Racing: Maroof raises the roof

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The Independent Online
MAROOF, the one horse in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes field here yesterday who 'could not win', did. The four-year-old, who started at 66-1, made all the running under Richard Hills to take the pounds 150,000 prize and provide one of the biggest upsets of recent seasons.

The race was billed beforehand as the European mile championship decider. Eight of the nine runners had won 16 Group 1 races - including six Classics - between them. Maroof was the one who had not; in fact he had not won any race for a year. On his previous run he was only second in a Group 3 race at Doncaster, and as he set off in front it seemed he must be cannon fodder.

Hamdan Al-Maktoum's colt led the favourite Distant View into the short straight, with the rest of the big guns poised. But, in an instant, there was consternation in saddles and stands alike. As Distant View, then Mehthaaf, then Bigstone, came under pressure it was apparent that the leader was not stopping. To almost universal amazement, he passed the post a length and a quarter clear of Barathea, who made a tremendous run from off the pace under Mick Kinane, but too late.

Last year's winner Bigstone, on whom Frankie Dettori deputised for the late-arriving Olivier Peslier, claimed third place in front of Ski Paradise, another doing her best work at the finish. Distant View faded to fifth, followed by Turtle Island, a very disappointing East Of the Moon, Sayyedati and Mehthaaf.

There was no pace early; all credit to Hills for taking the race to the others, and on the day there was no fluke about the result. The jockey said: 'I know the horse well - I ride him in most of his work - and the ground was perfect for him. He stretches out better with a bit of give.'

Maroof's trainer, Robert Armstrong, who was given the go-ahead on Tuesday to run the son of Danzig, said he was not surprised: 'He has had an unlucky season, he was very well, he had his ground and the only amazing thing to me was the price. I thought he'd run a big race, and I backed him.'

Normality returned to proceedings on Europe's richest racing day in the next race when the favourite Eltish gave Distant View's shellshocked connections some compensation in the Royal Lodge Stakes. The tough two-year-old kept finding more in the straight to hold off Stiletto Blade by a length and a half and earn himself the dubious honour of winter favouritism - 20-1 with Hills - for next year's Derby.

The distaff stars of the future were on parade in the Group 1 Fillies Mile, in which the beautifully bred Aqaarid quickened nicely inside the final furlong and stayed on well to hold the determined late flourish of Jural by half a length. The outsider Snowtown, who led the field of nine into the straight, held on gamely for third, in front of the disappointing favourite Pure Grain, who looked very one-paced.

Aqaarid had raced, and won, only once previously, and her trainer John Dunlop was hopeful rather than confident beforehand. He said: 'She's a rather lazy lady at home, almost too relaxed, and very difficult to assess. Obviously, we know more about her now, and I see no reason why she should not get a mile and a half next year.'

The filly, like her parents Nashwan and Ashayer, carried Hamdan Al Maktoum's colours, and strengthens his grip on next year's fillies' classics. His Harayir, a runner in Tuesday's Cheveley Park Stakes, heads the 1,000 Guineas market and Aqaarid is now top of the Oaks lists.

Ashayer won the Prix Marcel Boussac seven years ago a week after running third in the Fillies Mile, but Aqaarid is unlikely to follow her over the channel. Dunlop said: 'I cast that one over the Sheikh, but he failed to bite, so that will be her for the season.'

Wizard King turned the allegedly competitive Tote Festival Handicap into a procession, galloping clear in the last furlong and a half to win as he liked by a long-looking four lengths. The three-year-old was backed from 8-1 to 13-2 favourite.