It has not quite been an annus mirabilis to rival that at Ballydoyle, but no one at 4, Avenue du General Leclerc will be complaining. The master of that Chantilly training establishment, Freddy Head, yesterday brought his Group One tally to three in 24 days when Goldikova upstaged two Classic-winning rivals, Darjina and Natagora, to take the Prix Rothschild. The filly followed the elite hoofprints of her stablemates Marchand D'Or, winner of the July Cup, and Tamayuz, who took the Prix Jean Prat.
Head is most unfairly best-remembered in these parts as the jockey who failed to negotiate Tattenham Corner on much-fancied Lyphard in the 1972 Derby. But he also rode three winners of the 1,000 Guineas, so clearly knows a talented filly when he sees one. "I did expect a performance of this calibre," he said of Goldikova's decisive half-length success. "She has progressed a lot since the spring."
The fact that the Head stable hare, Spring Touch, could not go fast enough to get to the front mattered not one jot. Natagora dispelled any worries about a false French gallop down the straight seaside mile at Deauville as she reprised the trailblazing tactics that brought her victory in the 1,000 Guineas, but at a much more ferocious pace. Going to the final furlong she could give no more and Olivier Peslier, who had stationed Goldikova in her slipstream, pulled round and quickened away.
Darjina, with Christophe Soumillon on board, followed, but what might have been a head-to-head tussle came to nothing as Goldikova drifted slightly right to the centre of the course, away from Peslier's whip, and Darjina markedly left, towards the stand-side rail. Natagora came in two lengths adrift, with Mark Johnston-trained Nahoodh an unthreatening fourth, another three lengths back.
"Natagora went far too fast for our leader, but I got a good position anyway," said Peslier. "Mine was looking about a bit in the final furlong, but that is normal on a straight course, and why I changed my whip."
Head, who retired from the saddle 11 years ago, on his 50th birthday, had his first Group One success when Marchand D'Or won the Prix Maurice de Gheest in 2006, and his second with the same humbly bred grey gelding, now Europe's top sprinter, in the same race 12 months ago.
As a daughter of Anabaa from the Wertheimer family of another top miler, Gold Splash, Goldikova has a heritage to match her talent. "She was able to follow the pace without being too keen," added Head, "She is an exceptional filly with a lot of speed."
Goldikova's step up the hierarchy, though, only threw the ability of Zarkava, comfortably her mistress in the French Guineas and Oaks earlier in the year, into sharper relief. And the pair are unlikely to meet again, though, to test Head's view of his charge's improvement; Zarkava now has middle-distance prizes in her sights.
Darjina, Zarkava's year-older Alain de Royer-Dupré stablemate, was undoubtedly inconvenienced by the watering-softened ground; indeed, her participation was at one stage in doubt. It was the fourth time in as many runs this term, all at the highest level, that last year's French Guineas winner had found one too good.
But although the gamble at Ballydoyle in keeping another of last year's distaff stars, now-retired Peeping Fawn, in training did not materialise, a four-year-old season for tough, globetrotting Darjina has paid off. Her second places in the Dubai Duty Free, Prix d'Ispahan, Queen Anne Stakes and yesterday's Deauville feature have earned her nearly £700,000, more than doubling her career haul. And given the right underfoot conditions, her turn in front will come again.
With the likes of Zarkava, Goldikova, Natagora and Darjina in France, and Moonstone, Halfway To Heaven and Lush Lashes in Ireland, it will be up to Look Here to fly the flag for British filly pride in the Yorkshire Oaks next week. The Epsom heroine may be abetted in her task by Passage Of Time, who ran with such credit behind Halfway To Heaven and Lush Lashes when third in Saturday's Nassau Stakes.
Johnny Murtagh, whose golden year was allegorised in a hebdomas mirabile at Goodwood – a record-equalling eight winners, including the three features on the Ballydoyle trio Henrythenavigator, Yeats and Halfway To Heaven – took a day off yesterday to recharge. His stable's assault on top-level winner No18 for the year will come on Mount Nelson in the Arlington Million in Chicago at the weekend.
On successive Saturdays, Murtagh's alertness has brought victory to horses stepping up in distance for the first time, though in contrasting tactical styles. Duke Of Marmalade won by coming from off a true gallop, Halfway To Heaven by dictating more slowly. After the Nassau Stakes, the Irishman, fitter and more content than he has ever been, revealed that he had travelled twice as far as the filly that day. "I went two miles five [furlongs] round the course that morning," he said. "I enjoy running, it keeps me physically right and clears my head. And keeps me sharp mentally."