Quest ends in heartbreak as stewards put Duty first

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The Independent Online

Seldom can a panel of racecourse stewards have felt so confident that its intervention would be warmly received. After all, the filly they were promoting to first place had been winter favourite for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas, and thwarted only in a photo finish by an unconsidered 66-1 shot, Jacqueline Quest. In the event, however, their verdict prompted a groan of dismay from many, and only the most sheepish of cheers from the reprieved backers of Special Duty.

Not that anyone had too much of an issue with their decision to reverse the placings. There had been so little between the two fillies at the line that Tom Queally's failure to switch his whip, as his mount drifted right, left the stewards with a relatively uncomplicated duty. Even so, they found themselves doomed to traditional Establishment caricature, as unsparingly immune to dreams and romance in individual lives.

For Jacqueline Quest is trained by Henry Cecil, a local hero long before various professional and personal misfortunes disclosed, as the foundation to a stirring revival in recent seasons, an unsuspected resilience. Moreover, as fewer will have been aware, the filly's owner has turned to horses for light in an excruciating darkness of his own.

Noel Martin has been confined to a wheelchair since 1996, following a racist attack by neo-Nazi thugs when he was working in Germany. His anguish since, in body and soul, has been uncomfortably vivid in press and media coverage. Poignantly, this filly was named after his wife, who died of cancer in 2000. In the circumstances, connections of Special Duty, being so familiar with success at this level, could hardly cherish the prize in quite the same way as Martin and Cecil, both of whom initially seemed fairly oblivious to the case against Queally.

Regardless, it was a famous weekend for the French, who were completing what is assumed to be an unprecedented Guineas double, following Mafki 24 hours earlier. Many pages of British Classic history must also be turned, meanwhile, to find the last winner relegated for interference: Nureyev, in the 2,000 Guineas 30 years ago. It is remarkable that both episodes should have taken place here, rather than over the notorious camber at Epsom.

These same, open spaces also produced a mysterious disparity in fortune for the small posse who raced along the stands' rail, and the rest in the middle of the track. As they emerged from the Dip it became apparent that the latter were hopelessly marooned, and Music Show and Rumoush both excelled in leading them home, fifth and sixth respectively; Kieren Fallon also complained that he had no chance out there on Seta, albeit she did not see out the race as hoped in 12th.

Instead it was Sent From Heaven who kept up the gallop on the rail, with Queally taking over approaching the furlong pole. Stéphane Pasquier, having restrained her to get the trip, then produced Special Duty on the outside. While he never had to stop riding, there was brief contact and William Nunnelly, representing the stewards, said that the desperate margin – "a pixel on the photograph" – left them with a straightforward decision. "It's unfortunate when things like this happen," he said. "But we have to administer the rules as we would in any race."

The rolling duel between the first two almost allowed an Investec Oaks prospect, Gile Na Greine, to claim the spoils on the rail. She was only beaten another head, half a length in front of Sent From Heaven, the four of them five lengths clear.

Special Duty had impressed on her first visit here, for the Cheveley Park Stakes last autumn, but was disappointing in her trial. Her renewed bloom reiterated the dexterity of her trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek, who was winning this race for the fourth time. "I don't like to win like that, and feel very sorry for the others," she said. "But Stéphane said she would have won without the other horse hanging. She's a great filly with a heart as big as herself."

She trained this filly for Prince Khaled Abdulla, himself Cecil's greatest mainstay through thick and thin. Serving another cause on this occasion, Cecil had to find words to console Martin. "Maybe we'll get our own back at Ascot," he said. "I didn't think she'd get the trip, and she's only just started to come to hand. All credit to Noel. It was his decision to run. I didn't think it would be her day."

Sadly, they were both right.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Queen Of Wands (5.40 Warwick) Starts life in handicaps off a modest mark and is bred to relish the extra distance here.

Next best

Moynahan (4.0 Kempton) Caught the eye going sweetly tried in cheekpieces over course and distance last time out.

One to watch

Wigmore Hall (M L W Bell) Turned over at odds-on at Newmarket on Saturday, when a small field and steady pace did not play to his strengths. There will be other days for him.

Where the money's going

Marie De Medici is 20-1 from 66-1 for the Investec Oaks with Ladbrokes.