David Elsworth would quite happily have buried himself alive on the opening afternoon of the Ebor meeting here on Tuesday, when his golden trio of Persian Punch, Indian Creek and Norse Dancer all finished in various states of disrepair. "I wanted to dig a hole and jump in it," he admitted.
Yesterday, however, his fist came up through the topsoil as Saint Alebe collected the meeting's eponymous highlight, a race the locals like to think of as the sixth Classic. And a local victory it was. Saint Alebe was bred 10 miles away from the Knavesmire at Bramham and is 50 per cent property of three Yorkshire folk. This fact tickled Elsworth, as well as the thought he owned the other half.
"I'm so pleased because it's bigger than winning the Derby for them," the Whitsbury trainer said. "This meeting, and the Ebor in particular, is the biggest for them. It's a thrill for everybody. This would be one of my very best days. It was fantastic."
It did not look so promising though just after the stalls opened. Saint Alebe, who emerged from the disadvantageous No 17 box anyway, stumbled in the hands of Richard Quinn.
"That meant I had to be patient with him," the jockey said. "They went very fast, which helped him relax. I was going all right coming into the straight, but I was just about disputing last."
Saint Alebe, however, is a horse who gathers inspiration as he gathers momentum. He embarked on a remarkable stretch run. "Seldom does anything pass this horse. He's usually going forward," Elsworth said. "He always finishes well." Too right.
It was a waspish denouement as the yellow colours of Sun Bird took over only to be challenged conclusively by the similar livery of Saint Alebe. It was a second Ebor for Quinn, who has found himself in charge of deckchairs on the SS Warren Place in recent seasons, following success on Reg Akehurst's Sarawat a decade ago.
Saint Alebe gained his name via his parentage. He is the product of Bishop Of Cashel and Soba Up and while Elsworth fancied The Boozy Bishop, his fellow owners favoured something a tad more sophisticated. He is a horse of considerable proportions and did not run as a two-year-old. It appeared he was destined for winter sport and indeed he has been schooled over hurdles.
Now he has spared himself the rough old trade. Part-owner Jeannie Brown threw a bucket of water over her four-year-old in the winners' enclosure and then promised plenty of other liquid would be disappearing at the evening party in Malton. Brown, a former trainer herself, is now part of the fabric of Whitsbury, Elsworth's driver and general assistant. "Cook and bottlewasher I think they call them, if that is not too ungallant," he said.
The preceding Yorkshire Oaks witnessed a return to winning ways for Britain's most talented mare. The angel that is Islington had suggested she might be going back to the Old Kent Road in four unsuccessful starts since she thrashed Guadalupe five lengths in this Group One event 12 months ago. Yesterday, though, she was back, another to make a shabby start, which had Kieren Fallon lurching in the saddle, another, ultimately, to run out a thorough winner.
Islington looked ominous three furlongs out and, soon after, set off alone across the plain. Ocean Silk chased doggedly down the middle without quite convincing she would actually engage battle. When Islington heard her coming, she pushed on.
"She's nearly back to her best," Sir Michael Stoute, who had also combined with Fallon to collect the opener with Akshar, said. "I'm optimistic about the autumn." Islington's campaign will culminate in the Japan Cup. In the interim there is the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and also Newmarket's Champion Stakes to consider.
Headquarters is the definite destination for Balmont, who will graduate to the Middle Park Stakes at the beginning of October following his collection of yesterday's Gimcrack Stakes.
It could be a big week for Balmont's American banker owner, Sanford Robinson, who was listening to the race on the phone in San Francisco. On Sunday, he teams up again with Jeremy Noseda via Cassis, the winner of the Musidora here back in May. The Del Mar Oaks in California is the target.
There is the further anticipation of Balmont himself, who made all yesterday despite the continual harassment of Fokine. It was a performance which prompted a general quote of 25-1 for the 2004 2000 Guineas.
Such speed is rarely accompanied by staying capacity, but Noseda believes Balmont's talents can be spread to a mile. "He's done it the hard way and shown a lot of guts," the Newmarket trainer said. "He'll be an even better three-year-old because he's still quite an immature horse. There's more progress to come.
"I'd love to see him get a lead in a race. We need to find something fast enough so he can sit in behind one day. He's always looked very good. He's got so much natural speed."
O'Brien leaves 19 entries in Champagne Stakes
A total of 66 entries were left in at the latest forfeit stage for the £120,000 Group Two Champagne Stakes at Doncaster on 12 September.
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Antonius Pius, unbeaten in two outings including the Railway Stakes at the Curragh in June, heads the 19 Irish entries, all from O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard. O'Brien has yet to win the Champagne Stakes and his squad also includes Old Deuteronomy, who found stable mate One Cool Cat, ante-post favourite for the 2000 Guineas, a length too good in the Independent Waterford Wedgwood Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh. His other possible runners include Tycoon and Celtic Cat, second in Tuesday's Acomb Stakes at York.Reuse content