How credulously, in its hour of need, did the British Turf embrace the random favours of fortune as evidence of some balance or redress. In consecutive races last week, famous wins for his widow and sovereign respectively seemed calculated to console many who had gone to Royal Ascot grieving the most prolific trainer in its history. But those closest to Sir Henry Cecil will convene for his funeral today freshly versed in the callous indifference of fate's every dispensation.
For having celebrated a posthumous winner for Cecil on Thursday, just nine days after he finally yielded in his long fight with cancer, his family and staff at Warren Place were on Saturday dealt a savagely literal lesson in the notion of a "hollow victory". They descended to the unsaddling enclosure to welcome Thomas Chippendale, who had just carved the most fitting of memorials to his late trainer in the Hardwicke Stakes. This same colt, after all, had the previous year become the last of Cecil's 75 Royal Ascot winners. Now, like Riposte in the Ribblesdale Stakes, he had become a vivid, living symbol of the continuity urged upon Lady Cecil in her husband's final days.
But she arrived to find the winner's circle had itself become a mocking symbol of her inner desolation. It stood void, hollow. Thomas Chippendale had suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after the winning post, his brave efforts producing a macabre token of the emptiness that can consume all else when the heart becomes too full.
So it was that Lady Cecil once again found herself groping for words that might impart some of her own dignity to the latest in a nightmarish sequence of melodramas for the sport.
Yet it had otherwise been a meeting that attested lavishly to the resilience and abiding quality of a professional community striving to prove worthy of a heritage Cecil himself adored – and one so venerable that their stewardship was measured against elite challengers from four continents. The magnificent Animal Kingdom had burned himself out in the opening race on Tuesday, and it instead fell to No Nay Never to leave a smouldering impression of the American sport on Thursday. The locals promptly rallied to Riposte and then Estimate, who won the Gold Cup in the royal silks.
Standards in the saddle had been equally exacting, not least with Joseph O'Brien seeming a talent ever more commensurate with that of his father. But it seemed especially harsh on a hugely seasoned compatriot, who once achieved great things himself at Ballydoyle, that tragedy should intrude upon the very success that sealed a remarkable fifth career title as the meeting's leading rider. For Thomas Chippendale was Johnny Murtagh's fourth success of a week during which he also saddled his first Ascot runners as a trainer. It had not seemed impossible, after he won the King's Stand Stakes, that he might retire on the spot. All the more gratifying, then, that his subsequent winners were fuelled by wholesome resentment of those inclined to call time prematurely on his riding career.
Wednesday had meanwhile seen a momentous breakthrough for James Doyle, whose three consecutive winners included Al Kazeem, now quoted hot favourite for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes back at the same course next month. But a formidable rival for that prize announced himself yesterday when Novellist, a maturing German colt, beat Dunaden in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
CHRIS McGRATH'S NAP: Confusing (8.50 Thirsk)
Finding his feet for his remarkable young trainer and a strong finish over 7f last time promised better again at this distance.
NEXT BEST: Zarosa (7.50 Thirsk)
Rain might help but gave the impression she is still improving for the patient handling of John Berry when foiled only narrowly in a messy race last time.
ONE TO WATCH: Gilbey's Mate (John Gosden) made a nice start to his career when emerging from midfield for fifth at Newmarket on Saturday.
WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING: Novellist is 6-1 with Paddy Power for the King George after his win in France yesterday.
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