Ballydoyle left with egg on the face by Stoute's record-breaker Workforce
Cape Blanco, the only horse to have beaten him, could hardly be expected to match Workforce's spectacular Derby performance when he instead ran in France yesterday. In the event, however, his owners' disturbing preference for the Prix du Jockey-Club proved even less productive than their challenge to one of the most impressive Epsom winners of modern times.
In fact, to their probable bemusement, the only colt in their stable to make any impression in the two races that divided the elite Ballydoyle prospects was At First Sight, the 100-1 pacemaker, who saw off all bar Workforce on Saturday. His performance doubtless reflects a culpable complacency in Seamus Heffernan's rivals, who let him open up that startling lead off Tattenham Corner. But it also shows how emphatically Workforce separated himself from charges of mediocrity levelled at a field stripped, respectively by accident and design, of St Nicholas Abbey and his stablemate, Cape Blanco.
In barrelling seven lengths clear, and pulverising the course record, Workforce reiterated the Derby's primacy just 12 months after Sea The Stars established his own credentials as an exceptional champion. Indeed, a provisional Timeform rating of 132 qualifies Workforce as the best Derby winner since Generous in 1991, albeit Sea The Stars might well have exceeded 126 this time last year but for his tendency to idle in front.
It was characteristic that Ryan Moore, even in contemplating a breakthrough in his quest for perfection, should rebuke himself for setting the winner alight prematurely. "With an inexperienced horse, you want to make sure," he said. "It's a shame, because he's a very honest horse, who gives you everything. He had a tough time out there."
Workforce certainly looked tired afterwards, as well he might, but it is precisely because the Derby is so demanding that it reliably produces an authentic pack leader. This one does not have the flamboyant attributes of many predecessors – a gorgeous physique, say, or a demonstrative temperament. In Sir Michael Stoute's Newmarket stable, he has long been known as "Sefton", after the police horse. Instead he vested all extravagance in his sheer superiority. And that enabled him, at the same time, to imply the fortitude to deal with more persistent competition in the future.
For now, he can be celebrated as the horse that sealed the partnership between Stoute and Moore as the most formidable in Britain. Stoute's four previous Derby winners had achieved something similar, at different times, for Walter Swinburn and Kieren Fallon. Moore, of course, has won his first three championships only in Fallon's absence, and this is the first season when he has had to see off a man who had previously made the Epsom winning post the sceptre of his dominion. Fallon, in turn, had hitherto been able to view a failure to win even one Classic as a source of insecurity in his young rival. Now, of course, Moore suddenly has an Oaks-Derby double on his CV. Fallon has two, in 1999 and 2004, but must now acknowledge that his young rival has come of age as a big-race jockey.
Workforce proved so dominant that most riders would presumably have got the job done. But that was hardly the case with Snow Fairy, in the Oaks on Friday, and the fact is that Moore descended Tattenham Corner on Saturday in the one position that would have been coveted by each of the dozen riders, on the rail in about fourth.
Above all, however, this was Stoute's masterpiece. The only conceivable basis for backing Workforce, following that inelegant defeat in his trial at York, would have been blind faith in his trainer's judgement. After all, this is a colt whose work at home apparently lacks ostentation, and his slow bloom in the spring did not allow Stoute to give him the grounding he intended. But experience and instinct together told him that Workforce should persevere to Epsom, regardless of whether Cape Blanco would again be in opposition. Sure enough, the transformation in Workforce on Saturday was so drastic that it would be naive to presume that Cape Blanco would have got anywhere near him. Coordinated Cut, after all, was breathing down his neck at York but was left for dead at Epsom, albeit he may not have handled the track. One of the excuses offered for Workforce, after his laboured pursuit of Cape Blanco at York, had been the very quick conditions. But the sultry weather during the Epsom meeting ensured that he had to gallop, downhill, on ground firmer than had been provided for any recent Derby – and that plainly did not inhibit him in the slightest. He was yesterday reported to be perfectly sound.
The Irish Derby, on 27 June, is the obvious next target, though Stoute and the colt's owner, Prince Khaled Abdulla, may conceivably want to try him back over 10 furlongs.
The abbreviation of the Prix du Jockey-Club to that distance, since 2005, was one of the incentives for Aidan O'Brien's patrons when they decided to send Cape Blanco to France instead. They also know that these are times of growing austerity in the British and Irish marketplace, compared with France, and suggestions that betting turnover and TV viewing figures were both down on Saturday can only compound an overall sense of queasiness.
But few French breeders will have noticed Cape Blanco in a race instead dominated by Lope De Vega, who was stepping up from a mile but readily saw off 22 rivals after taking over before the home turn. From a wide draw, this was a ride that confirmed Maxime Guyon as no less luminous a young talent on the French circuit than Moore is over here.
Lope De Vega is precisely the kind of colt that has dominated the race since his sire, Shamardal, became the first to profit from the change in distance. As such, it can no longer be properly described as "the French Derby" and his trainer, André Fabre, discouraged any illusions that this excitable and energetic colt might go farther still in races like the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the autumn – for which Workforce is 3-1 favourite with Coral. Lope De Vega is instead likely to drop back to a mile for the Prix Jacques Le Marois, at Deauville in August, and seems unlikely to leave French soil unless and until kept in training next season.
Cape Blanco finished only tenth, whereas the Ballydoyle second string, Viscount Nelson, managed fifth. It was another baffling result for O'Brien, who can hardly have expected At First Sight to finish in front of both Jan Vermeer and Midas Touch, fourth and fifth respectively at Epsom. Jan Vermeer, who had started favourite, lost both front shoes and there will certainly be other days for him, perhaps on easier ground, while Midas Touch looks eligible to follow the third home, Rewilding, to the Ladbrokes St Leger.
In the meantime it will be fascinating to see the stable's next move with the runner-up, who suddenly needs promoting in his own right but will do well to find another big race unfolding quite so conveniently.
As for their big guns, O'Brien and his patrons can comfort themselves with the example of Workforce himself. All horses need defending, somewhere along the line. And every now and then, as this colt showed between York and Epsom, the excuses turn into explanations.
Chris mcgrath's nap Adventure Story (9.0 Windsor) Retains scope for improvement this term after a crash course in maidens last autumn, reserving both her best efforts for today's rider, and meets some relatively exposed rivals here.
Next best Satwa Moon (7.30 Windsor) Looked capable of better still when winning his handicap debut in March but disappeared after being turned over at odds-on only the following week. Freshened up for his first date with the in-form Fallon.
One to watch Monte Cavallo (M Wigham) had some quite flashy form in South Africa and hinted that he might be finding his feet for his shrewd new trainer at Sandown on Thursday. Set plenty to do before meeting traffic.
Where the money's going
Dick Turpin is 5-1 from 7-1 with Paddy Power for the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot tomorrow week.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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