So You Think and O'Brien totally eclipse the doubters
Ex-Australian star may take on old rivals at home after clear-cut defeat of Workforce
Undertones of nationalism through the racing weekend ultimately proved discordant for the British, who saw one of their champions beaten on home soil and another chastened on his return to a foreign field. Michael Owen's Brown Panther could not justify his billing as favourite for the German Derby yesterday, while the colt who won the Epsom original last year, Workforce, had succumbed to So You Think, the Australian import, at Sandown the previous afternoon.
Nowadays stabled with Aidan O'Brien in Co Tipperary, So You Think may yet be sent "home" in search of a third success in the Cox Plate this autumn, provided quarantine issues can be resolved. If so, there would be an irresistibly piquant subplot, his former trainer having allowed resentment of his sale and export to fuel some trenchant observations about his new environment. To beat Bart Cummings and company in their own backyard would be especially sweet for O'Brien, who seems to have an inadvertent knack for winding up Australians.
When Cummings won the Melbourne Cup for a 12th time, in 2008, O'Brien saddled three of the last four finishers. Seated at his dinner table in a city hotel, he was astonished and incensed to be summoned back to the track for a stewards' inquest into the tactics used on his runners. In the event, they took no action, but local press and professionals savaged the Ballydoyle jockeys for forcing a reckless pace between them. A former senior steward declared that Johnny Murtagh "obviously had a brain explosion" and should be "ashamed" of his performance. Cummings himself could not resist a dig. "They must believe their own publicity," he said. "I can't believe what they did."
The outspoken octogenarian may well have admitted a corresponding sense of schadenfreude, then, after So You Think's odds-on defeat at Royal Ascot last month. For all his success, including with previous imports in Haradasun and Starspangledbanner, O'Brien will never be as respected or cherished as Cummings in Australia. And there was renewed derision for Ballydoyle's tactics after O'Brien's teenage son had a rather chastening experience on the pacemaker at Ascot. Characteristically, however, the harshest criticism was that reserved by O'Brien for his own role.
He immediately suggested that he had miscalculated the volume of work required to bring So You Think to his peak, and appeared to be vindicated in that judgement on Saturday. The notion that a gruelling race at Ascot could "put him right" for Sandown would ordinarily sound quite outlandish, but So You Think palpably sustained an unflinching charge at Workforce through the final two furlongs.
It was gratifying to see the race play out so consistently with its billing as a showdown between two of the best thoroughbreds from either side of the Equator. They had certainly looked the part beforehand. So You Think is so physically intimidating that the process of dominating his rivals begins long before he starts extending that vast stride out on the track. And Workforce, his brawny shoulders rolling, has developed into a captivating composite of solid bulk and liquid movement.
The race was set up perfectly by Jimmy Fortune, who showed exactly how a pacemaker should be ridden on Confront. Aside from pulling wide as Ryan Moore struck for home – fully three furlongs out, in an effort to bring his mount's stamina to bear – Fortune further obliged Workforce by hemming Seamus Heffernan against the rail for as long as he could. As a result, So You Think had to get through the gears fairly hastily, and the final margin of half a length does inadequate justice to the authority of his inexorable challenge.
Heffernan coolly resisted any temptation to force his way out and deserves to retain the ride, regardless of Moore's availability next time. Workforce was by no means diminished by defeat, and connections are entitled to hope that he could yet embellish his stud profile with a Group One success over 10 furlongs, but their priority will be the defence of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October.
Moore rejoined the Ballydoyle cause in France yesterday when narrowly foiled on Zoffany in the Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly. Richard Hughes gave the Jersey Stakes winner, Strong Suit, an artful ride from the front and was collared only in the dying strides, with Mutual Trust sticking his nose in front just in time under Maxime Guyon and holding the slightly awkward Zoffany in a three-way photo. The winner, trained by André Fabre for Khaled Abdulla, is now unbeaten in four starts and may now meet Goldikova at Deauville next month.
The most intriguing overseas raid of the day, however, was that of Brown Panther, whose owner once made a global breakthrough on German turf. This colt had given Owen his biggest success in the sport when running away with a handicap at Royal Ascot, but could manage no better than fifth behind Waldmark. Richard Kingscote evidently abandoned the script when electing to make the running, but managed to get plenty of his pursuers off the bridle in the testing conditions before fading late on. It was a perfectly creditable effort from a colt taking a big step up in class, and there is always a possibility that the race may have come a little soon after his generous effort at Ascot. The winner was the only unbeaten colt in the field and Andreas Wöhler, who also saddled the runner-up, Earl Of Tinsdal, may well train him for the Arc.
* Chris McGrath's Nap
Spanish Pride (4.00 Brighton)
Looked to have been given a fair rating when shaping very well on her comeback at Sandown last month, soon having plenty to do but staying on well, and looks sure to be sharper this time.
* Next best
Elusive Prince (8.20 Ripon)
Looked an improver in two wins over course and distance before a pardonable failure in a fiercely competitive handicap at York last time, and can resume his progress back down in grade today.
* One to watch
Lucky Money (Sir Mark Prescott) was extremely green on his debut at Yarmouth last week but ultimately gathered good momentum into midfield and will be more streetwise next time.
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