They finished at the sort of weary intervals you might expect in another Gold Cup altogether and, come to that, the winner had last been seen over hurdles at Cheltenham in March. But nobody should be deceived that Rite Of Passage required only the doughty virtues summoned by jump racing's equivalent carnival to win in the sunshine of Ladies' Day here yesterday. For his epic duel with Age Of Aquarius was about class, as well as courage, and not even Yeats himself ever completed the race in such a time.
There was only a neck in it, at the line, but they had dragged each other six lengths clear of Purple Moon, and down the field they were strewn across Berkshire like a routed, retreating cavalry: 13 lengths, 11, 30, a distance. Yeats, retired after his unprecedented fourth success last year, could not know his own luck, idling the afternoon away in a Co Tipperary stallion barn. For while he had carried the staying division, more or less single-handed, a golden era is by no means over.
At the top of the straight, in fact, it looked very much as though this was the dawning of the Age Of Aquarius. The horse groomed by Aidan O'Brien as an heir to Yeats had shadowed Akmal throughout and Johnny Murtagh sought to take charge turning for home. But he was engaged two out by Pat Smullen, tucked quietly against the rail through the race, on Rite Of Passage – and by the time they were done, they had pulverised the track record.
Obviously, the fast conditions contributed, but this had looked a deep field and Rite Of Passage needed to see out every yard. His stamina could not have been guaranteed beforehand, as a son of Giant's Causeway who had seemed to run dry when third over a similar distance at Cheltenham in March. But if anyone is comfortable with a new frontier, it is Dermot Weld. It is hard to think of another trainer who could win this race and prompt bookmakers to offer odds for both the Melbourne Cup (around 10-1) and Champion Hurdle (14-1).
"The plan was hatched a long time ago," Weld said. "It's a race I've always wanted to win and two previous runners, Vinnie Roe and Vintage Crop, finished second, so I thought it could be third time lucky. We probably chose the wrong race at Cheltenham. It was just too far and he probably would have won the two-mile race."
Weld, pioneering trainer of two Melbourne Cup winners, was not yet committing Rite Of Passage to the race. "I think I had the favourite before today in Profound Beauty, who also beat Age Of Aquarius," he said. "It's a long way away, but it's always been a target for this horse as well. We'll see what the handicapper does. I suspect he'll probably go for the Irish St Leger next."
The unsparing nature of this race was measured by a three-day whip suspension for Murtagh. "It was a really, really top-class race," he said. "They went a hell of a gallop and my lad stayed well. He loved the ground and I thought he had it won turning in. He's a very brave horse and I'm sick he got beat."
Ask did not seem to get home in fifth while Manifest, the favourite, was very disappointing, soon off the bridle and dropping right out. Tom Queally suggested his mount did not stay the trip, and also noted that he had lost a shoe.
Godolphin took the Ribblesdale Stakes for the second year running with Hibaayeb, who will now try her luck against Snow Fairy in the Darley Irish Oaks. Two of Newmarket's most astute trainers also won Pattern races, William Haggas taking the Norfolk, with Approve, and Luca Cumani the Hampton Court Stakes, with Afsare. The latter denied Quadrille under a vintage ride from Kieren Fallon, and while the stewards did investigate interference between the pair, they scrupulously declined to favour the owner of Quadrille – who also happens to own the racecourse.
The handicaps were won by James Given, the tough Dandino following up his Epsom win, and Barry Hills with Ransom Note. The latter carried the colours of Raymond Mould, who won the 2002 Grand National with Bindaree. "The race was over far too quickly!" Mould joked. Not even the most inveterate of jumping men, however, could say the same of the Gold Cup.