It is not only in SW19 that an apparent ace can be met with a winging return. No sooner had Refuse To Bend made it advantage Godolphin in the season-long big-hitters match that is the middle-distance Group 1 circuit by winning the Eclipse Stakes than the ball, in the shape of Gamut, came thundering back across the net. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained horse was an impressive winner of yesterday's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in Paris.
Refuse To Bend is not carded for the next game in the series, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes later this month, but his Sandown victory on Saturday flagged up the well-being of the blues' team and the prospects at Ascot of his three fellow-colourbearers, the favourite Doyen, last year's runner-up Sulamani and Papineau.
The news that Derby winner North Light, the interloper among that trio in the betting, has been treated for an injury incurred in the Irish Derby was tempered by his stablemate Gamut's emergence onto the centre court. The five-year-old's response to Kieren Fallon's request for an effort off the home turn was immediate as he powered three lengths clear of Policy Maker, winner of the Grand Prix de Chantilly, in the straight.
North Light remains second market choice, at around 5-1, for the 'King George' in ante-post lists; Gamut has now been cut to around 10-1. Yesterday's success came on rain-eased going, which suited the son of Spectrum. "We've been waiting for this type of ground for him," said Fallon, "He has really improved this year and gone from strength to strength, and won this really well."
The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe will be the long-term target for Gamut, who had the subsequent Coronation Cup winner and Eclipse Stakes runner-up Warrsan back in third place when he won the Jockey Club Stakes in May on his previous outing. "He is progressive and consistent," said Stoute yesterday. "A class act." Gamut once raced in the same pale blue silks as his close relative North Light (their dams are half-sisters) but was sold by the late Lord Weinstock's executors last October to his present owner Gay Smith.
The two chief Eclipse Stakes protagonists have emerged from the fray in fine fettle. Refuse To Bend proved a chip off the old block with his battling display up the stiff Sandown hill against a proven 12-furlong performer, for 20 years ago his sire Sadler's Wells showed similar tenacity to beat Time Charter a neck in the great 10-furlong contest.
No firm plans have yet been formulated for the 107th Eclipse hero, though. "He seems to have taken the race well," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford yesterday, "but we are going to let the dust settle. He is in all the top mile and mile-and-a-quarter races."
The 'King George' is firmly on the agenda for Warrsan, who was only a head away from becoming the first six-year-old to take the historic race since the inaugural hero Bendigo in 1886. "He lost about eight kilos on Saturday, but that is what you would expect," said trainer Clive Brittain yesterday morning. "He had his usual swim this morning and a pick at grass in the paddock for an hour. Then he got down for a roll, so in his mind that's the Eclipse forgotten."
Godolphin may launch a three-pronged attack on the Ascot showpiece. Neither of the team's two Royal meeting winners, Doyen (Hardwicke Stakes) and Papineau (Gold Cup) is likely to appear beforehand but Sulamani, fourth to Rakti in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, is due to run in Wednesday's Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket.
"He was disappointing at Ascot, but perhaps the pace was not strong enough and the going was maybe too lively," said Crisford, who also confirmed that Kheleyf, winner of the Jersey Stakes, will run in the July Cup on Thursday. The four-year-old is one of 30 still in the six-furlong Group 1 contest, which has a safely limit of 20. "He has the speed to travel and a tremendous turn of foot, so the drop in distance should not be a problem."
The star three-year-old filly Attraction will face six rivals, including four-year-old Soviet Song, as she bids to extend her unbeaten run to nine in tomorrow's Falmouth Stakes, the Group 1 feature of the July meeting's opening day.
Yesterday's other top-level continental contest, the German Derby in Hamburg, went to Andreas Schutz-trained Shirocco, who turned the tables on the pair who beat him in one of the trials, Malinas and Omikron.
* Kieren Fallon has had minor charges of accepting benefit in exchange for tips dropped by the Jockey Club in the wake of race-fixing allegations stemming from a race at Lingfield in March, but he and John Egan are still to face charges of bringing the sport into disrepute at a hearing in September.Reuse content