On the bare form, this low-key reception was puzzling. Beat All, the 6-1 joint-favourite for the Classic, was three lengths ahead of Mukhalif at Newmarket a couple of weeks ago. Zaajer, who was boxed on the rails and had to squeeze bravely between Mukhalif and Deal Fair to win his race yesterday, beat that horse by one and a half lengths. Since he is lightly raced and sure to improve, that is not a great deal of ground to make up.
Dunlop, though, seemed to feel that a trip to Chantilly for the Prix du Jockey-Club, the French equivalent, was a more realistic move. "I was very surprised and pleased at the way he travelled," Dunlop said. "He had a few problems earlier in the year, and I thought he'd get tired on this ground. My thought before the race - and obviously we'll have to speak to Sheikh Hamdan - was that if he was good enough, we'd aim him at the French Derby. It's a level track, he's a big weak horse at the moment and that looked the easier option."
If Sheikh Hamdan is eager to see his colours at Epsom, though, it may be that he will have little choice but to rely on Zaajer, since there does not seem to be much strength in depth among his middle-distance three- year-olds. It is a big if, but should he eventually turn up in Surrey rather than France, Zaajer would not be the worst each-way shot in the race.
The Royal meeting at Ascot will be the next destination for Churlish Charm, who won the Yorkshire Cup at 25-1 and now heads to the Gold Cup on Ladies' Day. The extra six furlongs at Ascot will surely suit him, for Churlish Charm looked to be the first horse beaten as the field turned into the straight.
When it really mattered, though, as four horses thumped towards the line in yet another thrilling finish to a stayers' race, he suddenly grabbed the bit and quickened to win very cosily. Coral, who have been betting on the Gold Cup for weeks, cut Churlish Charm to 12-1 from 40-1, behind the 5-1 favourite Kayf Tara. Arctic Owl, who was beaten into third place yesterday but will surely improve for the run, is 12-1.
The win completed a double for Richard Hannon and Richard Hughes, who had earlier won the Duke of York Stakes with Sampower Star. This was probably the most promising performance of the afternoon, and though the very fast ground of high summer may be against him, Sampower Star is clearly a sprinter to reckon with. Even at this early stage, Hannon was talking afterwards about the Prix de l'Abbaye, at Longchamp on Arc day.
Hughes's share of the spoils was the better part of pounds 10,000, which is a fair return for 40 minutes' work. He will soon have some spare time to start spending it, though, because the stewards took a dim view of his riding of Harmonic Way in the opener. They decided he had caused interference, and banned him for three days.Reuse content