Racing: Princely win honours King

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The Independent Online
Aidan O'Brien ran four horses in the Heinz `57' Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh yesterday but none of them managed to make the forecast behind Princely Heir. He will, nevertheless, be delighted with the result.

O'Brien has worked himself into the self-perpetuating position where those who have a decent horse in Ireland are likely to send it to him. An alliance with John Magnier, one of the leading players at the sprawling Coolmore Stud, and the nouveau riche Michael Tabor means his yard is now an ordnance depot with an overseas range. This pair of owners this week paid $1.4m for a single yearling colt at the Fasig-Tipton Sale at Saratoga.

If the Ballydoyle machine is now once again powered by the most powerful buying octane, the pride of the fleet is King Of Kings, the 1998 2,000 Guineas aspirant who shockingly lost his unbeaten record at the Curragh last month. The evidence of yesterday further proved that it is not yet time to yoke the colt, the property of the big two, into a brewery dray. King Of Kings' Anglesey Stakes conqueror, Lady Alexander, went on to capture the Molecomb Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, while Princely Heir himself was beaten five lengths while in receipt of 3lb that day.

Mark Johnston's colt coughed a little after that particular contest, but he was certainly free of infirmity yesterday. The mount of Jason Weaver made the crucial manoeuvre about a furlong from home, pouncing on the pacemaking Hopping Higgins and creating a big enough buffer to hold off Asfurah, the 15-8 favourite, by a head. The 12-1 shot was Johnston's first Group One winner on Irish soil.

"I have my best bunch of two-year-olds ever and I could hardly believe it when Princely Heir never picked up at the Curragh last time," the Middleham trainer said. "I gave Jason no instructions other than to let Princely Heir settle into his rhythm and go wherever the horse was happy. When he pulled out from behind Hopping Higgins I knew we could win.''

There was, however, rather more serious conversation with Weaver after the race, a sting in the tail for the jockey's administration of a sting in the tail. Weaver was penalised with a four-day suspension for his use of the whip and will now be absent from York's Ebor meeting. "It's a nuisance but I won't be appealing," he said. "It's a pity to miss out on York in particular but at least Princely Heir has shown what a good horse he is.''

Weaver went on to prove he is no dunce in the sport himself by partnering Cretan Gift to success in the Phoenix Sprint Stakes. This victory returned the Group Three prize to the citadel of British racing that is Wolverhampton, from where Nick Littmoden was saddling his first Group runner yesterday.

France's Group One race, the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville, was as much a biting spectacle as Jaws without the shark following the withdrawal of Criquette Head's Pas de Reponse. The Chantilly trainer still managed to win the encounter though with a relative stickleback, Occupandiste, who made all the running to deny Ed Dunlop's Monaassib, with Godolphin's Kahal and Richard Hannon's Deadly Dudley back in the ruck.

Monaassib had beaten Occupandiste easily in the Prix de Ris-Orangis at the Normandy course last month, but this reversal in form did not mean he was going to be kept in for detention by his trainer last night. "I am really delighted with him, especially as the ground was still riding a good deal softer than he likes," Dunlop said. "Next stop now is next month's Haydock Park Sprint Cup.''

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