reports from the Knavesmire
"Oaks, Derby, Eclipse, King George, International." Simon Crisford, racing manager for the Godolphin operation, counted on his fingers the British Group One races the team has won this year, after watching So Factual bring up the half dozen in yesterday's Nunthorpe Stakes. Had he wished to add up their global total at the highest level, he would have needed to remove his shoes and socks.
That figure now stands at 11, but probably not for long. So Factual certainly looked capable of improving it yesterday, hitting the front at the distance before comfortably holding the unexpected challenge of Ya Malak by a one and a half lengths, with Hever Golf Rose third. Mind Games, the 10-11 favourite, was notable only for his absence when it mattered.
It was a stirring performance, not just by the horse but also by his jockey, Lanfranco Dettori. Thirteen days ago, Dettori left Haydock in an ambulance after a heavy fall and yesterday was riding for the first time since.
"Before my first ride today I was really nervous," the champion jockey said afterwards. "Is my timing right? Do I still look good on a horse? - so many things were going through my mind." It was, and he does.
Crisford went on: "The horse really deserved that. He's very youthful and very willing, but he must have fast ground." If the good weather continues, So Factual will travel to Haydock next month for a fascinating rematch with Lake Coniston, the July Cup winner whom he beat very narrowly in the Cork and Orrery Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Since So Factual won on dirt in Dubai during the winter, the Breeders' Cup Sprint must also be a possibility.
The poor performance of Mind Games - he missed the break and was never going well - was a bitter blow for Jack Berry, his trainer, who has yet to win a Group One race and may never have a better chance. There was disappointment for Berry, too, in the Lowther Stakes, in which his My Melody Parkes was caught by Dance Sequence after setting a fierce pace which saw off the rest of her field.
Harayir, last year's Lowther winner, went on to take the 1,000 Guineas, but Walter Swinburn, Dance Sequence's jockey, was refreshingly frank about the chances of a repeat performance. Blue Duster, 12-1 favourite for the Classic with Coral, has beaten Dance Sequence twice this season and in Swinburn's view will do so again, if required. "I rate Blue Duster, I really do," the jockey said. "Even after her first start, I knew she was going to be very hard to dethrone." Dance Sequence is a 33-1 chance with Hills to prove him wrong.
There was talk of Classics, too, before the Convivial Maiden Stakes, in which Mukabir, said to be the equal of his stablemate and Derby favourite Alhaarth, made his debut. Mukabir certainly looked the part in the paddock, big, strong and well-muscled, but from that point things started to go wrong. He went to post much faster than his seven rivals, but came back rather more slowly, fading from well over a furlong out to finish almost last. Alhaarth, we must hope, will perform rather better in today's Solario Stakes at Sandown.
Upfront, Desert Boy and Leonine were separated by just a short head at the line, with the former adding to Peter Chapple-Hyam's growing collection of juvenile winners. The trainer took particular satisfaction from his belief that there are others back at Manton with the beating of Desert Boy. "I've got a few more cards to play yet," he said, and wise backers will mark his words well.