Racing is currently doubly blessed, and now that the rare brilliance of Frankel is back under wraps until its owner's autumn swansong, the focus can sharpen on this season's less dazzling, but no less compelling, entry in the sport's history books. In 19 days' time another unbeaten colt, the 2,000 Guineas and Derby hero Camelot, will contest the St Leger, and with it the opportunity to become only the 16th Triple Crown winner, and the first since Nijinsky 42 years ago.
Camelot is long odds-on to succeed but – as was demonstrated in Wednesday's Juddmonte International, when rivals from four other stables were deployed to take on Frankel – a kernel of hope must always exist. Here yesterday Guarantee became the latest to present his credentials as a challenger with a clearcut success in the Melrose Stakes, a high-grade handicap over the St Leger mile and three-quarters.
The son of Authorized, trained by William Haggas for one of the upmarket Highclere ownership syndicates, did not make his debut until the middle of June this year, when he finished second. Since then he has not been beaten in three runs, with yesterday's effort – a step up in class and distance – confirming his rapid progress.
Ridden by Philip Makin, Guarantee swept from the back of the field to lead inside the final furlong and stretch three-and-a-half lengths clear of another upwardly mobile type in Biographer. "My gut reaction is to go for the Leger," said Haggas. "Why not? He's come a long way since June, and although he'll probably have to come on further to trouble Camelot, he's an improving young horse and a good strong stayer. And he's owned by a group of 20 people who want to enjoy the game, and you so rarely get a shot at a Classic." Guarantee is judged a 16-1 shot – to Camelot's 1-3 – for the St Leger by sponsors Ladbrokes.
As the oldest, toughest and longest Classic approaches, one essential quality for victory, stamina, will come under the microscope. But grit is an asset long prized in this county, once the cradle of the thoroughbred, and thoroughly examined in yesterday's programme.
The day's classiest senior contest, the Lonsdale Cup, produced a welcome victory for John Dunlop. The veteran trainer has had a lean season: Times Up, the 11-1 winner of yesterday's two-miler, was only his seventh success of the domestic campaign.
With the 13-8 favourite Saddler's Rock winding the tempo up from halfway after a slow early gallop, and several of his fancied rivals likewise committing early in the straight, the contest was set up for a challenge from off the pace. As Saddler's Rock went backwards, Times Up, a chance mount for the meeting's leading rider, William Buick, duly charged through to lead inside the final furlong, chased home by High Jinx and Godolphin stablemates Lost In The Moment and Cavalryman.
Though the most prestigious prize on offer yesterday, the Group Two race was not the richest. The mile- and-three-quarter Ebor Handicap, with £140,000 to the winner, is the most valuable of its kind in Europe but is won not necessarily by the best horse, but the best at the weights. Yesterday that was Willing Foe, who gave the Godolphin team compensation for their places in the Cup, and filled in a rare blank on Frankie Dettori's CV as he prevailed by a neck from Royal Diamond.
The five-year-old, a 12-1 shot trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, was a willing partner as the Italian galvanised him from a wide draw to grind down Irish raider Royal Diamond, with another 16-1 chance, Number Theory, third and the well-backed 7-2 favourite Motivado fourth.
"It's taken me 25 years to win this," said Dettori, bouncing back in style from a fall the previous day, "but at last my day has come. I know it's only a handicap, but it's one of the most important of the season." Now that he has won the top staying handicap in these parts, Willing Foe may join the Godolphin team for the world's most famous, the Melbourne Cup.
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