Racing: Royal Blue appointment

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The Independent Online
AS IF scripted, the Queen's colours were carried to victory in the first race here yesterday. Her filly Holly Blue, made favourite by her loyal subjects and coincidence backers, scraped home under Richard Hughes by a head from Ma-Arif in the Fern Hill Rated Handicap. Cynics felt that the announcement of a subsequent stewards' inquiry might concern only why the winning margin for the gold-braided red and purple had been so narrow on the Royal racecourse on a Royal wedding day.

Her Majesty, with more pressing duties five miles down the road in Windsor, was not present to witness Holly Blue's victory. Nor was the Bluebird three-year-old's trainer Roger Charlton, at his son's school sports day. The man with the onus of expressing pleasure at such a timely winner was the Queen's racing manager, Lord Carnarvon, and though normally the most courteous and enthusiastic of men he seemed surprisingly underwhelmed on this occasion.

He said: "We hoped she'd run well, and I thought the jockey rode a hell of a good race exactly to plan, keeping her at the back then hunting through the field." He then added, enigmatically: "This should cheer Her Majesty up."

Hughes, however, was properly pleased, even though the win came a day late in his eyes, at the meeting with the Heath, rather than Royal, tag. His progress along the stands side rail was facilitated when a gap of Red Sea proportions opened in front of him, and his only worry thereafter was not to hit the front too soon. "The other horse got past her in the final half furlong," he said, "but she was very brave and stuck her head out again."

The stewards spotted indiscretions by both Hughes, whom they considered had used his whip incorrectly, and Ma-Arif's rider Richard Hills, who carelessly interfered with his mount's fourth-placed stablemate Samut in passing, and suspended both riders for two days, tomorrow and Tuesday week.

Gary Stevens, on the odds-on favourite Flaming Quest, was outmanoeuvred in a field of four by the course specialist Frankie Dettori (the leading jockey at the Royal meeting for the third year in a row) on Zarfoot in the other Listed race on the card, the New Stakes. The American found himself thoroughly boxed in as Helvetius set a slow pace and his two attempts to extract himself in the short straight failed, firstly as his Michael Stoute-trained partner, touted as a St Leger prospect, could not accelerate sufficiently to go through a fleeting gap swiftly blocked by Dettori and secondly as he sought a non-existent passage between the fading leader and the far rail.

By the time he found daylight and overhauled Helvetius, Zarfoot had flown clear, and his first word to those waiting in the place reserved for the runner-up was: "Sorry". But, in fairness, the progressive winner, who scored by three and a half lengths, found a good turn of foot and stayed on very well on his step up to a mile and a half. The Spanish-owned Zafonic colt's trainer Luca Cumani said: "He had given me enough inklings at home that he would stay. The Gordon Stakes is a possibility next, but I don't think he is a St Leger horse."

The afternoon's most valuable contest, the 10-furlong Ladbroke Handicap, provided a first winner on the Flat for Lydia Richards as Brilliant Red, ridden by Pat Eddery, held the persistent challenge of Punishment by three-quarters of a length. Brilliant Red, a six-year- old by Royal Academy, is one of only two Flat horses trained by Richards and has the Cambridgeshire as his end-of-season target.

The massive Tote jackpot pool of pounds 653,495 was claimed by pounds 3.88 worth of winners, paying a dividend of pounds 119,582.90, including one 10p line by an on-course punter. "It was almost bound to be won after the Royal victory in the first," said the Tote spokesman Rob Hartnett. "Given the day, it was a very popular choice."

With Royal Ascot just over and the Irish Derby and Eclipse Stakes scheduled for the next two weekends the domestic Flat season is getting into its midsummer stride. In France, however, jumping is the game at this time of year. But French Holly's bold challenge for the Grand Course des Haies, the local equivalent of the Champion Hurdle, at Auteuil, ended with a disappointing fourth place.

The gelding, trained by Ferdy Murphy at Middleham, was the 6-4 favourite after beating six of yesterday's rivals in the trial, the Prix Barka, three weeks ago. He was one of five in line at the final obstacle but found little on the run-in, though he was beaten only two lengths by the winner Vaporetto.

Bizarrely, as he jumped the warm-up hurdle before the race that is the norm in France, Andrew Thornton had been unseated and took a knock. But he said: "No excuses. He just didn't pick up at the end."

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