Chris McGrath: Fillies' rematch in Nassau showdown may leave route clear for Mandesha to shine

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The downs at Goodwood wear sunshine like a summer frock, and the general sense of enchantment here this week will be complete if the big race today matches expectations.

In terms of feminine fascination, of course, the fillies contesting the Blue Square Nassau Stakes must meet some exacting standards. It is rare enough in sport, after all, for spectators to be more arresting than the spectacle – as many gentlemen, less fastidious than Lord March, will still consider to be the case here. But an even more demanding female paradigm was established last year, when Ouija Board and Alexandra Goldrun duelled for this prize in what was perhaps the race of the season.

Happily, the field this time looks well up to the job. Certainly this is the most intriguing race of the week: not just a decider between Light Shift and Peeping Fawn, but also a measure of the merits they share.

So far as their private differences are concerned, this is a home game for Light Shift in every sense. Having beaten the Irish filly when gaining first run in the Oaks, she got stuck in the mud at the Curragh. True, Peeping Fawn might well have beaten her at Epsom as well, had her jockey been able to guarantee her stamina at that stage, but this shorter distance, sharper track and faster surface all play to Light Shift's strengths.

Presented with a similar test round Chester in May, she was electrifying, and likewise settled matters at Epsom with a scalding turn of foot. In contrast Peeping Fawn has made all her improvement with cut in the ground.

Her supporters must instead pin their hopes on the unyielding work ethic of so many horses trained by Aidan O'Brien. Unraced before the spring, she has not merely absorbed a very demanding schedule but flourished for it. Light Shift, meanwhile, has a rather less robust physique and might conceivably prove ready for a break after her exhausting experience in Ireland.

And there must be a possibility that the two younger fillies, after banging their heads together a third time, will allow Mandesha to pick up the pieces.

The best of her sex in Europe last season, this time round the French filly has yet to match the form she showed in winning three consecutive Group One prizes at eight, 12 and 10 furlongs. But she hated soft ground on her comeback, and was then rather caught napping against colts last time.

Nannina may be better over a mile, but she did make the podium last year and represents an illuminating benchmark. For now the bottom line is that the three-year-old form is yet to be tested and, as such, Mandesha (3.20) must be reluctantly preferred in what has the makings of another classic encounter.

Siyasa can continue Godolphin revival

Everyone can agree that Godolphin's return to the big time here on Wednesday was a very wholesome development. In Rio De La Plata, they have finally discovered a potential champion among the hundreds of young horses to have passed through their hands during the past couple of years. And they have certainly excelled with Ramonti, their solitary Group One scorer of 2007. Less edifying was the revolting sycophancy prompted in places by this day of notable but overdue achievement.

Officially, the only thing that has changed since the stable's heyday is the horses. As if that is an excuse. Their horses don't just fall out of the sky. If Sheikh Mohammed and his managers are not complacent, nor are they helpless. Unofficially, at least, it seems safe to assume that some changes will indeed be made behind the scenes.

In the meantime everyone – and not just the flatterers, who are as superfluous in good times as they are useless in bad – can celebrate Godolphin's renewed oxygenation of competition at the top level. Yesterday Saeed Bin Suroor said that Rio De La Plata has come out of his race in great heart, and will probably run next in the National Stakes at the Curragh next month. And Stage Gift, whose success at York a week ago was itself a turning point, returns there for the Juddmonte International Stakes on 21 August. Bin Suroor also hopes that Rio De La Plata will not stand alone among the juveniles in his care. The next wave is headed by Siyasa, a sister to Fantastic Light who makes her debut at Newmarket this afternoon.

Blinkers to improve Beaver Patrol

As usual there are many tempting candidates for that breathless stampede, the Blue Square Stewards' Cup, but the shortlist can be reduced to three. Knot In Wood is ahead of the handicapper after finally getting it all together at Hamilton last time, and looks a worthy favourite. Fantasy Believer has made the frame in this twice already and also won the consolation race after missing the cut last year. He shaped as if returning to form last weekend, but at 28-1 with the sponsors it might pay to take a chance with Beaver Patrol (4.00). Back on fast ground for the first time since beating a similar field at Newmarket in the spring, he is tried blinkered after once or twice looking a little inattentive.

Purple Emperor (2.10) can reflect the good form of his stable in the opener, while Tobosa (2.45) can outclass his rivals after finding himself out of his depth, in terms of both the ground and the company, in France last time.

Jockeys lucky to escape in pile-up

The fourth day of the meeting was yesterday blessed by another gorgeous afternoon, and the sense of benediction extended to the three jockeys who escaped serious injury in a ghastly pile-up in the Totesport Mile. Traffic problems are routine here but 19 runners contesting £150,000 in prize-money ensured greater congestion than usual, and Joe Fanning, Darryll Holland and Ted Durcan were lucky to limp away in varying degrees of disrepair. Holland is suspected to have broken a thumb, while Fanning was able to walk into the ambulance that took him to hospital for precautionary chest X-rays. As for Durcan, he reckoned an ice pack on his ankle would enable him to ride Light Shift this afternoon. All the horses involved returned unscathed.

Impervious to the chaos was Third Set, favourite after winning another big prize at Ascot only on Saturday and able to save ground throughout from the best of the draw. He romped home, and his fertile week's work confirms the return to top form of his trainer, Roger Charlton, after a quiet start to the season.

Paul Nicholls was in the winner's enclosure after the Richmond Stakes, no doubt stemming any undue enthusiasm for Flat racing in one of his main patrons. Andy Stewart is a member of the partnership that won the Molecomb Stakes on Tuesday with Fleeting Spirit, and here they were again with Strike The Deal.

The champion jumps trainer must be glad that Jeremy Noseda confines himself to the Flat. All these men are accustomed to big winners, but in the saddle it was good to see Eddie Ahern given a chance at the level his talent deserves.

Dutch Art a threatto Bygone Days

Godolphin's resurgence could gain further momentum at Deauville tomorrow when Bygone Days contests the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs. He ran very well when detached from the main action at Royal Ascot and could go close, but faces a formidable opponent in Dutch Art, who returns to the scene of his success in another Group One prize here last summer. This colt has only been beaten once at sprint distances, when flying home for second in the July Cup at Newmarket last time. Despite his valiant efforts in defeat over a mile, this is clearly his true metier. He can remind everyone that the trainer setting the standards in Newmarket these days is called Peter Chapple-Hyam.

Comments