Muted appreciation for Royal Applause

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The Independent Online


reports from Newmarket

Some strange horses have won the Middle Park Stakes in recent years, and while Royal Applause, who took the race yesterday at 3-1, was 30 points shorter than Fard 12 months ago, his success was still a nasty shock for many backers. Kahir Almaydan, the 8-11 favourite, could finish only third of five, and the excuse of his connections - that the colt is "over the top" - now seems just as sound a verdict on the extravagant praise which had preceded him.

That is not to say that the merit of Royal Applause's fourth win in as many outings is diminished. Kahir Almaydan set out to make the running, as he had to such destructive effect in the Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury, but Royal Applause was the only possible winner from the moment he swung past the leader halfway through the six-furlong trip. He was four lengths clear of Woodborough at the line, and showed no sign of stopping.

Royal Applause had moved almost as quickly in the market before the race, in a direction which implied it was not to be his day. Barry Hills, his trainer, also had his doubts. "At the back of my mind, I just didn't think that he was as good today as he has been," Hills said. "He didn't walk around the paddock as well as he has done. But then that's why he was 3-1." With the Coventry Stakes and the Gimcrack already in the back this season, it was a remarkable price.

Just as surprising was the difference of opinion among the leading bookmakers on Royal Applause's chance in next year's 2,000 Guineas. Ladbrokes and Hills quote 16-1 and 14-1 respectively (both from 25-1), but Coral offer just 8-1, a point adrift of the ante-post favourite, Alhaarth. The latter firm splashed out to buy more than 100 betting shops yesterday, so perhaps they feel the need to economise elsewhere.

Many leading trainers have only a passing acquaintance with odds and bookies, but Hills is one of the few with a deep understanding of the market and his opinion of the odds is worth noting. "Personally I wouldn't back the horse for the Guineas at the moment," Hills said. "When Walter [Swinburn] came back he said he thought the horse would get further, but I would tend to think he's got a lot of natural speed and will probably stay at six furlongs."

If the racegoers here yesterday did see a future Classic winner, Astor Place, who took the maiden, is probably a better candidate. Peter Chapple- Hyam, his trainer, took the same race last year with Painter's Row, who won the Craven Stakes back in the spring. Astor Place, showing the benefit of his first run at York last month, beat his stable-mate Legal Right by two and a half lengths, and afterwards Chapple-Hyam's natural enthusiasm was even more infectious than usual.

"I know how good the second is, I know the trainer," Chapple-Hyam said. "Astor Place is a lovely horse, though he has had a few problems. I don't know what the owner [Robert Sangster] wants to do, but I'd like to put them both away for next season now." When six months of jumping have been and gone next spring, Astor Place will be a name to remember.

Newmarket Heath was almost springlike yesterday, but at Longchamp more rain fell to make the penetrometers read 4.4, from an overnight 4.1.

In English, this means the runners in Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe will race over 12 furlongs of glue. As a result, Winged Love was withdrawn yesterday, leaving Pat Eddery without a ride. Betting interest remained focused on Lammtarra, the Derby winner, now a 3-1 chance (from 7-2) with Coral.