Chris McGrath: Follow Acrostic to banish inglorious memory of Epsom
Saturday 13 June 2009
No, Fame And Glory didn't win the Derby, did he? Funny you should mention that. I noticed it too. Hey, far out. After an infamous, inglorious Epsom, some of us badly need a weekend as innocuous as this one. The glazed expression, after all, is seldom ideal for perusal of the formbook, with its dense print. And somehow, by Tuesday, we are supposed to restore morale and confidence – never mind reserves of credit – for five afternoons of white-knuckle betting at Royal Ascot.
True, Fame And Glory was only beaten by one colt, who happened to be the first 2,000 Guineas winner in two decades competent to add the Derby itself. Gracelessly, it remains possible to wonder if things might have turned out differently had the Ballydoyle pacemakers not been ridden as though escorting a hearse. The chances are that Sea The Stars would have won anyway, but nobody managed even to prod the underbelly of his stamina. At the very least, he should have been obliged to pass Fame And Glory to get to the front.
By all accounts Aidan O'Brien was lost for words after the race, and he was not alone in that. It must be pretty chastening to saddle the second, third, fourth and fifth in the Derby, of course, and still more so if they crossed the line more or less together. If you leave Sea the Stars out of the equation for the moment – and he may well run elsewhere anyway – it would be no surprise whatsoever to see Fame And Glory emerge some lengths the best of the Ballydoyle colts in the Irish Derby at the end of the month.
Clearly the misapprehension that he would do something similar at Epsom was shared by others with superior resources, and possibly superior information, too. In such a deep, public market, it takes unusual conviction for a horse to crash from 4-1 to 9-4 in the minutes before the Derby.
All in all, it was a pretty chastening day for Ballydoyle. O'Brien was also author of an unhappy public relations episode when failing to get his six runners into the parade ring on time. As for the deployment of those horses, once they got onto the track, anyone who accuses the stable of getting its race strategy wrong can dismount that high horse pretty sharpish next time there are mutterings about "team tactics". You cannot have it both ways.
Anyway, there's no point in crying over sour grapes. Sea The Stars was the worthiest of winners – a placid, masculine creature, blessed with terrific flair – in the hands of two modern masters. John Oxx, his trainer, would talk to the Aga Khan in precisely the same fashion as he would to a stable lad, while Michael Kinane rides as cool and hard as marble.
O'Brien, meanwhile, has had little opportunity to dwell on what happened, as Ascot is scarcely less of a priority for his patrons, when it comes to establishing the reputation of future stallions. Last year O'Brien won them no fewer than six races at the meeting, including four Group Ones.
Five of them, however, were older horses and the stable seems to have a sudden deficiency in this department, most of the eggs being in one venerable, rather fragile basket. Yeats will be back on Wednesday, seeking an unprecedented fourth success in the Gold Cup, but he showed an alarming lack of gusto on his return in the spring.
The timbre of the week could be radically altered by success for Yeats. As things stand, however, it must be acknowledged that few of the championship races have a vintage aspect. Some of the fields will lack both quantity and quality.
Perhaps the most ardent crowd of the week, indeed, will assemble in Wales, just a couple of hours after the Gold Cup. The first meeting staged at Ffos Las could hardly have found a more discreet place in the calendar, but it is already sold out and the races look set to be oversubscribed by trainers from Wales, England and Ireland. The signs are very promising after the dismal failure of Great Leighs, so soon interred as racing's own, suppurating parable of the great credit fantasy.
For those of you who did not lurch out of Epsom, dazed and smarting, there is ample opportunity to sample the feeling during a competitive afternoon of televised racing. The Reg Griffin Trophy is the highlight of the charity card at York, and Definightly (3.10) looks back on a fair mark after struggling to get home over an extra furlong in bad ground last time. Acrostic (nap 2.35) meanwhile caught the eye when short of room on his comeback the other day, and retains the right to further progress this season.
His trainer, Luca Cumani, must have been aghast to see Forte dei Marmi (1.50) raised 8lbs for a short-head success at Goodwood last time, but he did have loads in hand after meeting traffic and can follow up down at Sandown. Brave Echo (2.20) is undoubtedly well handicapped, while Fault (3.25) could prove good value as another improver for his excellent trainer, Stef Liddiard.
Those needing a little longer to recuperate from Epsom, however, will notice that several of the big races next week already have very dominant favourites.
In other words, everything is in place for some death-or-glory stuff. And, with none at Epsom, a little bit of glory seems overdue. Come on, Scenic Blast!
Fantasia faces tough Prix de Diane test
Jean-Claude Rouget's stable, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, has already produced four individual Group One winners this season, and tomorrow one of them goes to Chantilly as hot favourite for the Prix de Diane.
Stacelita preserved her unbeaten record when cruising home in the Prix Saint-Alary at Longchamp last time, but that was an elite field only in name and Rouget's other runner, Tamazirte, had certainly rubbed shoulders with better rivals a week previously, when second in Classic company over a mile at the same track. Tamazirte must prove her stamina here, however, and Fantasia, a rather disappointing favourite when third that day, has much stronger staying power.
Her owner, George Strawbridge, is due some compensation for his dispiriting fortunes with Rainbow View. Perfectly understandably, that filly was afforded priority in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket, and then again, perhaps not quite so cogently, in the Oaks. Admittedly Fantasia's sensational performance at Newmarket in the spring has been placed in perspective by the modest achievements of her rivals since, but she retains more physical scope than Rainbow View and could yet go a long way during the coming months.
And while she may be the only overseas runner, she is actually rather closer to home than the favourite.
Nap: Acrostic (2.35 York)
NB: Brave Echo (2.20 Sandown)
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