A scorching day, and a scorching performance. Lethal Force confirmed himself the season's outstanding sprinter as he added the July Cup to the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
But if he was judged something of an accidental hero last month, when his rider Adam Kirby's idea of pouncing late from behind rivals came to nothing after his mount flew the start and led all the way, that view is now history. This time the trailblazing was deliberate, and was executed to such effect that the amazing grey broke the six-furlong track record.
"He's just class," said Kirby. "He was in a beautiful rhythm from the start. He is so uncomplicated and has such a high cruising speed. They said I stole it at Ascot but I didn't; the horse is just a machine."
Though the jockey gave full credit to the horse, pointing to the pricked silver ears in front of him as the pair paraded after the race, he did dictate matters to perfection on the 9-2 shot. He set testing enough fractions early and had plenty of power left when it mattered and Lethal Force could, seemingly, have given even more.
"Everything was going nicely to plan, except he was losing concentration a bit in front," Kirby said, "and when I gave him a smack after the two-pole to wake him up, it seemed to surprise him and he had time to jink."
Once reminded of his business, Lethal Force went about it with a will, leaving the winners of nine top-level contests across the globe in his wake. Closest of them was old rival Society Rock, also second at Ascot, a length and a half adrift, with Slade Power third, narrowly ahead of the 3-1 favourite, Shea Shea, and Sole Power. The winning time was four-hundredths of a second faster than that set in 1999 by Stravinsky, also on sunbaked fast ground.
Yesterday's £283,550 Group One prize brought Lethal Force's earnings to nearly £700,000, a fine return on the €8,500 he cost trainer Clive Cox and owner Alan Craddock at auction as a yearling. The Darley-sponsored July Cup is part of the annual Global Sprint Challenge, and even more valuable purses in the Far East now beckon the son of Dark Angel. "The horse will be the best judge of how he is and where we'll go," Cox said. "He will tell us, and we'll see how he comes out of today and take it a step at a time. But all the top sprints will be on his agenda."
The straight course here is the most undulating on the sprint circuit, and Cox admitted to slight concerns about Lethal Force's first run on its rollercoaster profile. "He tended to get unbalanced at times last year so I was slightly worried," he said, "but the key to him is that he has matured so well physically and mentally from three to four. He deserves all the credit today; he has clearly stamped his authority on this division and the course-record time is something I will cherish."
Kirby, heading for his best-ever year, is one winner short of a third consecutive century, but some of the shine was taken off his afternoon when the stewards judged his whip technique remiss on both Lethal Force and Field Of Dream, winner of the preceding seven-furlong handicap. He was handed a four-day ban for each race and will miss much of next week's Goodwood festival.
First the bright glitter of the new speed star; then, in last night's Grand Prix de Paris, the 12-furlong contest that can be regarded as the French version of the Derby, the Andre Fabre-trained Flintshire laid down taking credentials to be regarded as one of the best three-year-olds among the middle-distance talent.
Though unsettled early by the slow gallop and a bump or two from the Ballydoyle contender Battle Of Marengo, Flintshire found a decisive burst of speed for Maxime Guyon when it mattered, easing home by a length and a half from Manndawi.
Third place went to Derby fifth Ocovango but Battle Of Marengo, fourth at Epsom, ran too keenly in first-time blinkers and beat only one. Flintshire, a son of Dansili owned by Khaled Abdullah, is now as short as 5-1 for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
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