Bankable saves bookies from Marmalade jam
They say that you never see a bookmaker leaving a racecourse on a bike. The general idea is that they tend to find a Bentley both faster and more commodious, but for a brief, blessed moment yesterday it became possible to contemplate a very different explanation. For by the time Bankable went to post, some bookmakers must have wondered whether they would ever again sample the unimagined luxury of a bicycle.
In the opener, Aqlaam had doubled them over by landing a big Newmarket gamble; then, in the big race of the day, Duke Of Marmalade followed through brutally to the solar plexus. Now they were staring down the barrel at Bankable, at 13-8 surely the hottest favourite in the 165-year history of the Royal Hunt Cup.
Fret not, however. Those poor, trusting characters had suffered enough. Bankable found himself marooned by the draw, hopelessly adrift from the action down the stands' rail, and did well even to manage fifth place behind the 25-1 outsider, Mr Aviator. On a funereal afternoon of grey skies and hat-scattering breezes, the financial grave-diggers could finally allow themselves a grim smile.
Still, it had been fun while it lasted. After all, the ring had certainly had the better of the exchanges on the opening day, notably with a 100-1 "skinner" in the Windsor Castle Stakes. And even the bookmakers could surely take a step back and marvel at Duke Of Marmalade, whose stately performance in the Prince of Wales's Stakes represented an unequivocal breakthrough.
Not for his trainer or jockey, clearly. Aidan O'Brien and Johnny Murtagh have now shared three of the four Group One prizes during the first two days of the meeting. But until now there had been those who suspected that Duke Of Marmalade might be an impostor, despite Group One wins in both his previous starts this season.
He had been beaten in each of his six races last year, a background that raised the same questions as the original Duke – a slave elevated to the nobility of Haiti 200 years ago by the tragicomic emperor of that island, Henri Christophe. Was this colt a true aristocrat, a worthy heir to his late sire, Danehill? Or was it all a convenient masquerade?
O'Brien had told anyone who was prepared to listen. Last season Duke Of Marmalade was inhibited by the residual effects of the surgery that had abbreviated his juvenile campaign. After the removal of pins during the winter, however, O'Brien perceived a new freedom in the horse. And enough heeded his words for Duke Of Marmalade, available at 7-4 in the morning, to start at evens after a tidal wave of cash engulfed the strongest market outside Cheltenham.
With his pacemaker Red Rock Canyon ensuring that the race would be won on merit, Murtagh settled his mount on the inside before drifting out for a run in the straight. This is not some glib, slashing blade of a horse, but a sledgehammer, and as he roared four lengths clear of Phoenix Tower that glass ceiling was reduced to a cascade of glittering fragments. Murtagh, entering his pomp in his new role as Ballydoyle stable jockey, dismounted and declared Duke Of Marmalade among the best he had ever ridden.
"He's an unbelievable horse, the real deal," O'Brien agreed. "And he's getting better with every run. Last year we were never really able to train him because he was semi-lame all the time. He wasn't able to use himself the way he can now."
His next move will presumably be co-ordinated with those of Henrythenavigator and Soldier Of Fortune, but a logical target would be the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown next month.
Henrythenavigator appears to have the mile division at his mercy, though it is conceivable that Aqlaam could yet earn the right to challenge him after a remarkable performance in the Jersey Stakes. Making only his third start, and his first outside maidens, he was still so green he jinked left inside the final furlong, panicking in his solitude. But he was always going so comfortably that those who backed him from 11-1 to 13-2 were calculating their winnings a long way out.
His trainer, William Haggas, dependably sorts the wheat from chaff and knew exactly where he stood with a horse with a handicap career still at stake. Aqlaam, who suffered a knee injury on his debut at this course last year, is by the sprinter, Oasis Dream, but has plenty of stamina in the other half of his pedigree and may well get an extra furlong. He is certainly a colt going places.
As for Bankable, he may yet make a Group miler as well, having consumed too much petrol in trying to gather Mr Aviator's slipstream. "Look at the first three, they were drawn one, four and five," lamented his rider, Frankie Dettori. "And we were in 25. It was as simple as that." Regardless, Bankable's failure to make the frame reprieved the bookmaking industry of a net loss on the day running into tens of millions. Then the 25-1 success of Langs Lash in the Queen Mary Stakes – a deserved breakthrough for the Newmarket stable run so astutely by the Quinlan brothers – salved many earlier wounds. If any bookmaker did pedal home last night, the basket is unlikely to have been entirely empty.
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