Champion performance by Excellent Art could prove antidote for Ascot anguish
Saturday 29 September 2007
A certain kinship suggests itself between Ascot racecourse, which rallies its supporters to one of its most important meetings today, and the Conservative Party, which is about to do much the same in Blackpool. If there is any substance in the analogy, observers of Ascot's tribulations will consider David Cameron – himself the son of a racing man – worthy of much sympathy.
It is hard to say quite what those in charge of this spectacular racecourse are supposed to do next. They have sought a fresh look, for a new century and a changing social landscape. The process was never going to be easy, and the odd mistake has doubtless been made. But opposition from the old school has been as deluded as it was predictable. Like the Conservative rearguard, they talk about the place losing its soul. They must accept that their own comfort with the old course would never have stemmed its overall decline.
The management has paid the price for those awful sightlines, making expensive renovations. And they can hardly hurry Nature in marrying the round course and the relaid straight. Their main problem now is that glib, strident opinions can be self-fulfilling. In the circumstances, there was something apt about the failure of the public-address system at yesterday's meeting.
Any sense of helplessness at Ascot must have been compounded by an excruciating build-up to this fixture. For a start, the chilling tide of foot-and-mouth has been lapping ever closer to its perimeters. Then came the news that George Washington, the biggest draw of the weekend, would not be travelling from Co Tipperary for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. And yesterday the meeting began in quite miserable weather.
Deteriorating conditions could have a drastic effect on the big race. Darjina included George Washington among her victims when producing a career best at Longchamp last time, albeit he was set too much to do. The filly did beat Ramonti fair and square and – in contrast with the Irish enigma – that is a colt you could set your clock by. Unfortunately the sole defeat of Darjina's career came over this course in soft ground and that will haunt anyone taking short odds about her today. Indeed, her trainer plans to walk the track before confirming her participation.
Ramonti is also thought best on faster ground, likewise Nannina and Duke Of Marmalade. Vital Equine could be good value on his first start since the spring, having shown he goes well fresh when breaking so many pursuers in the 2,000 Guineas. His rider needs to show more caution this time, however, lest competition for the lead from Blue Ksar, Duke Of Marmalade and Dunelight sets up the race for EXCELLENT ART (nap 4.20).
This colt has had a light season, and there is no way his owners were going to let him take a back seat behind George Washington, an infamous failure at stud. After all, another Group One win over the course and distance of his success at the royal meeting might enable Excellent Art to retire as champion miler.
Proven in all types of ground, he did not get into a rhythm over the awkward contours at Goodwood when last seen, and allowed Ramonti first run. He very nearly caught him and, with a strong pace likely to open up gaps, he can pounce late and fast. Perhaps Mr Cameron will find succour in his example.
Listen has sound chance of revenge
The favourite for the card's other Group One race is also a French filly. Proviso was made favourite for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas when pulling Laureldean Gale miles clear of the rest at Deauville, and her connections command respect. Her encounter with Kotsi in the Meon Valley Stud Fillies' Mile should provide instructive measure of Spacious, who cruised past that filly before running green at Doncaster.
For now the suspicion persists that Spacious is very fairly priced for the Guineas at 16-1. True, this race may require different virtues from those necessary at Newmarket next spring, and perhaps it may introduce an Oaks type instead. Saoirse Abu represents a trainer having such an extraordinary season that his role as mentor to Aidan O'Brien and Tony McCoy will soon be relegated to the second page of his CV. This filly has improved dramatically for headgear, beating two of O'Brien's best juveniles in Group Ones, but Listen (3.10) can gain her revenge. This Sadler's Wells filly got going too late that time and will relish the extra furlong on softer ground.
Nayef, already the sire of Spacious and Kotsi, also has a very promising colt among his first crop in Alfathaa, who contests the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes. Being only one of several with infinite scope for improvement, he can hardly be backed with confidence. Purely in terms of value Scintillo (next best 2.35) makes appeal. He is more exposed than most, but not at this trip, and his experience could prove invaluable if this becomes a battle of attrition.
Dettori confident about Arc favourite
Today is the 11th anniversary of that indelible day when Franke Dettori rode all seven winners at Ascot. But his most important assignment this autumn remains the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp tomorrow week, when he partners the hot favourite.
Authorized has apparently managed to evade the bug afflicting so many of his stablemates. Peter Chapple-Hyam saddled his first winner in three weeks at Goodwood on Wednesday, and both the trainer and Dettori sounded positive after Authorized's final workout yesterday.
A notoriously lazy worker, Authorized apparently showed plenty of gusto and Chapple-Hyam declared: "He's in superb form and I can't wait for the Arc."
American big guns limber up for Cup
It is now just four weeks to the Breeders' Cup, and some of the heaviest American artillery will be moved into position this weekend. Having developed into the leading older horse in the land during the summer, Lawyer Ron limbers up for the Breeders' Cup Classic in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York tomorrow. The three-year-olds are represented by Curlin, winner of the Preakness Stakes, while Street Sense and Hard Spun, first and second in the Kentucky Derby, square up again – this time on Polytrack – in the Kentucky Club Classic at Turfway Park today.
Flood farce threat to Fallon court case
Even a court case as dramatic as the one involving Kieren Fallon will not be immune from tedium. With four months set aside for the race-fixing trial at the Old Bailey, there may be times when even the six defendants – men with livelihoods and liberty at stake – have to stifle a yawn. But things would have been a good deal worse if the bloke who was threatening to drill through the wall of Court 12 on Monday had not desisted just before the pre-trial hearing began.
Someone seems to have put a spanner in the works in the meantime, however. Yesterday a burst waterpipe flooded the courtroom, which will have to be sealed off for two days. The case was due to open on Tuesday, but the Crown Prosecution Service warned that proceedings might now be delayed until Thursday.
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