Anyone listening to David Morley after Intikhab had trounced the opposition in yesterday afternoon's Joel Stakes at Newmarket might have been forgiven for wondering what there was to the trainer's art, beyond turning up to strap on a saddle and pick up the silverware. Said Morley, refusing to take any credit: "He's such a sweet horse, easy to train, and hardly needs any work. I don't know why he's improved. Perhaps he's just got older and better."
But there was no room for such self-effacement after Hayil's victory half an hour later in the day's feature, the Middle Park Stakes. Morley's experienced eyes had spotted that Hamdan Al Maktoum's home-bred colt lacked a certain amount of devotion to his work, and recommended the application of a pair of blinkers.
The headgear is normally associated with horses whose talent exceeds their enthusiasm, but Morley was at pains to protest that this was not the case with Hayil. "He is a tough little horse and is 100 per cent genuine," he said, "and has never run a bad race. But he just wouldn't concentrate. He was like one of those schoolboys whose report reads `could do better if he didn't look out of the window'."
Hayil looked neither right nor left as he shot out of the stalls and by half-way in the six-furlong contest was thundering towards his goal with the enthusiasm of one looking forward to games on a Friday afternoon rather than double maths. The only one who posed any sort of threat was Carrowkeel, who was doing his best work in the final half-furlong and reduced the winning distance to three-quarters of a length.
It may not have been the best Middle Park Stakes in the race's 122-year history, but there is no tonic like a Group One winner of any calibre. It was the third of Morley's 24-year career - after Fard, similarly galvanised by first-time blinkers, in the same race three years ago and Celeric in the Gold Cup in June - and provided the perfect springboard for the popular stayer Celeric to make it four in tomorrow's Prix du Cadran at Longchamp. It would be an understatement to say their trainer, one of Newmarket's best-liked characters, has not enjoyed the best of health recently - he has undergone heart surgery three times - but he said: "I'm still here, and certainly feel better for moments like this."
The result of the Middle Park Stakes caused barely a flutter in the ante- post betting for next year's 2,000 Guineas, the only bookmaker reaction being to send Arkadian Hero, the fourth-placed odds-on favourite, to join Hayil in the wilderness at 50-1. The big chestnut looked fine and glossy in the paddock beforehand, but found nothing under pressure.
His disappointed trainer Luca Cumani said: "Last time we blamed the ground when it was soft, so we can't blame it today. The only explanation I can offer is that the race was, after all, too soon. He had a hard race at Newbury just 12 days ago."
Carrowkeel, whose participation on going faster than he favours was confirmed only after his trainer, Barry Hills, walked the course yesterday morning, may get another top-level opportunity to stake his claim as a Guineas candidate in the Grand Criterium at Longchamp later this month. Hills said: "He's a different horse with cut in the ground, and needs a mile now."
Hills's son Richard was the jockey to follow yesterday, with a 111-1 treble on Intikhab, Hayil and the impressive Quiet Assurance in the Westley Maiden Stakes. His reaction on jumping off the Ed Dunlop-trained chestnut, a son of the middle-distance champion St Jovite, was: "This will make a very, very nice three-year-old."
Eighteen horses were confirmed yesterday for Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe after the expected defection of Silver Patriarch, Desert King and Tulipa and the addition, at a supplementary cost of pounds 36,000, of the German-trained filly Borgia. The money during the day was for Peintre Celebre, bidding to give Andre Fabre his fourth Arc in 10 years. The colt hardened to clear favourite - as short as 5-2 with Ladbrokes - as last year's winner, Helissio, and leading British hope Pilsudski remained friendless.Reuse content