Vacamonte dream extinguished in Solario

The nightmare season being endured by Henry Cecil continued at Sandown yesterday when the regally bred two-year-old colt Vacamonte, the 1-4 favourite for the Solario Stakes, finished fifth of seven. The chestnut, the hugely impressive winner of his only previous race, went into the race as the 16-1 favourite for next year's 2,000 Guineas and came away from it with his tall reputation and his trainer's dreams intatters.

The nightmare season being endured by Henry Cecil continued at Sandown yesterday when the regally bred two-year-old colt Vacamonte, the 1-4 favourite for the Solario Stakes, finished fifth of seven. The chestnut, the hugely impressive winner of his only previous race, went into the race as the 16-1 favourite for next year's 2,000 Guineas and came away from it with his tall reputation and his trainer's dreams intatters.

Vacamonte, a Caerleon half-brother to Wemyss Bight, an Irish Oaks winner, is not the first odds-on shot to flop and will not be the last. But his defeat was another in a succession of hammer-blows for Cecil, whose personal problems - some of his own making, others sadly not - have been mirrored by the ill-fortune surrounding his professional life this year. Unusually, for he is normally good at keeping his chin up in public, he slunk from the Sandown weighing-room by a back door without comment.

The Solario winner, the Richard Hannon-trained King's Ironbridge, had finished eight lengths behind Vacamonte when the pair met at Newmarket last month. Yesterday, with a strong gallop set by Barking Mad, he was much more settled and stayed on well to hold Storming Home's late thrust by half a length. "That was more like it", said the man in the saddle, Richard Hughes, "we think a lot of him, but he had wasted a lot of energy pulling at Newmarket."

Richard Quinn, Cecil's stable jockey, was non-committal about Vacamonte's effort. "He got beat," he said, shrugging his shoulders. The firepower of Cecil's usually prolific Warren Place string has been compromised for much of the season by an assortment of equine viral illnesses and has produced only two Group One winners this year. One of them, Beat Hollow, is now out for the rest of the year after another setback; the other, the Oaks winner Love Divine, has the chance to boost her team's morale at York this week.

The filly is one of two winners of the Epsom Classic to contest the Yorkshire Oaks on Wednesday, the other being her four-year-old stablemate Ramruma.

It will be the first time that two Oaks winners have met since Intrepidity finished fourth and year-older User Friendly 22nd behind Urban Sea in the 1993 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and the first time in the last 100 years (and maybe ever) that a pair from the same yard have done so.

Both showed themselves to fine effect on the Newmarket gallops yesterday morning. Quinn, who rode Love Divine, said: "She is in very good form and seems ready. It should be an exciting race."

The three-day meeting at York, the last of the great summer festivals of the domestic programme, features a Group One race each afternoon and marks the half-way point of the élite season with the power struggle between the sport's juggernauts finely balanced.

The Group One score reads Godolphin eight (courtesy of Dubai Millennium, Bachir, Aljabr, Kayf Tara, Mutafaweq and Muhtathir), Tabor/Magnier eight (Ciro, Giant's Causeway, Montjeu and Minardi) and, before the games begin on the Knavesmire on Tuesday, the two high-rolling teams lock horns at the top level this afternoon at Deauville, where Godolphin's Noverre and the Aidan O'Brien-trained Pyrus contest the Prix Morny, the 43rd Group One race of the European campaign. The British-based challenge is led by John Gosden's Richmond Stakes winner Endless Summer, like Vacamonte a bearer of the Khaled Abdullah colours.

At the top level the business has more to do with the making of stallions than sporting endeavour for those who invest the huge sums involved. Giant's Causeway, who will be going for his fourth Group One race in a row (a feat not achieved by a colt since Nashwan 11 years ago) in the International on Tuesday, is already more than assured of his future as a progenitor. But watching the performances that have given this massive chestnut his reputation as the iron horse of the sport is surely a more pleasurable way of recouping investment than most.

The Godolphin team will not be involved in Group One company until Thursday, when Bertolini is among 16 declared yesterday for the five-furlong Nunthorpe Stakes. The French-trained King's Stand winner Nuclear Debate is the early favourite.

At Ripon, the trainer David Nicholls applied the timehonoured success by numbers formula to yesterday's feature handicap, the Great St Wilfrid Handicap, at Ripon, with eight of the 22 runners, but could get no nearer than third, with Bahamian Pirate. The winner William's Well continued a family affair with the race; his dam Catherine's Well, also trained by Mick Easterby, won 14 years ago.

At Newbury, Murghem, an admirably consistent stayer, made it five wins out of six in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes, fending off a lively challenge from Savoire Vivre, John Gosden's St Leger hope, by a length and a quarter.

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