One mark of a superior performer in any field is to succeed despite, rather than because of, circumstances. The four-year-old filly Midday showed determination in adversity here yesterday, overcoming the disadvantages of a pedestrian early pace and an absence of more than two months to take the Group One feature, the Nassau Stakes, for the second successive year. Once again she was a top-level advertisement for the skill of the trainer Henry Cecil, whose dignity and courage in the face of severe illness has been documented. If it is true, as whimsy has it, that people begin to resemble their animals, perhaps the reverse also applies.
Midday, as usual partnered by Tom Queally, was only the third dual winner of the 10-furlong contest, after Ruby Tiger and Roussalka, the last-named also prepared by Cecil, who was winning the race for the seventh time. Though the best horse he has trained was a colt, Reference Point, his record with fillies and mares is outstanding, as the likes of Bosra Sham, Oh So Sharp, Diminuendo, Ramruma, Reams Of Verse, Indian Skimmer and now Midday have stood testament through the decades.
Yesterday's heroine hurt herself when second at York in May, and has now repaid Cecil's patience and empathy. "She came back then jarred up and sore," he said. "She's stronger than last year but she's become quite heavy-shouldered with it and on firm ground that stresses her front joints, which aren't the best, we've had to be careful with her since."
Before allowing Midday to take her chance for yesterday's £122,169 prize, Cecil reassured himself that the going was sufficiently safe which, after some rain and judicious management by the ground staff, it was. After the stalls opened, though, things began to go slightly awry as the leader, Barshiba, went off at a moderate pace.
The sharp end of proceedings developed into a sprint and although Midday had first run on her rivals, quickening clear a quarter of a mile out, she seemed to lose concentration once in front, handing the initiative to Stacelita. But once eyeballed by the French raider, Midday remembered her job and found another gear to scoot ahead by a length and a quarter, drifting towards the centre of the track in the process. There was slight contact between the fillies in the closing stages, prompting a stewards' enquiry, the first to be broadcast live on TV, a fairly underwhelming experience for viewers given there was never a chance that the placings would be reversed. Queally, however, was given a two-day suspension for careless riding.
Midday carries the colours of her breeder, Khaled Abdullah, the mainstay of ownership support at Warren Place through troubled times. "She's getting a bit lazier as she gets older," said Cecil of the daughter of Oasis Dream, "and quickening off a slow pace does not suit her at all. She prefers to wind up gradually and when she hit the front today she thought she'd done enough. But she's very genuine and tough and battled well when the other one challenged."
Next month's Yorkshire Oaks is now pencilled in, followed by a defence of her Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf in Kentucky. "That's the plan," said Cecil, "But with these fillies you have to feel your way, and go with them, not dictate to them. You can't tell them when they will run, you have to wait for them to tell you. If you're not patient you'll end up with nothing at all."
There was something of an action replay, too, in the Stewards' Cup, as Evens And Odds thundered home to deny Jonny Mudball by a neck in the last few strides. The 20-1 shot was the third winner in the six-furlong dash for the trainer Dandy Nicholls, for whom valuable handicaps are a specialist subject.
Evens And Odds was a career high for the tiny 22-year-old apprentice Billy Cray. "I know the horse stays a bit further than six," he said, "so the plan was to miss a couple of lengths early and come late. I was never absolutely sure I'd get there, I just kept riding and hoped I would."
Jonny Mudball was one over the bar for the Tottenham player Jonathan Woodgate, but Sir Alex Ferguson was on target when the two-year-old Pausanias, of whom he is joint-owner, made a successful debut in the next. The youngster's trainer, Richard Hannon, and rider, Richard Hughes, ended their sensational week as record-breaking champions on nine winners apiece.
Top-class fillies take centre stage again today when the queen of France, Goldikova, faces seven, including Music Show from Britain, in the Prix Rothschild at Deauville.