It was not as easy as most people expected, but then that is the whole point. These prizes do not grow on trees, and the very fact that Henrythenavigator was forced to a photo here yesterday placed his trainer's record-breaking quest in due perspective. This narrow success in the BGC Sussex Stakes was Aidan O'Brien's 16th of the season at Group One level – and demanded fresh respect not only for the task ahead, if he is to eclipse Bobby Frankel's world record of 25, but also for everything he has already achieved.
By the same token, you could not have a better measure of how hard it is to win a Group One than Raven's Pass, who has finished fast and late for second in three mile championships. He had got within three-quarters of a length of Henrythenavigator at Ascot. This time it was only a head. In each case the poor thing was banging his head against a brick wall.
It was now or never for him, really, after the Ballydoyle pacemaker, Windsor Palace, proved barely competent for his duties. O'Brien admitted he was "very worried when he saw the pacemaker was flat out and couldn't extend". Perhaps some of the curious recent suspicions about the stable's tactics might be stifled by this empirical demonstration. The stable's additional runners have nothing to conceal. Quite the reverse, in fact: they give lesser animals nowhere do hide.
As it was, Johnny Murtagh found himself obliged to make his move two furlongs out, and once Henrythenavigator had sailed clear he seemed to rest on his laurels. Raven's Pass steadily closed the gap, but Murtagh claimed he would never have been passed. "He won very easily at the line," the jockey declared. "They couldn't go fast enough for him. I'd say the time for the last two furlongs was exceptional. He won't be beaten this year."
That acquired the look of a very bold assertion when John Magnier, his owner, included the Breeders' Cup Classic among the colt's potential targets. The Coolmore boss reasoned that the race's transfer to a new, synthetic surface this year made it even more tempting than when O'Brien had tried his luck with Giant's Causeway, second in 2000, and, rather less successfully, with Galileo and Hawk Wing. As for the new distance, all concerned seem confident that Henrythenavigator will stay 10 furlongs. Ladbrokes make him 7-2 favourite for Santa Anita, but you can get 6-1 with Coral.
"We're going to try to stretch him out," Magnier said. "If he had got his ground, he would have run in the Derby. We had to come here, because we wanted to take on the older horses. I won't say he won't run in mile races again, but we're thinking of 10 furlongs now."
Certainly this strategy should be warmly received by the connections of Raven's Pass, who has long looked an ideal type for the sharp test of the Breeders' Cup Mile. John Gosden, his trainer, will meanwhile deliberate between the colt's love of summer ground and the possibility that he may need freshening up.
"Our slight problem was being drawn on the rail," he said. "We didn't want to get penned in, so we had to come round. You can't give Henrythenavigator a length and a half's start, but that's what we had to do. But we're thrilled with our horse and thank God we turned up. He'd have won by four lengths otherwise."
O'Brien will have to settle for a Group Two reward for another of his champions today when Yeats, under a penalty for his third Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, returns for the RBS Goodwood Cup. He enjoyed a lap of honour on his last visit here, two years ago, and it is instructive of his trainer's genius not only that Yeats looked in pristine condition at Ascot, at the age of seven, but also that the rival best qualified for second place is his own stablemate, Honolulu.
The Godolphin stable has good candidates for the other Group races, in Folk Opera and Dandy Man. Having been confined to crumbs from the Ballydoyle table this season, its managers will soon tell you just how easy it is to win Group Ones.Reuse content