In the final analysis the result of a race is about individual performance from the combination of man and horse. But the contribution from the team behind any winning centaur must never be underestimated, nor is it by any professional, particularly those involved in the well-oiled machinery of the major operations. After winning yesterday's Tattersalls Gold Cup on Duke Of Marmalade, Johnny Murtagh's first thought was to administer a high-five to the hand of Seamie Heffernan, who had done a sterling job as pacemaker for his stablemate on Red Rock Canyon.
And no-one will have been better and more generously pleased than Murtagh when, hardly half-and-hour later, it was Heffernan who secured the third Group One prize of the Curragh weekend for Ballydoyle, notching a Classic double in the process, as 13-2 shot Halfway To Heaven battled her way to a narrow victory in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. Murtagh, successful on Saturday in the colts' version on Henrythenavigator, finished 10th of 13 on the yard's perceived first string Kitty Matcham.
It was Aidan O'Brien's fourth strike in the prestige filly contest, and his third Guineas pair. In 1997 Classic Park and Desert King announced that the young newcomer at the reins of the historic Co Tipperary training yard might just be an asset and four years later Imagine and Black Minnaloushe helped confirm that view.
Halfway To Heaven had to work far harder than Henrythenavigator for her moment of glory. Given an admirably positive ride, the daughter of Pivotal hit the front fully two and a half furlongs out. As the challengers – firstly the well-fancied Saoirse Abu and Nahoodh, and then the Dermot Weld duo Mad About You and Carribean Sunset – began to loom she upped her tempo and simply refused to be passed, prevailing in a dramatic finish of heads and necks.
The 66-1 outsider Tuscan Evening was second home, but her desperate late thrust involved the hampering of Carribean Sunset, so the stewards shuffled her back to fourth behind her victim, with Mad About You promoted to the runner-up spot.
It was Heffernan's second Classic win, after Soldier Of Fortune in the Irish Derby last year. "This filly has a great attitude," he said. Despite being introduced into the Oaks betting, Halfway To Heaven's next assignment is likely to be the Coronation Stakes over yesterday's mile distance. Royal Ascot is also the target for Duke Of Marmalade, who had only to be pushed out to account for Finsceal Beo by a length and a quarter, and will, picking up the middle-distance older-horse baton from Dylan Thomas, tackle the Prince Of Wales's Stakes next.
More immediately, a decision about Henrythenavigator's participation in the Derby on Saturday week will be made in the next few days. After his defeat of New Approach on Saturday, in which he demonstrated a telling change of gear, the Kingmambo colt is now vying for favouritism for the Epsom showpiece and, encouragingly, came out of his race bouncing.
"He's perfect," O'Brien said yesterday. "He was fine this morning and this will be the week we sort out the Derby horses."
As with most applications at Ballydoyle, the call will be a team one, the result of input from a myriad of experts, under the shrewd eye of John Magnier, supremo at the training operation's breeding arm, Coolmore. "Ultimately it will be all the lads who will get together and decide," said Magnier. "It will be up to Aidan, Johnny, and John Halley [the vet]. They'll give me their opinions, and then we'll see."
Magnier played down his own role, but played up the significance of the target. "I don't decide," he said, "but if you ask me what I'd like to do I'd say Epsom is where everything is decided. When the horse was bred, he was bred to go there."
On the Oaks front, Weld revealed yesterday that one-time favourite Chinese White may, after all, line up at Epsom. And Jim Bolger reiterated that current market leader Lush Lashes would take part only on good ground or better.
American star Big Brown, due to go for Triple Crown immortality in the Belmont Stakes in New York on Saturday week, has suffered a slight quarter-crack on a forefoot but is due to resume training on Thursday. "He's in no discomfort at all and missing a few days won't hurt us," trainer Rick Dutrow said last night.
* Bronze Cannon was cut to 20-1 from 33-1 for the Derby by bookmakers William Hill yesterday after the John Gosden colt's cosy win in a Newmarket handicap. But the horse is not sure to run at Epsom.
Nap: Secret Night (Leicester 3.10)
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