Glorious Goodwood: Heaven for O'Brien is hell for Bolger
Murtagh makes his own luck to land the Group One Nassau Stakes as Manning finds his path blocked on the short-priced favourite
Sunday 03 August 2008
So, it was heaven seventeen here for Aidan O'Brien and the team at Ballydoyle, but this time good fortune was riding alongside the impeccable judgement thathas marked the Co Tipperary stable's previous 16 Group One victories this year. Halfway To Heaven won the Nassau Stakes, but inches behind her the even-money favourite Lush Lashes staked her claim to be the unluckiest loser of the season.
But then again, perhaps luck is self-made. Johnny Murtagh, on the winner, was always in the perfect position. Kevin Manning, on the runner-up, was not. Through a slow early pace, Mur-tagh was either first or second, leading or tracking Muthabara, avoiding any potential trouble. Manning stayed in the buffeting bunch behind, and when the time came to make his move he was stopped in his run not once, but twice, and fumbled his reins to boot.
Halfway To Heaven, winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas in May on her previous outing, upped the tempo a quarter of a mile out and led inside the final of the 10 furlongs with her untested stamina by now at full stretch. The daughter of Pivotal and the top sprinter Cassandra Go lasted home by two heads from Lush Lashes, who finished like a champagne cork once she saw daylight and hit her full stride, and Passage Of Time, with Heaven Sent only a neck away fourth.
"Looking at the race beforehand, I thought it could get tactical," said Murtagh. "The filly is very straightforward to ride, so we knew we could stay prominent if there was no pace or drop in if there was. And at Goodwood, you need to get the position you want early, before you start to climb. It's no good trying to make ground uphill.
"I did know I was in the right spot. Richard Hills [on Mutha-bara] and I had it to ourselves and were able to doddle round the bends and into the straight. I knew mine would quicken, but I wanted to save her as long as I could, and play to her strengths. In the end she had to be brave, but she toughed it out well. Her heart is one of the biggest things about her."
It was a second Nassau Stakes in a row for O'Brien, after the now-retired Peeping Fawn, but even the Ballydoyle camp admitted that this victory might have been fortuitous. O'Brien had remained in Ireland, but his travelling deputy, Pat Keating, said: "The other filly was murdered. But Johnny was in the right place. As usual." Lush Lashes' trainer, Jim Bolger, was philosophical. "You saw it and I saw it," he said, "but these things happen, and will do again. It's horseracing."
Murtagh ended the day as the meeting's champion with a record-equalling eight winners, a total that also included the week's two other prestige prizes, the Sussex Stakes on Henrythenavigator and the Goodwood Cup on Yeats for his own stable.
The world record for Group or Grade One winners in a year is the 25 posted by the US-based Bobby Frankel five years ago. O'Brien is not represented in the next top-level event on the European schedule, today's Prix Rothshild at Deauville, so his tilt at his 18th will come on Saturday, when Murtagh rides Eclipse Stakes hero Mount Nelson in the Arlington Million in Chicago.
Yesterday afternoon's richest prize, the six-furlong downhill Bluesquare Stewards' Cup, provided trainer William Haggas with not only his first success in the £100,000 sprint, but also a one-two as the 40-1 outsider Conquest, ridden by Dane O'Neill, pipped the 12-1 shot King's Apostle a head. Borderlescott (7-1), second last year and the winner in 2006, finished an honourable third.
Even his friends would not describe Conquest as the most resolute of performers. "I don't want to discredit the winner," said Haggas, "but the second is much more consistent and genuine. But Conquest has always had talent, and that gives half a chance, and he got lucky today."
Today at Deauville, the sole British raider in the first elite contest of the Normandy seaside season is the Mark Johnston- trained Nahoodh, whose rivals include two of France's bestfillies, three-year-old Natagora and the year-older Darjina.
Further afield, the focus of attention will be on Kentucky Derby hero Big Brown, appearing for the first time since the embarrassing anticlimax of his abortive bid for the US Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes two months ago. Six lesser performers take on the imposing bay colt in the HaskellInvitational at Monmouth Park.
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