Naaqoos topples Classic favourite Mastercraftsman

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The Independent Online

The last steps to the record could prove the hardest for Aidan O'Brien. Though Halfway To Heaven gave hi m a 21st Group One success of the year at Newmarket on Saturday, Yeats was well beaten in the Prix du Cadran here the same day, and the five prizes O'Brien needs to beat Bobby Frankel's world record will need to come from genuine international championships.

O'Brien must have thought he had found an undemanding field for Mastercraftsman in yesterday's Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère, a race he had harvested seven times since 1997. But the odds-on favourite lost his unbeaten record with a tepid performance, soon off the bridle and keeping on at one pace for fourth, beaten over two lengths, by Naaqoos.

The winner represents one of the few stables holding their ground against Ballydoyle, being the fourth Group One winner for Freddie Head in what has emphatically been his breakthrough season. Admittedly Naaqoos only narrowly held the late challenge of Milanais, who was fourth to Bushranger in the Prix Morny, but he had travelled brightly in the lead. "I think he's a great horse, a real champion," Head declared. "He's a hell of a mover, very intelligent, very well balanced."

Head will consult Sheikh Hamdan, the colt's owner, as to his spring target but suggested "he could be the right horse for Newmarket". In truth, that had never seemed especially true of Mastercraftsman, but the pressure is now on his stablemate, Rip Van Winkle, to confirm his eligibility in the Dewhurst Stakes on Saturday week.

"Maybe it was one race too many," O'Brien said of Mastercraftsman. "He ran on heavy [in the National Stakes] three weeks ago, after a break, and maybe that left its mark. It was always a gamble in that way." The sponsors make Rip Van Winkle 5-1 favourite for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas, with Mastercraftsman and Naqoos 10-1.

Half an hour earlier Head's sister, Criquette Head-Maarek, had won the Prix Marcel Boussac with Proportional. A daughter of Beat Hollow, she too may end up at Newmarket despite proving so at home here. Stan James introduced her at 8-1 in the 1,000 Guineas betting.

André Fabre's Plumania took the eye here, finishing well in fourth. This race reliably produces Classic winners – the last half-dozen editions alone having yielded Six Perfections, Divine Proportions, Finsceal Beo and, last year, some creature called Zarkava.

With due respect to the champion, Lush Lashes had achieved nearly as much as Zarkava before they arrived here, but she was cut down late in the Prix de l'Opera by the German filly Lady Marian. And if not even Lush Lashes can keep going to the bitter end, then what chance has O'Brien?