Sky pilots pay homage to Heaven on earth

Click to follow
The Independent Online

With serendipitous timing, a display team of jet fighters swooped over the racecourse here yesterday. The salute was accidental – the pilots were warming up for a show at the nearby Duxford airbase – but it was entirely appropriate, from one set of high-flyers to another. It came just as Aidan O'Brien welcomed in his 21st Group One winner of the season, the suitably-named Halfway To Heaven.

The manner of the filly's 8-1 success under Seamie Heffernan in the Sun Chariot Stakes was also apt; she formed the point as she led the field of 10 down the Rowley Mile in arrow formation and firmly held station as Darjina came at her. The 11-10 favourite's challenge, in her final race, was brave but unavailing; she went down by half a length for the dubious distinction of a sixth successive runner-up spot in as many races this year.

It was a third top-level strike for Halfway To Heaven who took the Irish Guineas in May and the Nassau Stakes in August and now has a date at the Breeders' Cup this month pencilled in. "She's very tough," O'Brien said. "She's been on the go all year, but she's one who does only what she has to, either at home or on the track, which has helped her through the season."

The fact was not lost on observers that the Ballydoyle camp came out ahead of that of the Aga Khan on this occasion, 24 hours before the rival operations clash again with the first two favourites in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, respectively Duke Of Marmalade and Zarkava. "Tomorrow is another day," O'Brien said firmly.

Ironically, the unknowing aerobatic homage came from a group of Frenchmen: the Patrouille de France squadron that is the Gallic equivalent of the Red Arrows. But there was no joy for O'Brien at Longchamp yesterday, where Yeats was only fifth to Spanish-trained Bannaby in the Prix du Cadran. It was the second year in a row that the great stayer, winner of three Gold Cups at Royal Ascot, had disappointed in the French equivalent. "I think he's a summer horse," O'Brien added. "It does seem that he tapers off as the season goes on."

The Co Tipperary maestro reported Duke Of Marmalade and his stablemate Soldier Of Fortune in rude fettle in Paris for their Arc challenge. "If there is no rain overnight, the going should be just about perfect," he said. "But we don't want deep ground for the Duke; he's a low-moving horse with big shoulders and he just can't give his best in it."

The afternoon's third Group One contest, Prix de La Foret, was one for Britain as Paco Boy, appreciating the drop back to seven furlongs, streaked away from 1,000 Guineas heroine Natagora to win by three lengths. The Richard Hannon-trained three-year-old also gave Christophe Soumillon a notable double after his harder-earned nose victory on Bannaby.

O'Brien took the prestige at Newmarket, but John Gosden took most of the money on a day when two juvenile races, restricted to graduates of an up-market auction held by local firm Tattersalls, inflated the day's prize fund to £2,225,000, the richest card ever staged in Britain. The contest for young fillies, with a first prize of £394,000, went to Michael Jarvis-trained Tiger Eye, who had cost Highclere Racing 82,000 guineas last year; and that for colts, worth £492,000 to the winner, to Gosden's Donativum, a 120,000-guinea yearling purchase for Sheikh Mohammed for his wife Princess Haya of Jordan. In the Cambridgeshire Gosden followed up with 25-1 shot Tazeez, who earned £99,000 for his length defeat of 66-1 Nanton.

Tazeez was a chance ride for Richard Hills, who replaced Martin Dwyer after Sheikh Hamdan's better-fancied candidate Mutajarred was withdrawn because it was considered the ground was too fast for that one.