While the defence of their greatest prize is looking rather porous, at least the French have found the right man to lead the resistance. Pascal Bary, who saddles tomorrow their most realistic candidate for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Zambezi Sun, yesterday mounted a lightning raid on Newmarket and made off with the first British booty of his career.
If the success of Natagora in the Skybet Cheveley Park Stakes was timely, then it was also overdue. In 2003, Bary came here with Six Perfections, favourite for the 1,000 Guineas, but she met terrible traffic before flying into second. Speechless on that occasion, Bary is now tempted to return to the Rowley Mile next spring in the hope of completing that unfinished business.
But Natagora, second to Myboycharlie when trying this trip for the first time on softer ground at Deauville, will have to be unusually talented to stretch her speed over a seventh and eighth furlong. Here she proved a silver streak of speed, always skating along in the lead and pulling Fleeting Spirit, who wore down her advantage to just a neck at the line, four-lengths clear of the pack. These in turn were headed by Festoso, gaining a precious place on the Group One podium for her rookie trainer, Harry Dunlop.
"I've been a long time waiting for that," Bary said. "I'm very pleased finally to win a race in England: I've been trying for 25 years. Hopefully she will come back for the Guineas. We had to run from the front, she has so much speed."
Her rider had corresponding reservations about the grey's stamina. "I think it will be difficult for her to stay," Christophe Lemaire admitted. "She has lots of natural speed and if you fight against her, she won't do the mile."
Visit, the favourite, ran very sluggishly. Having apparently tested positive for a tranquilliser when running a far better race at York in August, it is difficult to know what to make of alarming suggestions that she might have been "got at" that day. However the trace got into her system – and her connections are evidently as bewildered as they are distressed – it was demonstrably not equal to any such sinister purpose. Regardless, she was plainly not herself here.
The equivalent race for colts, the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes, proved a very similar affair. In terms of both pedigree and attitude the winner, Dark Angel, is almost certainly a sprinter as well. He, too, was always racing eagerly in the vanguard and he, too, had to see off the late charge of Strike The Deal – representing the same trainer and owners as Fleeting Spirit. Sir Gerry, favourite after impressing at York, proved less comfortable on this faster ground and beat only one home.
Dark Angel had trousered an indecent prize when winning one of those monstrous sales races at York, but here he got the kudos too. "He has improved all season," his trainer Barry Hills said. "He has a high cruising speed. I don't know whether he'll get a mile. I'd say sprinting will be his game next season."
Perhaps more pertinent, with the Classics in mind, was the Somerville Tattersall Stakes, where River Proud expunged his horrible run at Doncaster last month by outbattling some promising rivals. Paul Cole is now likely to step this commanding colt up to a mile in the Racing Post Trophy. "It was a desperate day at Doncaster, when he got very upset in the stalls," the trainer said. "He's a big horse who'll be better next year, and the main thing is that he has got his reputation back."
Jamie Spencer won a valuable prize on Exclamation, but Seb Sanders responded with a double at Musselburgh and so extended his lead in the title race to six (156 to150).