Novellist delivers brilliant sequel

Third-choice jockey Johnny Murtagh targets literary double in Arc, having already won it on Dylan Thomas

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The Independent Online

No thunderstorms on a sweltering afternoon, just a flash of brilliance as lightning struck twice for Germany. But though the four-year-old Novellist followed in the hoofprints of his compatriot Danedream by taking the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the manner of their victories could not have been more marked.

Twelve months ago the filly took the £1 million midsummer showpiece by a nose; yesterday Novellist powered home by five lengths in track-record time. In fact, rider Johnny Murtagh's most onerous task was persuading his mount that the race was over. It took him nearly half a mile to pull the colt up.

Novellist, trained by Andreas Wohler, who is based in Gutersloh, gave Murtagh a fourth victory in Britain's premier all-aged contest, after Alamshar, Dylan Thomas and Duke Of Marmalade, and continued a golden run for the 43-year-old Irishman, who won the Irish Oaks on the tricky Chicquita a week ago and was also leading jockey at Royal Ascot.

He was, however, only Wohler's third choice, after Ryan Moore and William Buick, to partner the colt in his greatest test to date. But, with Novellist now sharing favouritism at the head of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe betting after his five-length rout of the Irish Derby winner Trading Leather, he will be keen to be top of the list come Longchamp in October.

"I'd put this horse right up there with my other winners of this race," he said, no small compliment given that Dylan Thomas went on the take the Arc.

"He has a real engine, a great turn of foot when it matters. I loved the way he stretched clear; he really wanted it and when Kevin [Manning, on Trading Leather] came upsides me after the line he took off again.

"I know I was third choice, but when you're on a roll this sort of thing happens. I hope I was worth waiting for, and I hope I'm not third in line for the Arc."

A fast time was always on the cards after Ektihaam and Universal set a strong gallop, followed by Trading Leather and Novellist. As the leaders weakened, Trading Leather picked up the gauntlet and led into the straight, but had no reply to Novellist's acceleration a quarter of a mile from home.

The other three-year-old in the field, Hillstar, helped to give his maligned generation a modicum of honour by staying on from off the pace to take third, with the French-trained 6-4 favourite, Cirrus Des Aigles, a one-paced fourth.

Novellist, owned and bred by Christoph Berglar, came to the fray on an upward curve, having had Cirrus Des Aigles among his victims when he won at Saint-Cloud last month.

"I knew he had improved since then," said Wohler, who was winning his first Group One prize in Britain, "but I didn't realise quite how much. I used to come here to this meeting when I was a kid on holiday. To be here like this today is beyond my dreams."

The quantity and quality of the latest King George could be regarded as disappointing, but the modern era's growing proliferation of later-season prizes at home and abroad means different agendas. The Eclipse Stakes winner Al Kazeem, for instance, is having, like most of the top French colts and fillies, a mid-season break before his build-up to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

And yesterday the horse he barged out of the way en route to victory in the Sandown contest, Mukhadram, emphasised his absence with a doughty Group Two success at York. He is now bound for the Juddmonte International back on the Knvesmire next month, a target also of Trading Leather and Cirrus Des Aigles.

There was, happily, encouraging news of the wellbeing of St Nicholas Abbey, who missed the King George through the most harrowing of circumstances.

The top-class six-year-old has endured two bouts of major surgery in five days, first to repair a pastern shattered during routine work on the Ballydoyle gallops and then to deal with an attack of colic, and his life has been in the balance. But the bulletin delivered yesterday offered hope.

"He has made positive progress, and is in good form today after his colic surgery," said the report from his Coolmore connections, who have enlisted the services of a top Kentucky veterinary specialist. "And the surgeons are pleased with the pastern reconstruction. He is taking weight on the leg well."

Novellist's story is only just beginning. It is to be hoped that there are a few more chapters for St Nicholas Abbey, too.