Royal Ascot 2014: Lord Lloyd Webber’s Fugue proves more in tune with the conditions than Treve in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes

 

Ascot

For the bookmakers, battered almost to a pulp over the first day and a half, Treve’s defeat in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes came as a blessed relief. For almost everybody else, it was deflation; it’s always sad to see a great champion knocked over.

The Fugue, another high-class filly with three Group 1 victories already under her belt but rated 7lb inferior to Treve, proved better suited to the distance of 10 furlongs and ground baked quicker than the official description of “good”, producing a track record.

It had all seemed so promising for last autumn’s sensational Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner. Treve’s trainer Criquette Head-Maarek, making her first visit to Royal Ascot from her Chantilly base for 19 years, suspected that the trip might be short of ideal, but was still confident that the horse would run her race and was offering no excuses in advance.

Frankie Dettori, however, reported later that he had concerns even as he cantered the French darling down to the start – “her action was short and choppy, this wasn’t the Treve we all know”.

Head-Maarek was talking pre-race about returning to Ascot for the King George, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes next month before having another crack at the Arc, but the immediate concern afterwards was to get Treve home and check her over. ‘‘I was not happy with the way she was moving,” she said. “Maybe we’ll find something wrong. Horses, they’re not easy, eh? But we have lost the battle, not the war.”

The Fugue, in command throughout the last furlong after taking over from runner-up, Magician, was a second massive result of the week for trainer John Gosden, still buzzing after Kingman’s opening-day heroics.

It did not surprise him greatly: “Treve is a wonderful filly and I wouldn’t want to take her on in the Arc on soft. But Ascot on summer ground is another thing. The Fugue has feet like a ballerina, so these are her conditions.”

This was the first time that The Fugue has been watched in the flesh by owner Lord Lloyd-Webber, whose friends and family again tried to persuade him to stay at home, this time in vain, though this was a jinx that never was. Likely next stop for both horse and owner: York and the Juddmonte Stakes.

Earlier, Kingman received another compliment, not that he really needed one, when Mustajeeb, a thrashed third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, landed the opening Jersey Stakes.

Anthem Alexander, also ridden by Pat Smullen, was another heavily backed winning favourite in the Queen Mary Stakes and if the bookies thought Treve’s defeat signalled a change in their fortunes, they were very much mistaken.

Integral, supported as though defeat were out of the question, heaped more misery upon them when bounding clear in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes.

Those poor layers still on their feet finally had something to cheer when 20/1 shot Field of Dream made it third time lucky in the Royal Hunt Cup after going close the last two years before. Yet another hot favourite, Muteela, held on by a nose in the concluding Sandringham Handicap.far more opponents than Isis originally fielded. Isis now controls almost all the Euphrates valley from Fallujah west of Baghdad through western Iraq and eastern Syria as far as the Turkish border. Any long-term campaign against Isis by the Iraqi government backed by US air power would require air strikes in Syria as well as Iraq. The two countries have effectively become a single battlefield.

The success or failure of the US and Mr Maliki’s domestic opponents in replacing him in the next few weeks will be crucial in determining the future of the conflict. A chief reason why Isis, Sunni armed groups and the Sunni population have been able to form a loose common front against the government is the antipathy of the Sunni population to Mr Maliki. They see him as systematically reducing them to second-class citizens and putting as many as 100,000 in jail, with prisoners often held because of confessions extorted by torture or without any charge at all. Hostility to Mr Maliki provides part of the glue that holds the Sunni coalition together.   

But the Iraqi government’s problems are immediate and require intelligent leadership which continues to be lacking. This was shown in Mosul last week where two senior generals took off their uniforms and fled to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s semi-independent zone. Overall, some 230,000 soldiers are reported to have deserted their units.

Mr Maliki continues to take many military decisions himself. Iraqi sources say that just before Isis stormed Tal Afar, a Shia Turkoman city of 300,000 west of Mosul, last weekend the KRG President Masoud Barzani sent a message to Mr Maliki offering to send peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) to defend it. Mr Maliki rejected the proposal. Such peshmerga as were in Tal Afar were withdrawn and Isis took over.

Unless it is too over-extended to make further advances, Isis may think it in its interests to strike quickly at Baghdad before the US and Iran decide what to do and while the political and military leadership in Baghdad is in turmoil. The Shia are the majority in the capital but there are Sunni enclaves in west Baghdad which might rise up. 

Living conditions all over northern and central Iraq will get more difficult as the economic unity of the country is broken. Baghdadis mostly cook on bottled propane gas, but this can no longer be supplied from Kirkuk because the road is cut by Isis. The insurgents have also taken three-quarters of Baiji refinery according an official speaking from inside the plant. The government’s version of what has happened at Baiji according to state television is that 44 Isis fighters were killed and survivors fled. 

Mr Maliki’s best chance of staving off calls for his departure is that the threat to Baghdad will get so severe that Washington and Tehran will have to give support even if he stays. He has already been strengthened by the Shia clerical leadership in Najaf calling for people to join the Iraqi army. Not everything that has gone wrong in Iraq is Mr Maliki’s fault, but his responsibility for the present catastrophe is too great for him to play a positive role in averting a sectarian civil war.

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