The Irish had the finish of the 200th running of the 2,000 Guineas to themselves, and a mighty close one it was. Henrythenavigator, trained by Aidan O'Brien, beat last year's juvenile champion New Approach by a nose, the recently introduced minimum distance. And with the winning distance just a matter of inches, the reaction by the runner-up's trainer Jim Bolger was appropriate enough.
"Round one", he said quietly but firmly, as he congratulated O'Brien and victorious rider Johnny Murtagh. Round two will be enacted three weeks hence on home turf, in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh.
It was a third 2,000 Guineas in four years for O'Brien, and a triumphant start to the job as Ballydoyle No 1 for Murtagh, who gave the regally-bred colt a masterful ride down the wide, straight, challenging Rowley Mile. Kevin Manning on New Approach opted to take the initiative from the off; Murtagh was nearer last than first for six of the eight furlongs.
As he began to make his move, the ranks in front of him closed temporarily, just as New Approach increased his advantage. Murtagh had the confidence to wait for a split, and when it came, between Stubbs Art and Dream Eater, his mount was through in a flash and after the strongly-ridden 11-8 favourite.
Henrythenavigator, an 11-1 shot, caught New Approach up the hill 10 strides from the post, and though he was wavering at the finish as his rival gamely renewed his effort, the bay muzzle was in front of the chestnut where it mattered for the £212,000 first prize and considerably more in his future stallion valuation.
"My horse has a great turn of foot, and that's what won him the day," said Murtagh. "The other one took a few lengths out of me, but once mine was in the clear and had something to aim at he quickened really well. It was his first run of the season, and he was getting tired at the end, and New Approach was getting back. But that's what good horses do, and these are two good ones."
Henrythenavigator follows King Of Kings, Rock Of Gibraltar (ridden by Murtagh when he beat his hot-shot stablemate Hawk Wing), Footstepsinthesand and George Washington on O'Briens 2,000 Guineasroster. The trainer regards the three-year-old as a miler pure and simple – in the image of his parents Kingmambo and Sequoyah – with no Derby pretensions.
The colt is a rarity in the modern era, being precocious enough to win a Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot and stay well enough to take a mile Classic. He was tried at seven furlongs at two, but was put in his place by New Approach on soft ground. "He's a proper high-class, fast-ground miler," said O'Brien. "He's always shown us that at home, but when he got beaten last year it was on National Hunt ground. And after that we went easy on him,didn't push him, so we'd have him for this year. And Johnny played the horse to all his strengths."
Bolger, though disappointed, was gracious in his stable star's first career defeat. The temperamental Galileo colt behaved perfectly in the preliminaries (though he delayed the start by six minutes as he ambled to post, ponied there US-style) and was in front again two strides past the line. "You have to be happy with him," he said. "Roll on the Irish Guineas."
The stewards were unhappy with the use of the whip by both jockeys: Murtagh getting banned for two days, Manning for four.
The first of the British-trained home, four lengths adrift, was David Elsworth's 100-1 outsider Stubbs Art. He was followed in by Raven's Pass who will now be plying his trade as a sprinter. The disappointment of the race was second favourite Ibn Khaldun. One of the first beaten, he came in 10th of the 15 runners.
A decision will be made this morning about the participation of one of the leading fancies for this afternoon's 1,000 Guineas, Muthabara, who has been footsore for the past few days. "She's improving, but is not 100 per cent yet," said her trainer John Dunlop. "We'll give her a canter first thing, then decide."
Unsurprisingly, Muthabara has drifted in the betting, leaving the French raider Natagora and the two Cheveley Park colour-bearers Infallible and Spacious at the head of the market for the Classic.
Natagora, with solid Group One form as a juvenile – she won the Cheveley Park Stakes here – can provide her trainer Pascal Bary with belated compensation for the defeat of unlucky Six Perfections five years ago. Kitty Matcham, Henrythenavigator's stable-mate, is likely to give her most trouble.Reuse content