Moonlight Cloud puts rivals in shade with dazzling win

Lethal Force no match as mare breaks course record to win Deauville prize for the third time

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The Independent Online

While connections of Sky Lantern reflected on another exasperating  reverse for the leading British filly of her generation, the French yesterday gave notice that an older mare continues to set the international standard.

Looking better than ever, Moonlight Cloud broke the track record as she saw off the British summer’s breakthrough sprinter, Lethal Force, with a coruscating exhibition at Deauville. It was the five-year-old’s third consecutive  success in the Prix Maurice de Gheest, and exalted her ever closer to the great Goldikova on the CV of their trainer, Freddy Head.

A disappointing performance at the Breeders’ Cup last autumn, in a race won three times by Goldikova, remains the only one Moonlight Cloud has produced over the past two seasons that did not confirm her elite calibre. Last summer she came within an ace of becoming the only horse ever to beat Black Caviar, and was hampered before finishing best in the Prix Jacques le Marois. That race remains on her agenda this time round, despite again being run as soon as this Sunday.

That will stretch her speed out to a mile, though she was always cruising yesterday over six and a half furlongs – even with the pace being set by the winner of two Group One sprints this summer. Lethal Force, having won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and July Cup, was attempting to become the first British sprinter since Dayjur, in 1990, to win three such races in a row. But Moonlight Cloud scythed him down entering the final furlong before clearing away by just under two lengths, with the admirable Gordon Lord Byron finishing strongly for a place. The other Irish raider, Gale Force Ten, once again failed to build on his success in the Jersey Stakes, only 11th of 14.

Lethal Force did seem to drift wearily when headed, and jockey Adam Kirby told his trainer that the horse felt a little flat – but Clive Cox rightly acknowledged that he requires no exoneration for losing out to such an accomplished rival.

Another British raid was foiled in Düsseldorf when Secret Gesture, having come through in the straight to go clear, was run down in the final stages of the German Oaks by one of the home fillies, Penelopa. It was not difficult to see why connections had been tempted to drop Secret Gesture to 10 furlongs, after she had likewise finished second in the Epsom original. Indeed, she had initially been declared to run in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood on Saturday – a race that proved a rare  disappointment, on the final day of the meeting, for a trainer and jockey who respectively accumulated nine and eight wins during its course.

Richard Hughes found his path blocked at a critical stage before finishing fifth behind Winsili, so reprising his frustrations when the latter’s stablemate Elusive Kate had won a controversial duel at Newmarket last month. Richard Hannon is already proposing to train Sky Lantern for a rematch with Winsili in the Filly and Mare Turf at the Breeders’ Cup – where the Mile is also the ultimate target for his Sussex Stakes winner, Toronado.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath’s Nap

Pearl Ice (3.45 Ripon)

Lost his way after impressing over course and distance last year but signs of rejuvenation on latest start.

Next Best

Arctic Lynx (7.00 Windsor)

Unlucky last time and looks to be thriving now for a trainer who excels with sprinters.

One to watch

Coral Mist (Charles Hills) was taken off her feet in the early   stages at Goodwood but rattled home for third.