Chris McGrath: Lillie confirms her status with emphatic Coronation

Inside Track at Ascot
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The Independent Online

Though Oscar Wilde described her very beauty as "a form of genius", the original Lillie Langtry was not just a pretty face.

Her own horse, Merman, won the Gold Cup here in 1900, but she eventually had the sense to shut down her racing stud and stable as too expensive a luxury. It is unlikely that her namesake's owners approached any such drastic resolution, during the first three days of this meeting. But they will certainly have been relieved yesterday when Lillie Langtry confirmed herself the outstanding filly of her generation, over a mile at any rate, with a decisive success in the Coronation Stakes.

John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore Stud have somehow contrived to sustain a commercial profit from the precarious business of raising and racing thoroughbreds. And over the years their principal stable, Ballydoyle, has introduced future stallions at this meeting by the dozen. This time round, however, they had endured an uncomfortably long wait for a good Friday.

The latest in a series of disappointments for the Co Tipperary team had come in the King Edward VII Stakes, where the favourite, At First Sight, failed to replicate his astounding run as pacemaker in the Derby. The effort of running second at Epsom, just 13 days previously, had clearly left its mark as he plodded on only for fourth behind Monterosso.

Succour was close at hand, however. Lillie Langtry had made an excellent return from injury - she fractured a knee at the Breeders' Cup last autumn - when finishing best for fifth in the Irish 1,000 Guineas last month. And here she finally gilded what had come to seem a blue-collar generation of fillies with some aristocratic flair.

The pace was by no means reckless, and Johnny Murtagh kept his mount handy on the rail before inviting her to take on Gile Na Greine in the straight. And while her challenge was fairly gradual, it was also inexorable, and she had opened up by just over a length come the post. Jacqueline Quest, who had lost the 1,000 Guineas in the stewards' room, proved that she did not depend solely on a draw bias for her surprising challenge that day, travelling well in midfield and staying on for third, another two lengths back.

She just held off Music Show, who had been settled a long way back by Ryan Moore. Anna Salai was the biggest disappointment, however, never landing a blow in seventh.

Mick Channon, trainer of Music Show, was sufficiently disgruntled to refer questions to the owner's racing manager, Bruce Raymond. "She was a little farther back than we would have liked," Raymond admitted. "But to get her in among them, and not leave her wide, Ryan had to take her back."

Aidan O'Brien, meanwhile, was paying due credit to his staff at Ballydoyle for restoring Lillie Langtry to peak form after her injury. He will now consider whether Lillie Langtry warrants a chance at a mile and a quarter, maybe at Goodwood. "I thought she was by far our best filly last year," Murtagh said. " Going to America, I was telling Aidan how far we were going to win the Breeders' Cup. That didn't happen, but thankfully she came back well in the Irish Guineas and she stepped up at home. Her homework was very good, coming here, and I thought she might do something like this today."

Having relieved the siege, Ballydoyle then pulled the Queen's Vase out of the fire with a relentless surge from Mikhail Glinka, who just nailed Theology on the line. Total Command had swept into the lead early in the straight, only to fade into third.

The Ladbrokes St Leger is an obvious target for Mikhail Glinka, who had been on the fringe of the Derby picture before suffering a setback last month.

The Leger is also on the agenda for Arctic Cosmos, who justified a rapid elevation in class when chasing home Monterosso. Frankie Dettori was impressed by the winner and encouraged Mark Johnston, his trainer, that he could now deserve a crack at the Irish Derby.

Memory confirmed the positive impressions of her Goodwood debut by just getting up from Margot Did in the Albany Stakes, a third winner of the meeting for Richard Hannon and his son-in-law, Richard Hughes. "She's small, but as good-moving a filly as I've sat on for a while," the jockey said.

If quotes of 20-1 for next year's 1,000 Guineas seem premature, then it is worth remembering the calibre of the filly who could only finish second in this race last year – a rather lovely creature named Lillie Langtry.

Turf Account


Society Rock (3.50 Ascot)

Obviously faces a stiff task but has a better chance than the odds suggest. He could be coaxed to a career best by a strong pace, and really took to the track on his one previous visit.

Next Best

Sweet Lightning (5.0)

Looks an improved horse for his new stable, just outpaced by a well treated rival last time but only after closing, suggesting he could win again restored to this longer trip.

One to watch

Margot Did (M L W Bell) lost her unbeaten record in the Albany Stakes yesterday, but the way she travelled confirmed her one of the fastest of her generation.

Where the money's going

Starspangledbanner is 7-1 from 8-1 with Totesport for the Golden Jubilee Stakes.