One aspect that this sport should never forget as it strives to maintain its slipping foothold in public consciousness is that of spectacle. Much else – punting, politics, championships, challenges – is woven into the tapestry of interest but it is the look of the thing, in the form of the beauty of the beast, that is the initial draw for many.
And here yesterday, many an eye was gladdened by one of the oddities in the calendar, a race exclusively for grey horses. And although only an inconsequential low-grade sprint, there was no denying its aesthetic value to a charmed audience. Dappled light glinted on dappled hides as 16 silvered darlings paraded beneath a cathedral roof of trees before massing for a dashing white charge down the track.
The jockeys' motley contrasted strikingly with the cool-hued coats of their monochrome mounts. Not that shades of grey, from the near-black tempered steel of Isabella Romee to the milky paleness of Sir Edwin Landseer, are dull, though. There was Nickel Silver, with platinum flashes among the iron; Hits Only Jude, with his rocking-horse rump and the winner Sarah's Art, her pewter set off by a snow-white mane and tail.
Grey horses comprise a tiny proportion of the thoroughbred population and at one time the colour was endangered, until the emergence of the brilliant grey The Tetrarch as a sire of note nearly a century ago. His influential descendants to have propagated the smoky jacket in the past include Mahmoud, Grey Sovereign, Abernant, Zeddaan, Kalamoun and Caro, a job being carried on today by the likes of Linamix, Highest Honor, Dalakhani and Verglas. None of yesterday's contestants – the race was a six-furlong 0-85 handicap – could be mentioned in the same breath as the Flat game's amazing greys, but every one of them owes his or her grizzled coat to The Tetrarch. Sarah's Art is a seven-greats grand-daughter of the 1913 juvenile champion.
If the style was here, the substance was at Newbury. After a stuttering start to the season, the Godolphin operation has hit form and 11-10 favourite Kite Wood duly made it winner No 18 this month with an impressive success in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes.
Disappointment followed swiftly, though, as Evasive, expensively head-hunted in June to boost the three-year-old strength in Sheikh Mohammed's elite stable, came in a tame sixth in the Hungerford Stakes as Balthazaar's Gift exploded to victory.
Kite Wood was acquired as a Derby prospect by Godolphin after his promising juvenile campaign but any chance he may have had at Epsom disappeared before the start when he had a temper tantrum. But it seems the handsome son of Galileo is finally growing up, for his demeanour yesterday was perfectly composed, and his performance was a fine trial for a different Classic.
Taken to the front, wide of his rivals, he raced sweetly for Frankie Dettori. A quarter of a mile out all of those behind were flat to the boards and although he drifted right from the centre of the track to the stands' side rails in the closing stages, he stayed on strongly again once straightened and had three-and-a-half lengths to spare over Halicarnassus. Kite Wood is now challenging Harbinger, who runs in Tuesday's Great Voltigeur Stakes at York, for St Leger favouritism. "He stays very well," said Dettori, "but this ground was much too quick for him, which is why he was hanging right. But he's still won by a good margin and he's maturing well."
On his 42nd start, six-year-old Balthazaar's Gift produced what was close to a career-best effort to take the Hungerford Stakes, held up in the bunch by Philip Robinson before bursting round and swiftly past Plum Pudding inside the final furlong for a three-length success. "I think he's got the potential to be top-class," said trainer Clive Cox. The Group One Prix de la Foret at Longchamp in October is now on the radar.
For all Godolphin's recent quantity, top quality has been lacking in Europe this year. The team has two chances this afternoon to get on the Group One scoreboard, with Gladiatorus in the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville, where he faces the crack filly Goldikova, and with Eastern Anthem in Cologne.Reuse content