Chris McGrath: Phoenix Tower offers distraught Cecil the prospect of reparation in Lockinge Stakes
Saturday 17 May 2008
Let us hope that he has not been relying too heavily on something so precarious. But the anguish in Henry Cecil was so obvious at York on Thursday that you have to fear otherwise.
There is no call to dwell unduly on his poor health, when he brings such dignity to his own predicament. Suffice to say, any mortal would be tempted to find succour in a good horse, in the possibility of greatness; to perceive a path, paved by a consoling destiny, back towards Epsom.
In the abruptness of defeat, Twice Over shook Cecil rudely from his dreams. The colt did not seem comfortable on the firm ground, but his trainer was too dazed, too chastened, to seek refuge in that excuse. He looked at Prince Khaled Abdulla, and knew in his heart he had squandered his old patron's loyalty.
Cecil had persuaded Abdulla to miss the 2,000 Guineas with Twice Over, with the Derby in mind. But for once that exquisite intuition of his had let him down. Though Twice Over needed to rally to beat Raven's Pass in the best Guineas trial, at no stage had he been outpaced. And here was Ted Durcan, sliding out of the saddle at York, grimly telling Cecil that Twice Over needs dropping back to a mile.
But wait. There is a reason why such an experienced horseman might deceive himself that racing's random favours are sometimes directed by providence. Horses do sometimes seem to serve as agents of redemption. And nobody should be remotely surprised if the same men – Cecil, Durcan and Abdulla – are delivered from their disappointment in the big race at Newbury today.
For a start, Abdulla's stud sponsors the Juddmonte Lockinge Stakes. Perhaps that influenced his team in coming here with Phoenix Tower, because they had been thinking in terms of 10 furlongs, rather than eight, when he won over nine at Newmarket last month. If so, they might have stumbled across his true métier.
Phoenix Tower was always going strongly that day, and the traffic problems that delayed his challenge disguised his clear superiority. That was only the fourth start of a staccato career, but he has yet to meet a faster horse and the odds, for once, take ample account of the need for a career best. He is very well bred, after all, and it is not as if those ahead of him in the betting have been stockpiling Group Ones.
The most intriguing is Haradasun, who did make the elite in Australia and has been exported to no less a yard than Ballydoyle. The word from Co Tipperary has been mixed, and he may need to find his bearings first time out. In the meantime, Phoenix Tower can drag Cecil from the flames.
No one sees Kelly until winning post
Anyone who doubts that racing can both cut you open, and salve the wound, will have found edifying proof on the final day of the Dante meeting. It is only 19 days since Shane Kelly completed a 12-month suspension for passing information, but at York yesterday he did something that a series of top jockeys have found beyond them – he persuaded Geordieland to win a race.
And not just any race, either. Jamie Osborne had tried dropping Geordieland in class, at Pontefract last autumn, but he managed to get himself beaten at odds of 1-4. Reappearing in the Emirates Airline Yorkshire Cup, he was ridden with stupefying nerve by Kelly, who restrained him on the bridle even as Royal And Regal, having controlled an idle gallop, broke five lengths clear halfway down the straight. When Kelly finally let him loose, Geordieland ran down his target just short of the post, and even then nearly pulled himself up.
"Shane's a bit rusty – he got there too soon!" Osborne grinned. "It's just a huge relief, having failed to win a race with him in two years. We'll have another shot at Yeats now at Ascot. For Shane to produce a ride like that, so soon after coming back, is just phenomenal. I think he has been the most badly treated guy in the history of racing. But I did not want him to ride out of charity. I wanted him to ride because I thought he'd suit the horse. He's a bloody good jockey."
Lush joins an equine Curragh mutiny
Parnell. De Valera. Collins. And now Jim Bolger.
Nowadays, of course the Irish patriot has no need of flaming barricades. Here is an insurrection of polite, meaningless words. Bolger needs only self-certainty – and he has never been short of that, even before Sheikh Mohammed made him so wealthy.
Mentor to two authentic greats, in Aidan O'Brien and Tony McCoy, Bolger clearly has a trace of genius. He can tie anyone in knots. Even, by the look of things, Sheikh Mohammed himself. When Bolger sold him New Approach last year, he seems to have retained jurisdiction over the colt's racing programme. We are unlikely to discover whether this was an eccentric act of charity to the trainer, or a condition of the sale.
Sure enough, Sheikh Mohammed once again finds himself without a Derby colt. New Approach, who carries the silks of his wife, would certainly be favourite at Epsom, but is instead being aimed at the Boylesports Irish 2,000 Guineas next weekend.
Now Bolger has compounded that studied insult to Epsom by hinting that Lush Lashes, who had the look of a stone-cold certainty for the Juddmonte Oaks when she won at York on Wednesday, will also stay at home.
Again, the blandness of his reasoning has a distinctly elaborate air. Throughout his career, Bolger has produced mares of unusual masculinity. Lush Lashes herself made her debut as the only newcomer in a huge field. The notion that she might be too tender to cope with another trip to these shores seems far-fetched.
Dermot Weld, meanwhile, is setting a puzzle of his own with another obvious Epsom candidate, Casual Conquest. While there may also be concerns over the colt's inexperience, Weld's chief problem is ostensibly an iniquitous entry system for the Derby, specifically a £75,000 supplementary fee.
No hint of mea culpa, of course, for his failure to add Casual Conquest to the field for just £8,000 in March. It was, Weld instead complains, a cold, wet spring. On the racecourse, however, his proved just about the most forward string in all Ireland. Regardless, Weld knows very well that £75,000 is not only an affordable risk to his wealthy patrons, but a perfectly proportionate stake relative to the rewards on offer.
If Casual Conquest, New Approach and Lush Lashes all try a mile and a half for the first time at the Curragh, the net result will of course be that the Irish Classics prove more significant, this year, than their ancient templates at Epsom. And that would doubtless suit Bolger just fine.
But there is a fine margin between patriotism and parochialism. Bolger's strategy may well be in the interests of Irish racing. But never mind any mischief Bolger may, or may not, intend towards the British. Is he acting in the best interests of racing, full stop? Would any person, claiming to do so, seek to cheapen the legacy of Epsom?
It might be clever, but it is not funny.
Retirements add to pressure on Brown
At least John Magnier still values the Derby. And few will feel confident that they are doing the smart thing if they choose a different path from the Coolmore boss.
His empire is entering a fascinating new phase, following the retirement this week of both Sadler's Wells and Storm Cat, on account of failing fertility. Sadler's Wells is the founding father of Coolmore, which had also invested heavily in the American champion sire.
Two of Sadler's Wells's sons, Galileo and Montjeu, had already taken on his mantle at Coolmore. But Sheikh Mohammed's recent kleptomania in the stallion market will put Coolmore under pressure, in the medium term. How timely, then, that the top rookie sire this season is their son of Storm Cat, One Cool Cat.
The betting is very short that one of these empires will get its hands on Big Brown (below), the sensational Kentucky Derby winner. A stud deal was due to be revealed on the eve of his appearance, in Pimlico today, in the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. But the announcement was postponed pending resolution of final details.
Success today would guarantee a frenzy of Triple Crown hype in the build-up to the Belmont Stakes. And, rather than any of the other horses, only the generosity of his effort at Churchill Downs – just a fortnight ago – seems capable of menacing Big Brown's enormous value in the Preakness.
Distance offers new dawn for Sundowner
One of Galileo's sons deserves a second chance in the big handicap at Newbury today. SUNDOWNER (nap 3.20) managed to beat two subsequent winners in his maiden but, kept to a mile for his handicap debut at Windsor, found himself marooned off a steady pace. The extra distance here can help him confirm the initial impression that he has a very fair rating.
Apply two coats of whitewash
Anyone who sat through the farcical proceedings at the Old Bailey last winter – when the good name of racing was contaminated not by some sinister conspiracy, but by the ignorance of those who thought they had discovered one – will be amused to learn that the police got "the overall direction and control of the investigation" right.
Such, at least, is the opinion of Commander Patrick Rice, who yesterday completed a City of London Police review of the collapsed case against Kieren Fallon and several others. Rice did, however, admit that some areas had been identified "where we need to tighten up our processes and modify our ways of working".
Only the previous day, an independent review had exonerated the British Horseracing Authority of any culpability in the preparation, conduct or initiation of the case. Shake hands, in other words, and forget it?
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