Fahey supplements 'baby' Gabrial to take on big boys
If the meeting seems set to open with two regal processions, rather than one, then at least some proper, unruly competition looks guaranteed soon after the monarch has admired Frankel following her down the straight at Royal Ascot on Tuesday.
The unbeaten champion is as short as 1-8 with Coral to reiterate his supremacy at a mile in the Queen Anne Stakes, having already proven himself in a different class from the few with the temerity to confirm their engagement at the five-day stage.
The next generation, though, still has much to resolve, as might be evinced from no fewer than 22 acceptors for the St James's Palace Stakes barely an hour later – two of them supplemented to the fray yesterday for a fee of £25,000 apiece.
One was Lucayan, shock winner in cheekpieces of the French equivalent to the 2,000 Guineas; the other, fascinatingly, was a colt beaten in two handicaps this spring but who none the less commands utmost respect – representing, as Gabrial does, two feisty, emerging forces at the elite level. Richard Fahey, of course, has long since earned the right to return Group One horses to Malton. It is to the discredit of the established bloodstock superpowers, then, that it has required a relative novice, in Dr Marwan Koukash, to get Fahey involved in this race.
Up against Classic winners, such as Power and Lucayan, Gabrial will still arrive very much as an outsider – Betfred introduced him at 25-1 – but could well prove one of those horses who raise their game according to the company they keep.
His first visit to Royal Ascot was admittedly a disaster, trailing in 20th of 23 in the Coventry Stakes last year after winning his first two starts. But Gabrial's subsequent disappearance confirmed that he had not been himself that day, and Fahey was duly convinced that he returned as a very well-handicapped colt.
Unfortunately Gabrial was repeatedly hampered on his comeback, and then threw away a race by hanging in desperate ground at Chester. Everything came together, however, in a valuable handicap at Haydock last time and connections have now fast-tracked him to the top tier.
True, Gabrial again failed to keep a straight course at Haydock, but Koukash puts that down to inexperience. "He's still a baby, still thinks it's a game," he explained yesterday. "But we believe he is a Group One horse. Hopefully with better quality horses around him he will learn more, and run a good race."
Betfred made Power 11-4 favourite, from Born To Sea and Lucayan on 8-1. It would take something fairly outrageous, of course, for any of them to show as a feasible Sussex Stakes rival for Frankel, who is himself likely to end up in another small field. His regular punchbag, Excelebration, remains more likely to renew rivalry than make way for his Ballydoyle stablemate, So You Think, who is instead expected to head for the Prince of Wales's Stakes the following day.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Sea Fever (9.20 Haydock) Half-brother to the classy Wigmore Hall, duly improved for a step up in trip, after three maiden spins to qualify for handicaps, and ahead of the game under a penalty if able to repeat that form.
Les Verguettes (2.30 Nottingham) Shaping well in both starts for Chris Wall, and creeps into this race on an indulgent turf mark
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