Rip tide turns for O'Brien

Lameness on eve of race no impediment as classy colt seals first Group One win
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If he can pull off something like this on three legs, what will he do on four? Perhaps, at long last, he might even catch Sea The Stars himself. For the moment, however, Rip Van Winkle's unfettered performance here yesterday must also be treated as a reflection on the colt who had beaten him in each of his three previous races this season.

Rip Van Winkle's participation in the BGC Sussex Stakes was only confirmed by his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, down at the start. The colt had been found to be lame on the eve of the race, and was beginning to seem a congenitally unlucky animal.

Plenty of people had already decided that he had been indulged enough. But those who kept the faith were rewarded with an uncompromising display of class, measurable by the distances back to two rivals who had won Group One prizes at Royal Ascot – two and a half lengths to Paco Boy, and another four to Ghanaati.

The forecast rain had held off, and on perfect going Johnny Murtagh soon had Rip Van Winkle tracking Malibu Bay, who proved barely competent for his pacemaking responsibilities. There were still three furlongs to go when Murtagh sent the 6-4 favourite clear. Having pulled away from no less a colt than Conduit, in harrying Sea The Stars over the stiff 10 furlongs at Sandown last time, Murtagh knew that his mount would not be stopping here. It soon became apparent that Ghanaati could not cover the move, and the only meaningful pursuit would instead come from Paco Boy. He emerged from the pack, still going well, and sustained his run without ever grasping Rip Van Winkle's collar.

Murtagh had never wavered in his own fidelity to the winner, choosing him above five other Ballydoyle colts in the Derby – not least the heavily backed favourite, Fame And Glory. On finally being vindicated, however, Murtagh suggested that he had himself retarded the colt's fulfilment.

"I didn't ride him very well in the 2,000 Guineas," he said. "I got tangled up [with other horses] running down the dip. It took me so long to get everything right with this horse, we kept giving the others a start. But maybe all those bad rides are now paying off. He reminds me of Raven's Pass. He has been a little immature, wanted to rush things. But he has learnt to relax, and the way he has been since the Derby, I thought he was unbeatable today."

Until, that was, O'Brien called him on Tuesday night. The colt had a quarter-crack in a hoof. Murtagh nearly cried. "He's a big, hardy devil because he's not the easiest to train," he said. "There's always something going wrong. But Aidan has done a wonderful job."

O'Brien reckoned that Sandown had been the first time Rip Van Winkle had even a "half-clear" preparation. "I can't tell you the problems he's had, and it was a new thing last night," O'Brien said. "He was 10-out-of-10 lame, and didn't have a trot until he was leaving the parade ring. We watched him trotting off, and then went to the start, and if Johnny wasn't happy, it wasn't going to happen."

Murtagh's analogy with Raven's Pass is an instructive one. Last year, in this race, he held off that rival for the third time running on Henrythenavigator. But Raven's Pass turned things round thereafter and ended up winning the Breeders' Cup Classic itself – now a logical target for Rip Van Winkle, who is quoted at 6-1 by Coral. In the meantime, however, he will be kept to a mile while O'Brien tries his luck against Sea The Stars first with Mastercraftsman, and then Fame And Glory, in the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes respectively.

Sea The Stars was not the only horse whose reputation was burnished. Xtension, found by Clive Cox for just €15,000 (£12,850) as a yearling, gave the Lambourn trainer his biggest success in the Veuve Clicquot Vintage Stakes, earning a quote of 16-1 for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas from the sponsors. On the face of it, he was paying a lavish compliment to Canford Cliffs, who thrashed him in the Coventry Stakes, but Cox felt that his colt remained too green that day and could himself become a Guineas contender.

The perils of such distant speculations were soon elaborated by Rip Van Winkle himself. This time last year he already looked a genuine Guineas colt, but there is no accounting for one as good as Sea The Stars. The two colts he beat in the Eclipse last time, over 10 furlongs, have now won all-aged championship races over eight and 12.

But Murtagh is keeping the faith. "I said this lad was one of the best I've ridden, and still believe it," he said. "He's improving all the time. We are lucky to have two great horses around, and I have great belief in this one. If they meet again, I'd be looking forward to it."

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Shamwari Lodge (4.35 Goodwood) Caught out by the drop back to six furlongs in a hot handicap at Newmarket last time, hitting top gear too late after getting trapped behind, and had previously travelled and finished best when narrowly failing to catch a subsequent winner over this trip at Epsom. Still improving.

Next best

Schiaparelli (3.25 Goodwood)

One to watch

Swingkeel (J L Dunlop) is a staying handicapper on the upgrade and might well have finished closer than third if not set quite so much to do in the opener at Goodwood yesterday. He has the pedigree and build to surpass his present rating, and could end up as a plausible Cesarewitch type.

Where the money's going

Kavachi is 10-1 from 22-1 for the Totesport Mile at Goodwood tomorrow with William Hill.