Cast-off Makfi floats home in Guineas
For neither the first nor the last time on a racecourse, the sound of bubbles bursting was the accompaniment to the cheers for the big-race winner. Here yesterday you could add the riffling of racecard pages as those in the grandstand checked the identity of that unheralded beast in mauve who had just shot clear of his rivals through the final furlong of the 2,000 Guineas. The answer was 33-1 shot Makfi, the sole French raider in the line-up. Nearly four lengths behind him the even-money favourite St Nicholas Abbey could do no better than sixth.
Horses, unknowing and uncaring of man's plans and ambitions for them, are such great levellers, the antidote to hubris. St Nicholas Abbey, last season's juvenile champion and the pride of the mighty Ballydoyle empire, may yet achieve glory this term, but hopes that he might follow Sea The Stars as a superhorse have evaporated. And Makfi himself, in his greatest victory, has provided a dream and a nightmare simultaneously.
The son of Dubawi, now owned by Parisian lawyer Matthieu Offenstadt, was a first Classic success in any country for his trainer Mikel Delzangles, a young man with a swiftly advancing professional profile. But for Hamdan Al Maktoum, one of the game's highest rollers, it was an opportunity squandered. Makfi, bred by the Sheikh, was trained for most of last year by Marcus Tregoning but never raced in his care and by late October was deemed surplus to requirements and was catalogued, along with 71 other of his owner's cast-offs, at an end-of-season auction sale.
He was snapped up for just 26,000 guineas (£28,600) by Delzangles and Offenstadt, who were looking for a cheapish colt to have some fun with. Some fun indeed; yesterday their bargain earned £227,000 and all the tantalizing stallion potential due to a well-bred (his sire is one of the best of the young brigade; his dam is a half-sister to top-class performer Alhaarth) winner of the foremost mile Classic.
Makfi, beautifully ridden by Christophe Lemaire, was one of only three leaders throughout the Stan James's sponsored contest. The 200-1 outsider Greyfriarschorista showed in front until half-way; his closest pursuer Dick Turpin (16-1) took over and tried to steal the prize from there and was caught only by the winner, who had a length and a quarter to spare where it mattered.
The runner-up was half-a-length in front of his Richard Hannon stablemate Canford Cliffs (12-1), confirming their form at Newbury last month, with Xtension (25-1) fourth. To make things worse for Sheikh Hamdan his Awzaan, the third favourite, trailed in 15th of 19.
Within a month of acquiring Makfi last year, Delzangles won a minor race with him in the provinces and produced him to win a recognised Guineas trial, the Prix Djebel, at one of the Paris tracks three weeks ago. "It just shows," he said, "that you should never be afraid to dream. Before we bought the horse we did not know much about him but when I saw him at the sales I thought he was good looking.
"We did not think of a race like the Guineas then, of course we did not. At home he does not show us very much flair, he is very quiet, not extravagant. But he did win his first race very easily and that put the idea in the back of our mind. Now he has proved he is very good and that the idea derriere la tete was the right one."
Delzangles, from the Basque country, started his hands-on racing education in Britain with the late Jimmy Fitzgerald and then spent 10 years with one of France's best, Alain de Royer-Dupré. He set up in his own right nine years ago and has previously notched high-profile successes with sprinter Chineur at Royal Ascot and the filly Shalanaya at last year's Arc meeting. Makfi will stay in the miling division for the present, with the St James's Palace Stakes at next month's Royal meeting his next target.
"I sat behind Johnny [Murtagh, on St Nichols Abbey]," said Lemaire, "and when the gap came, he really kicked and was through it in two strides. He doesn't have much experience and there will be more to come from him."
Sheikh Hamdan and Tregoning may gain some compensation today when their Rumoush is fourth favourite as she takes on 17 rivals in the 1,000 Guineas. Top of the betting, though, is another from France, Special Duty.
St Nicholas Abbey remains favourite, albeit eased, for the Derby. His trainer, Aidan O'Brien, put forward reasons, not excuses, for his defeat. "The early pace was slow and a strong even pace would have been better," he said, "but take nothing from the winner or those that were in front of him."
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