As every trainer knows, when you win a race in which you have two runners you must always go and deal with the beaten owners first. And that applies especially when they have just written out a fat cheque for a half-share in a Classic favourite, only to see her run down in the final furlong by your other filly. Sure enough, Ralph Beckett was yesterday alive to his obligations as he celebrated a dramatic consolidation of the breakthrough he made here five years ago.
Still only 41, the Andover trainer is entitled to view the names of both his Investec Oaks winners as highly apposite. In 2008, Look Here announced Beckett as a man on the rise; now it was the turn of Talent to prolong the upward curve of his career. But even Beckett admitted that he was still focused on Secret Gesture, who had worked her way into the lead halfway up the straight, when his 20-1 second string suddenly appeared on the outside. The astonishment, when Talent then surged away to win by just under four lengths, seemed fairly universal. Sheikh Fahad and his team require limited sympathy, their investment in Secret Gesture plainly warranted by this confirmation of her Group One calibre. But it was a tough break for Jim Crowley, the stable jockey, for whom winners at this level will not be so common. And the fact is that even the man who had filled the vacancy on Talent, Richard Hughes, had arrived with limited expectations.
“Richard came and rode her work on Friday,” Beckett said. “And I knew by the look on his face that he didn’t fancy her much.” Hughes did not demur. “To be honest, I’d never been so disappointed getting off a horse,” he grinned. “I got no feel at all and said she was skinnier than me.”
But Beckett assured him of her toughness, and the extra distance certainly entitled her to build on her reappearance success at Newmarket. Epsom, moreover, is in her blood. Her grandmother, Bireme, won the Oaks in 1980 – and her sire is none other than New Approach, the 2008 Derby winner, who could complete an astounding double as rookie stallion when his son, Dawn Approach, lines up as favourite for the big one today.
Fulfilment did not come so swiftly to Hughes himself, who had to wait until the 1,000 Guineas last month to gild his exquisite talents with a first British Classic. Now he has won two in a row – and done so, in part, because of the seasoned instinct that informs his every move now that he is champion jockey. “Going behind the stalls I thought I’d make the running,” he said. “In the stalls, I changed my mind and said I’d sit.”
It proved an inspired strategy. As the outsider Miss You Too led them up into Tattenham Corner, Liber Nauticus was still looking green. This may have come too soon for her, barely a fortnight after she had won her trial at York, judging from the way she ultimately flattened into fifth. But things were meanwhile getting tight on the inside: Moth, who had deposed Secret Gesture as favourite, and The Lark were both anxious for a passage. Talent, though nearly last, was still tanking along and any who noticed her gathering stride on the outside – Hughes confessed a debt to Tom Queally, whose mount was struggling, for not blocking his path – could see the writing on the wall for her stablemate. Secret Gesture ended up holding The Lark by three-parts of a length for second, with Moth not quite picking up as anticipated, another head away.
“I looked at her when they were top of the hill and thought: ‘She can’t win from there,’” Beckett admitted. “I stopped watching her, and was just willing Jim to get off the rail because he was going to have horses coming back on top of him. I feel genuinely sorry for Jim. How could he have chosen the winner instead? He couldn’t on her homework. Secret Gesture’s has always been different league.”
Beckett may now give the pair a rematch in the Irish version. “Richard got the breaks today, and that may have made the difference,” he said. “Jim had to spend a lot of time trying to manoeuvre his filly out, rather than getting her into a rhythm. He was forced into that by his draw. It’s incredible – the last filly to win from box one was Bireme.”
One of Talent’s co-owners is Mark Dixon, nephew of Bireme’s late breeder. Having preserved Dick Hollingsworth’s braided silks for his own horses, Dixon was vexed when Sheikh Fahad was permitted to register a nearly identical set. On this occasion, then, he must have been delighted to see their trainer obliged to give the young man from Qatar all due priority.
CHRIS McGRATH’S NAP
Cross The Boss (9.10 Newcastle)
Plenum (8.25 Lingfield)