Chris McGrath: Macarthur's hidden reserves of stamina can outflank Duke in Ballydoyle pincer
Saturday 26 July 2008
The outlines being so similar, it is tempting not to bother too much with the detail. For Duke Of Marmalade, just like Dylan Thomas last year, arrives at Ascot today with an air of destiny.
Both had only sketched out their future mastery as three-year-olds: both, for instance, finished fourth of seven in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York. But by the time Dylan Thomas reached the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, he was ready for a coronation. And it is difficult to resist a corresponding fulfilment for "the Duke" – a son of the same stallion, in the same ownership, in the same stable, who has run in precisely the same races.
The only obvious difference, indeed, itself seems a propitious one, Duke Of Marmalade having won all three of the Group One races Dylan Thomas tackled on his way here. In contrast Dylan Thomas had been beaten by Notnowcato at the Curragh, and Manduro at Royal Ascot. Wind back the clock, however, and this one divergence in their profile may not augur quite so well for the hot favourite today.
For Dylan Thomas long gave the impression that his optimum distance was a mile and a half, but had previously been allowed to prove as much only in his two Derbys: beaten in a photo at Epsom, and romping home at the Curragh. Whereas Duke Of Marmalade originally had the cut of a Classic miler, and must prove his stamina today.
Danehill was amply versatile enough as a stallion not to stand in his way, but the other half of his pedigree permits no guarantees. It must be owned that his style of racing, so relaxed and professional, could hardly be more encouraging, but you never like to be making assumptions with an odds-on favourite.
Youmzain's success in a strong field at Saint-Cloud last time was fully deserved, but by the same token long overdue. After his serial defeats at this level, everything not only has to fall into place twice in row, but at much shorter odds.
With three out of eight places available, the outstanding bet has to be Macarthur each-way. A course-and-distance winner at the royal meeting, he had previously finished just behind Youmzain in the Coronation Cup, when thought by most to have been flattered by the run of the race. The reality may be he did too much, too soon, under an understandably opportunist ride.
His reappearance display at Chester had finally shown why he was viewed as a Derby colt last season, before losing his way. And, in this of all seasons, nobody could be remotely surprised if any weakness in the Ballydoyle favourite were best exploited by a horse from the same stable.
Ascot's pomp rises above circumstance
Sometimes people are so wary of complacency that they end up losing all self-respect. You can see this in the "debate" – if we may so dignify the vapid wringing of so many hands – that continues to undermine the new Ascot.
Say you had visitors from America this week, and wanted to impress them with British racing, ancient and modern. They would, for once, be able to set fairly exacting standards, Saratoga having renewed its intoxicating, resinous spell for the 140th time this week. Even so, it would not be terribly difficult. On Tuesday, you could take them to a still more beautiful racecourse, for a five-day pageant at Goodwood. And today you could show them that one British racecourse, at least, matches its heritage with a commensurate sense of its place in the world today.
Ascot is the only track in the country with the ambition (and resources) to produce a venue that palpably belongs in the Premier League of modern international racetracks. Having exhausted quibbles over the grandstand itself, however, people are now getting their teeth into today's big race. For the third year running, no three-year-olds are taking part. And the strong implication, in analysis of this trend, has been that Ascot is again losing its way; that it is allowing its legacy to ebb away.
Nonsense, of course. True, its place in the calendar has manifestly and unavoidably made the race less attractive for three-year-olds, who nowadays need to preserve sufficient fuel for valuable international prizes so much later in the year. It is no longer just the Breeders' Cup, itself a bridge too far for most three-year-olds that have persevered through the summer: these days they can keep going all the way to Hong Kong in December.
What's more, the French have provided Classic horses with tempting sanctuary from older rivals by desecrating the Prix du Jockey-Club and instead investing the Grand Prix de Paris, on Bastille Day, with Classic dignity.
But there is a fat lot Ascot can do about any of that. Its managers are unfortunate that Jim Bolger, who takes justifiable pride in his horses' powers of endurance, has his hands tied with New Approach. The Derby winner might very well have come here, but for the setback that has forced Bolger into the sort of hiatus more conventional trainers now consider essential.
Nor does it help that the other superpowers of the European sport are finding it so difficult to remain competitive with Ballydoyle. If only Godolphin could still match the ambitions they seemed better able to justify in their earlier years, then you would not have Coolmore picking and choosing the favourite for this prize, as has now happened three years running with Hurricane Run, Dylan Thomas and Duke Of Marmalade.
As it is, the panic over a "sub-standard" King George last year was placed in due perspective when the first two later filled the same positions in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. And the fact is that Youmzain, runner-up on both occasions and meanwhile winner of a very strong Group One in France, is not considered good enough to be favourite today. Some crisis, so.
Maybe it suits the spirit of the age to deprecate our greatest institutions. Perhaps it reflects a chronic awkwardness over the days when Britannia ruled the waves. We would not try that any longer; nor could we. But it is wrong to confuse pride with smugness. For you need pride to believe, and belief to fight. This is still a great race, run on a great racecourse.
Camera to sharpen Galileo's focus
The last Epsom winner to follow up in the King George was Galileo, who is now threatening to surpass even his outstanding racecourse record in his second career at stud.
His own juvenile campaign was confined to one start in the autumn, over a mile in heavy ground. (He won by 14 lengths.) Now, however, he is coming up with juveniles capable of winning over sprint distances on summer ground. Kissing The Camera (2.35) is one such, having beaten a subsequent winner over six furlongs in May. With Jeremy Noseda's stable reviving after a disappointing royal meeting, she can improve past Danidh Dubai in the Princess Margaret Stakes – a race sponsored by this newspaper.
Mastership (3.40) hit traffic at Newmarket last time but showed that he is hitting top gear for his new trainer, and has a still more valuable opportunity off the same mark in the Totesport International Handicap. Perfect Stride (3.05) boiled over in the 2,000 Guineas, and has disappeared since, but Sir Michael Stoute ran him there for a reason and the handicapper must have gulped nervously when settling on a rating of 89 today.
Two Guineas for the price of one...
You might not think it a terribly dignified dilemma, to have backed two horses for Classics next year that then run against each other in a four-horse race before the end of July.
But mark this. The first horse home in the 2,000 Guineas that had not already run this time last year was Moynahan, who finished sixth and made his debut in the maiden run at Goodwood on Tuesday. There are exceptions, of course, horses like Golan and Footstepsinthesand. But the general principle applies that if they don't bite as puppies, they don't bite as dogs.
If you share this awe for Galileo – and for the two trainers to have done most with his progeny to date – you may agree it is by no means far-fetched to hope that the winners of both 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas may have bumped into each other at Leopardstown on Thursday night.
Cuis Ghaire was beaten for the first time, but looked unhappy on ground that her trainer, Jim Bolger, described as "a disgrace". Rip Van Winkle, meanwhile, looks by far the most feasible Guineas colt among the Ballydoyle juveniles seen so far. The hunch is that those still to come may prove Derby types instead, whereas Rip Van Winkle is out of a Stravinsky mare.
The double still pays three figures, so please don't laugh at those of us who can't help going in again...
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