Markab is sweet for Candy but has O'Brien feeling sick
Irish trainer lands two Group Ones but hat-trick bid bites the dust at Haydock
Two out of three ain't bad, you suppose, if you're talking Group One prizes in an afternoon. In little more than an hour, Aidan O'Brien had welcomed both Cape Blanco, after the Irish Champion Stakes, and Lillie Langtry, after the Matron Stakes, into the Leopardstown winner's circle. Between times, the one that got away was Starspangledbanner, fifth as favourite behind Markab in the Sprint Cup at Haydock.
None of the day's three features actually went to the market leader, and ironically the best-fancied was another from Ballydoyle. Rip Van Winkle did manage the runner-up spot, at 8-11, behind Cape Blanco, but never looked like being better than second, thoroughly put to the sword by his young stablemate.
For Cape Blanco's rider, Seamie Heffernan, it was a second top-level victory in six days on a mount rejected by Johnny Murtagh, after Misty For Me in the Moyglare Stud Stakes. And for the second time the sub confessed he would have chosen the same horse as the Co Tipperary operation's No 1. "It's a bit embarrassing to admit that, isn't it?" he said. "Maybe it's just as well that I just sit on what I'm told to."
In a six-horse field Heffernan followed tactical instructions to the letter, setting a strong rhythm up front on the Irish Derby winner, a horse guaranteed to stay every yard of yesterday's 10 furlongs. Murtagh sat off the pace on Rip Van Winkle but his Plan A started to go awry when Cape Blanco (6-1) found another gear and powered five-and-a-half lengths clear.
It was the first time Heffernan had sat on the Galileo chestnut this year; he is jealously guarded in his homework by O'Brien's son Joseph. "It was always the plan to make the running," added the winning jockey, "unless anything could get by me at the pace I wanted to go. He stays, but he has a great cruising speed and it was when I went past the four-marker and he picked up again I realised nothing was going to get by at all."
In a bunch finish for the minor honours Rip Van Winkle at least confirmed his superiority over old rival Twice Over, whom he beat at York last month. Inches behind came the third Ballydoyle challenger, Beethoven, with O'Brien Jnr in the saddle.
The three-year-old Cape Blanco's victory propelled him up the bookmakers' lists for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, for which he is now as short as 8-1. His year-older stablemate Fame And Glory is favourite.
"He's a big, powerful, determined horse," said O'Brien. "At home he only does what he has to; he's so laid-back that you could light a fire under him and he wouldn't move until you asked him. But Joseph has said that he's getting better all the time."
Murtagh was on board Lillie Langtry (7-2), producing the pretty brown three-year-old to catch the gallant Spacious in the last few strides and beat her a neck in the mile distaff contest, with the 2-1 favourite Music Show a close third. "That was a peach of a ride," said O'Brien, "she hardly knew she had a race." Arc weekend also beckons for the daughter of Danehill Dancer, with the Prix de l'Opera the next target.
At Haydock, Starpangledbanner's supporters knew their fate after three of the six furlongs. The field of 13 had split into two and at the halfway point the uneasy 11-8 favourite was losing his battle with Lady Of The Desert at the head of the pack on the far side of the course. But it was the leader of the stands-side group, the 12-1 chance Markab, who was in control and, despite drifting towards the centre of the track under Pat Cosgrave in the closing stages, had a length and a quarter to spare over Lady Of The Desert at the line, breaking the course record in the process. Genki (20-1) and Kingsgate Native took third and fourth.
Markab, a seven-year-old Green Desert gelding trained by sprint specialist Henry Candy, had run second at the top level at Royal Ascot before disappointing in a lesser race at Newbury. "He got jarred up a little at Ascot," said Candy, "and though I thought he'd recovered before his next run, he hadn't. He has now won a Group One and it is incredible. I'd say 99.9 per cent of horses his age don't carry on improving but he has, and still is. He's bigger and stronger than ever, a very happy horse.
"If he is all right he will go for the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp, but if he proves to be a bit jointy after this he will have earned a break until next season."
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