Once upon a time, not so long ago, True Story was a big deal, the horse thought most likely to beat Australia in the Derby and so provide Godolphin with some good news after all those horrendous headlines in 2013.
It was a red herring. True Story, so exciting in the spring, has subsequently failed to cut it at the highest level in the Dante Stakes, the Derby and the Eclipse, and so now finds himself relegated to Group Three company in today’s Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock.
Various explanations have been proffered – the ground at York, the track at Epsom and the messy pace at Sandown (where headgear was fitted), but in the end you run out of excuses; quite simply, he has disappointed. Better was expected of him.
Hillstar, his highest-profile rival this afternoon, has a not dissimilar back-story, in as much as he tried, and failed, four times at Group One level before having his sights lowered.
It is hard to be confident that either will really click again and in such uncertain circumstances it might be best to turn once more to John Gosden, a trainer who has been coming up with so many right answers this summer.
His Nabucco (2.55 Haydock) is, at five, running in a Group race for the first time, but is improving with age and now ready for the step up. He finished behind Vancouverite, another carrying the blue of Godolphin, when they were placed at Newbury last month, but a pull in the weights and easier ground might well make the difference.
Ascot’s Shergar Cup, fought over by four squads of jockeys and decided on a points basis, has become a popular summer fixture. For the record, Europe won last year, but the team aspect is just a bit of fun. The Ryder Cup it isn’t.
Still, it is a chance to see some of the leading international jockeys demonstrating styles often quite different to our own practitioners. Among those taking part this time are the women’s team captain, Emma-Jayne Wilson, the veteran of a thousand wins in Canada, and S’manga Khumalo, who represents the Rest Of The World.
The diminutive Khumalo, who grew up in a violent township outside Durban and never even saw a horse till he was 14, is the first ever black South African champion. The best of his decent book of rides may be Big Thunder (1.30 Ascot), a Sir Mark Prescott-trained stayer running back into form.
The French veteran Olivier Peslier has drawn a strong card, including Move In Time in the opening Dash and Dark Emerald in the mile handicap. Move In Time (12.55 Ascot) was operating respectably at Group level last summer and enjoyed a confidence-boosting easy win last time. Dark Emerald (2.40 Ascot) has been in good form all summer and can be excused his narrow defeat to Heavy Metal last time in light of that winner’s subsequent exploits.
Godolphin have won the Sweet Solera Stakes for the past five years and have a couple of likely sorts to keep the run going in Winters Moon and Efflorescence, both successful on their debuts last month and entered in some of the best of the autumn juvenile events.
The form of Winters Moon has worked out better and she may well start at the shorter price, but the more speedily bred Efflorescence (3.35 Newmarket) won in some style and is perhaps better equipped for this test.
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