What is likely to be a stressful week for Karl Burke at least began well. Yesterday afternoon, the Yorkshire-based trainer notched the first Group One success of his 17-year career when Lord Shanakill held on by a diminishing head to take the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly. In a day or two he will hear the judgement of the sport's authorities after charges emanating from the infamous collapsed race-fixing trial at the Old Bailey. Any punishment could include disqualification or a heavy fine.
For all the right reasons Burke, 46, is currently enjoying his highest professional profile. Since moving nine years ago to the historic Spigot Lodge establishment in Middleham, his progress up the ranks has been marked. Last season Lord Shanakill became his first Group Two winner, in the Mill Reef Stakes, before missing out by a nose in the Dewhurst.
Now the top-level record is straight, and with it Burke's belief in a horse he has always held in the highest regard, plus a £220,000 prize. In the saddle Jim Crowley – also recording his first Group One – judged things to the inch, settling his mount in the wake of trailblazing Milanais before kicking on inside the penultimate furlong. Oiseau De Feu came fast under Christophe Lemaire, but too late.
After disappointing in the 2,000 Guineas after an interrupted preparation, Lord Shanakill bounced back to the top table with a close third in the St James's Palace Stakes. Yesterday's success, in what is traditionally one of the weaker elite contests in the calendar, paid a compliment to his Royal Ascot conquerors Mastercraftsman and Delegator, but Burke is relishing the chance to take them on again.
"The top races, the Sussex Stakes and the Prix Jacques Le Marois, they're the ones now," said Burke, whose juvenile, Corporal Maddox, took third in one of the supporting races. "I knew he'd come on for his run at Ascot, because we had to back off him a bit after the Guineas. I actually thought he was coming here with a favourite's chance but on the local betting he went out to something like 11-1, which was an amazing price."
The favourite, at 3-1, was the Ballydoyle contender Westphalia, who had already run third in both the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and the Prix du Jockey-Club. But first-time blinkers had an adverse effect; the colt ran too free early before fading to fifth.
For all Lord Shanakill's durability and courage, the weekend's glittering hero was, of course, the superb Sea The Stars, who became only the fifth horse to record the across-the-distances top-grade treble of the 2,000 Guineas (over a mile), Derby (12 furlongs) and Eclipse Stakes (ten furlongs) in the same season. His predecessors were Flying Fox (1899), Diamond Jubilee (1900), Blue Peter (1939) and Nashwan (1989); the only other two to take all three – Isinglass and Royal Palace – won the Sandown heat as four-year-olds.
Only one, Nashwan, added the great mile-and-a-half summer showpiece, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot as a three-year-old, albeit as it was only first run in 1951 none of the others named could have done. The vibes from Co Kildare yesterday were that Nashwan will remain the sole member of his exclusive club. Typically, Sea The Stars took the return journey from Esher to Currabeg in his mighty stride as easily as his comfortable length defeat of Rip Van Winkle, but he is likely to remain at the intermediate distance, with the International at York in August his next likely outing.
"He ate up after travelling home last night," reported his trainer John Oxx yesterday, "and was fresh and well this morning, in good form. We've had a brief discussion about plans, and will probably reach a decision by midweek, but the King George is three weeks away and York would allow more space between races." In Nashwan's year, there were only two weeks between the Eclipse and King George.
One who will relish the mile-and-a-half challenge at Ascot later this month is Saturday's third Conduit, winner last year of the St Leger and Breeders' Cup Turf.
"The King George is the plan," confirmed Peter Reynolds, racing manager to owners Ballymacoll Stud. "We'll take anything on over that trip."
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Nap City Vaults Girl (7.20 Ripon)
In time, her optimum trip will be further than six furlongs but, with the experience of a promising debut two weeks ago under her girth, can get off the mark for her in-form yard in what seems an ordinary enough contest.
Next best Bussell Along (6.50 Ripon)
A drop in class and a step up in trip should suit after a decent effort at Yarmouth last time.
One to watch
Sandown's seven-furlong maiden on Friday traditionally produces smart sorts. The winner, Dreamspeed, has obvious potential but Halyard (Walter Swinburn) made progress after a slow start and is from a stable whose juveniles progress with experience.
Where the money's going
South African raider J J The Jet Plane, impressive in his last workout, is 8-1 from 10-1 with Victor Chandler for Friday's July Cup at Newmarket.