Stretarez won on both his British debut and Williams's on the Flat here yesterday in the Ormonde Stakes. It was a surprise in the betting ring (the five-year-old was sent off at 25-1) and an even greater shock to his connections. "I'm totally gobsmacked," Williams said. "I was just so relieved that he was still in touch with them going down the back, that he hadn't dropped out.''
Stretarez has been in residence at Hereford for only six weeks following his purchase from Dominique Sepulchre's French yard. He brought with him good form, having beaten Grey Shot in the Group Two Prix Vicomtesse Vigier at Longchamp a year ago, though his price was so reasonable that Williams had to check a leg was at each corner when the delivery came down the box ramp.
"He wasn't expensive at all considering his form," she said. "He wasn't cheap either, but I think we got a Group winner for a handicap price.''
The Ormonde was to be a prelude to a jumping career for Stretarez, but his immediate target will now be the Ascot Gold Cup, and if he wins there the temptation will be to let him hibernate rather than compete over the winter.
This contest provided a happier episode for Kevin Darley, who will be off games for a week following a Pamplona bull run of an earlier race. Eighteen runners around the tightest turns in the land is a recipe as explosive as nitroglycerin, and the detonations came early in the William Hare Wynn Handicap.
Darley and Albert The Bear barged two of their rivals in the desperate scramble for a place next to the rail, and were in turn shoved themselves as Cantina and Danny Wright tried to make the tightest lane their own. Cantina crossed the line first and Albert The Bear third, but both were thrown out as their jockeys were found guilty of major irresponsible riding.
Wright too got a seven-day suspension. The revised placings allowed Nomore Mr Niceguy to claim fourth place and doubtless prompted the retrieval of many little bits of betting slip up and down the country. Horses which originally finish sixth don't often end in the place money.
Cantina's trainer, Alan Bailey, had been feeling a little peeky anyway following the celebrations of his Chester Cup win the previous day. This didn't help. "It was a joke," he said. "She was in front all the way.
"It's a bastard isn't it? One minute you've won 32 grand, and the next you've lost two.''
The specification of Chester is both its strength and weakness. The (Roman) wall of death tightness allows for spectacular racing, but also a library of hard luck stories and plentiful near misses.
It is not a trait that has worried Barry Hills greatly and the Lambourn trainer's winning total at the track ticked further into the 90s yesterday with Prolix's four-length success in the Dee Stakes. Hills has now won this particular contest 10 times.
Prolix was rather an enchanting sight as he danced down the straight underneath the in-form Darryll Holland, leaving little puffs of earth in his wake. The chestnut may now attempt the race Barry has never won. "If he hadn't have got beat in his maiden at Doncaster he certainly would have been in the Derby, but that doesn't mean that Prince Khalid can't put him in at the next stage," Hills said.
That next stage is the supplementary and the Prince will have to cough up pounds 75,000 to run. Contributions are welcome.
NAP: Bramble Bear