It is difficult to say which is more staggering – the fact that Prince Of Johanne, apparently exposed at the age of six, could be artfully brought to a new peak in a race as chaotically competitive as the Hunt Cup, two starts after winning the Cambridgeshire at 40-1; or that he was Tom Tate's first winner of 2012.
Either way, with his predilection for fast ground, Prince Of Johanne is unlikely to make the short journey to York on Saturday for the John Smith's Cup. "Put it this way," Tate said yesterday. "We've been trying to make hay for the last two months." In his admirably temperate way, however, the Tadcaster trainer is retaining a measured perspective on a difficult climate on and off the track.
"The fact is I've hardly any horses," he said. "The thing is, I'll always go for a good one. But I'm not terribly inspired by horses at the lowest level. Those horses are a waste of time. And there's not a lot of cash in the North of England these days. But I'll find another good one, you wait and see."
Tate has won too many admirers, both in the early days over jumps and now on the Flat, for anyone to doubt that – among them Jim and Fitri Hay, who own six of just 16 individual starters for the yard this year. "He's a keen gambler, is Jim, and I think he'd followed my horses for a number of years," Tate remarked.
The freshest testimony to his talent, moreover, is as persuasive as any. Prince Of Johanne was rated only 73 barely 18 months ago, but has now been raised another 6lb after scoring off 100 at Ascot last month. "He'd gone very sour," Tate said. "But he's always had lots of natural ability, and is very sound. And once a horse like that sweetens up and starts trying for you, the sky's the limit."
Prince Of Johanne is certainly eligible for "promotion" out of handicaps now, albeit hardly encouraged by the relative rewards at Listed or Group Three level. Saturday's race, for instance, is itself worth £150,000, and if obliged to sit that out Tate will aim the horse at another big handicap at Goodwood. "The mile there would suit him better anyway," he said. "But I might run Kings Gambit in the York race. He's getting towards the end of his career, but we might be able to breathe a bit of life into him yet."
Brown Panther, who gave Michael Owen his first Royal Ascot success last year and returned to form at Pontefract last time, will go for the Betfair King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday week.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Grey Seal (3.40 Yarmouth) Typically progressive type for her trainer, and proved ahead of the game when raised to this trip for her handicap debut.
Alpha Tauri (4.20 Catterick) Shaped well for a change of tactics on his debut for a new trainer last time, looking ready to exploit his lower turf rating.
One to watch
Hasbah (Peter Chapple-Hyam) Made a promising start for a stable back in the groove when fourth after cruising at Yar-mouth last week.
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