Spencer buries Arlington demons

 

The two winner's blankets were spread proudly upon the mesh perimeter of the quarantine barn yesterday morning, like flags staked upon conquered soil. But while this carnival will always retain a pioneering legacy, 30 years after the Arlington Million first opened new frontiers for the sport, the mature international circuit offers European horses no more congenial territory. You might have imagined otherwise, watching the exotic squall that flayed the course beforehand, but this proved pretty much a home game for horses that had flown an ocean to get here. Certainly the American turf performers, as so often, proved incompetent to assert the remotest advantage, efficiently outclassed by Ballydoyle's last two Irish Derby winners: Cape Blanco, in the big one, and Treasure Beach, in the Secretariat Stakes.

With all that in mind, however, the very fact that one rider should have found unmistakable redemption on Cape Blanco renews a sense of indignation on behalf of another. Jamie Spencer was redressing the nadir of his notoriously unhappy spell, in 2004, as stable jockey to Aidan O'Brien. Just 24 at the time, he gave Powerscourt a couple of fairly horrible rides on these shores: disqualified for interference in the Million, he then made a wild move at the Breeders' Cup. On Cape Blanco, however, he showed the confidence and authority of a seasoned talent. He knew he had the best horse, and kept things simple, exploiting his mount's stamina and commitment in the soft ground. Asserting from the turn, Cape Blanco had two and a half lengths in hand of Gio Ponti, now second in consecutive runnings since his 2009 success.

Asked whether he had exorcised the memory of Powerscourt, Spencer grinned expressively. "I try not to dwell on the past," he said. "Mine's pretty colourful." He stressed his gratitude to Jim and Fitri Hay, whose retainer and new involvement with O'Brien has reopened the door that closed after 2004.

Spencer's experiences then attest that high stakes make an authentic crucible of even the most familiar of America's racing environments. It is imperative, then, to draw attention yet again to the jockey whose determination not to do so himself itself testifies, not just to his modesty, but to his eligibility for this kind of challenge.

Every chance his employers give him, Colm O'Donoghue seizes with understated conviction. Treasure Beach is typical of his work. He went to Epsom as an outsider, with more fancied mounts reserved for glamorous names. But O'Donoghue was collared only in the last stride, and shared due reward with the colt in their home Derby.

As such, Treasure Beach brought unprecedented distinction to the Secretariat Stakes, but he had subsequently looked in need of a break, when fading badly in the Grand Prix de Paris. It must be said that the fact he could win a stretch duel – with the French raider, Ziyarid – after a long journey here was principally a triumph for his trainer, rather than his jockey. But nobody would be quicker to tell you that than O'Donoghue, who scrupulously insisted that he could not have expected any more since Johnny Murtagh's departure from Ballydoyle. "Look, it doesn't bother me," he said quickly. "I'm very fortunate. I'm in a great position: I ride for great people, and they're giving me lots of chances." But he was careful, then, to stress: "I do want them, and I'll make use of them when I get them."

O'Brien had stayed in Co Tipperary, and his patrons at Coolmore were represented by Charlie O'Connor, from their Kentucky stud. "Colm's a fantastic jockey," O'Connor said. "He has tons of experience and we're lucky to have him. He gave the horse an excellent ride today. He's spot on for the big day, no doubt about it. He's a hard man, he grafts, works very hard, and he's being paid off in these Grade One races."

Admittedly, O'Donoghue had needed more obvious flair when winning one in Canada last year on Joshua Tree. Here he simply shadowed Ziyarid before driving home firmly to win by a neck. Afterwards he suggested Treasure Beach was idling, and even that he may have failed for stamina after going so hard early in Paris. But to get a Grade One over 10 furlongs on his résumé in reality represented an opportunist coup for Coolmore. O'Connor indicated that both Treasure Beach and Cape Blanco could end up standing over here, so spreading the genes of their pre-potent sire, Galileo. Sure enough, the Breeders' Cup is on the agenda for the autumn, but their trainer's curiously infertile recent record there suggests that both colts – who have shared a fairly hectic campaign to date – might benefit from a good break first.

Certainly the rider of neither will be out of his comfort zone. But if Spencer was once asked to do too much, too soon, then exactly the reverse seems true of O'Donoghue.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Elspeth's Boy (Yarmouth 6.50) Has dropped in the handicap and, now gelded, made an encouraging debut for his new stable at Epsom, finishing energetically from off the pace.

Next best

Ferruccio (4.30 Kempton) Has been inching up the weights without winning but his continued progress means that he warrants another chance.

One to watch

Diapason (Tom Dascombe) Looks ready to win a modest race, being delayed in traffic before finishing well for fourth at Salisbury last week.

Where the money's going

Requinto is 8-1 from 10-1 with Ladbrokes for Friday's Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

Comments