Hey ho. Another Racing Post Trophy, another Derby favourite. The cynical may raise here-we-go-again eyebrows at Kingston Hill's promotion to Epsom favouritism after yesterday's clear-cut success. But it is a fact that the mile contest on Town Moor is the best single modern juvenile guide to the premier Classic in the calendar, with four of its past dozen winners going on to the greater glory. And it is a pretty incontrovertible observation that its latest winner put up just as likeable a performance as did either High Chaparral, Motivator, Authorized or Camelot.
Kingston Hill provided an eighth success in the race for Coolmore interests, but this time with a refreshing difference. True, the colt carries the colours of Paul Smith, son of one of the established Co Tipperary partners, Derrick, and is by one of their empire's hot young sires, Mastercraftsman. But he is trained not by Aidan O'Brien, but by Roger Varian in Newmarket.
On the strength of a defeat of an O'Brien hotshot at Newmarket two weeks before and some encouraging homework since, Varian advised Smith to pay the £17,500 late entry fee for a tilt at yesterday's £150,000 Group 1 first prize and the pair had hardly a moment's worry that their judgement and investment would be rewarded. Kingston Hill was always travelling sweetly and, from the moment he quickened past the O'Brien trailblazer Buonarotti more than a furlong out, everything else was vainly playing catch-up.
Kingston Hill, the 7-2 favourite, had four and a half lengths to spare at the line, and although driven clear by Andrea Atzeni, was not even at full stretch; his flicking ears were a giveaway. The next four home were all Irish raiders: Johann Strauss, another from Ballydoyle, was followed in by Altruistic, Dolce N Karama and Buonarroti. The perceived O'Brien first string, Century, was undone by the heavy ground, an eased-down last, but despite that disappointment and being thwarted in his bid for a hat-trick in the prestigious contest (after Camelot and Kingsbarns) their trainer was the first to congratulate his colleague Varian.
Wide-margin victories in testing underfoot conditions can be viewed as suspect, as not all horses can cope with extremes. But Varian is adamant that Kingston Hill will be as, if not more, effective on more conventional ground. "He is such a beautiful mover," he said, "and horses like that usually operate well on faster going. He's also hardy, tough and sensible, the sort that conserves his energy for where it matters. For a young horse he's a true professional already. Nothing fazes him." Those qualities will stand Kingston Hill in good stead should he get as far as the nerve-stretching crucible on Epsom Downs next June. The grey is as short as 5-1 for the Derby in one betting list, even though he does not yet hold the entry. He did not see a racecourse until mid-September and is now unbeaten in his three runs. "He's always looked good," Varian said, "but I tend to be pessimistic until they do it on the track. What is encouraging is how far he's come in six weeks and he has the shape to be better next year."
Kingston Hill provided a few Group 1 firsts for the young team around him: Smith's in his own colours, Atzeni's in Britain and Varian's with a colt. "He's now being talked of as a Derby horse," Varian added, "but he's got terrific cruising speed and we may have to see about the Guineas as well. But we'll first have to see how he winters and what he's like in the spring."
The Racing Post Trophy is the final top-level prize of the domestic Flat campaign and, along with last night's temporal shift, came a further reminder of the change of seasons. At Aintree yesterday a certain Tony McCoy was seen at his best to take one of the early jumping features, the Old Roan Chase, on the Steve Gollings-trained Conquisto.
The perennial champion stalked the leaders until going to the final fence, where he asked the tiny eight-year-old to throw his heart over from a long stride. Conquisto answered with a will, landed running, and held on to score by a length and a quarter. "If he was a hand bigger he'd be a world-beater," Gollings said. "AP said he hadn't realised what he was made of. I told him it was probably the same stuff as himself."
Two more winners during the afternoon mean that McCoy is now 13 away from 4,000 winners.