rarest of clashes. The last time contemporary Guineas winners met in anger beyond their Classic season was in 1906, when Pretty Polly treated St Amant with contempt in the Coronation Cup. Now, as then, the heroine trashed the hero; Refuse To Bend, headhunted by Godolphin last year, could finish only eighth.

The 15-strong field was the largest ever assembled for a Lockinge in 46 runnings, and in as splendid an eyeful of high-class thoroughbreds as ever warranted a journey to the races, Russian Rhythm was one of the stand-outs; a powerful individual with the size and strength of a colt yet not a trace of butchness, her kind demeanour apparent in the intelligent interest with which she viewed proceedings, her copper coat reflecting the bright sun with a deep, healthy inner glow. In short, a beauty.

Her attitude in the race was as admirable. Fallon kept her away from the generous pace set by With Reason, Gateman and Desert Deer and when he asked her to close on the leaders just under a quarter of a mile out the response was almost too generous as Russian Rhythm accelerated the way only a top-class horse can. "I took it up too soon," he said. "When I picked her up she did it in two strides, instantly, and put her head down like a proper racehorse."

Russian Rhythm formed the point of the arrow as the threats came from behind on either side, Salselon on her left, belying his 66-1 starting price and his flighty pre-race behaviour, and Norse Dancer on her right. "I thought they might get me," added Fallon, "but she was always doing enough. She's so much more mature this year and knows what it's about." The filly crossed the line with Fallon's reins looped on her neck, and pulled up with her ears pricked. Norse Dancer was a neck behind Salselon, followed in by the Godolphin second string Firebreak, with Hurricane Alan, another to look outstanding in the preliminaries, fifth and Ikhtyar sixth. Poor Desert Deer suffered a serious leg injury in the last strides and the omens last night were not good.

The pressures in producing Russian Rhythm to win once again on her seasonal debut were very different 12 months on from her Classic triumph. "A year ago she was slow to come to hand and we were all a bit edgy, with there being only one Guineas," Stoute said. "But this time we didn't bother too much, just let her bloom in her own time. We didn't really decide to come until the start of the week and the fine weather in the last few days has been a great help."

Russian Rhythm, who hardly needs her 3lb sex allowance, gave Stoute his sixth Lockinge success. "This filly is simply a a pleasure to have around," he added. "She's got the mind, and she's got the physique. She's tough and professional in her job and does not lack courage. She is not a silly, difficult girly. She's a lady."

The expansion of the top-level programme for fillies was one of the catalysts in keeping Russian Rhythm in training, but she will be mixing it with the boys again in her next outing, the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. "She's probably a specialist miler," said Stoute, "but we've got the option of going up in trip later on." The Lockinge provided an interlude in the debate over the burning question of the moment - what will win the Derby - but focus is back on Epsom today. The Blue Riband third favourite American Post takes on six rivals in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains, the French version of the 2,000 Guineas, at Longchamp this afternoon.

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