Sue Montgomery: Henrythenavigator can steer O'Brien and Murtagh out of troubled waters
Saturday 27 September 2008
This afternoon's 54th running of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes could be considered something of a Koh-I-Noor with its many facets, a sharp edge or two and potential for brilliance. On the purely athletic face, the Group One contest may well identify the year's best miler as the division's heavyweights from Ireland, France and Britain square up. But an extra glint comes with timing and circumstance.
Two years ago, the race threw the concept of so-called team tactics into sharp focus when Frankie Dettori cried foul after claiming his mount, Librettist, had been deliberately impeded by an Aidan O'Brien-trained stablemate of the winner, George Washington. The Ballydoyle team were rightly exonerated of collusion on that occasion but two days ago, after similar charges, had their collars heavy-handedly felt by the authorities.
When Colm O'Donoghue, on fading pacemaking Red Rock Canyon, cleared his mount from the path of Johnny Murtagh and Duke Of Marmalade in the International Stakes at Newmarket last month, the local stewards saw nothing untoward. But in the wake of shrill opinions from pundits, an enquiry was belatedly called and O'Brien and the two riders were, respectively, fined and banned.
The British Horseracing Authority stressed that no one's integrity was being questioned; it was ignorance of the detail of a relatively new rule that brought the punishments. But the bottom line is that the Ballydoyle operation is now, ludicrously, associated with charges of bringing the sport into disrepute. It is like hearing that Bobby Charlton had been sent off, or that Bobby Jones once employed the leather wedge.
In a sport and industry with its fair share of image problems, O'Brien's honour means everything to him and his Coolmore employers may yet appeal against Thursday's verdict. But today at Ascot, the team regroups, with the chance to provide the perfect dignified riposte. O'Brien, with 20 Group One prizes already in the bag this season, saddles Henrythenavigator in the mile feature, Murtagh rides him, and the pair will be aided – but definitely not abetted – by O'Donoghue and Honoured Guest.
The leading French challenger Tamayuz, from Freddy Head's Chantilly yard, will also be accompanied by a pacemaker, Racinger, so between them the two hares should provide the true, level pace that leads to a sparkling spectacle and the best horse victorious.
With the greatest respect to John Gosden's charge Raven's Pass, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes should be a showdown between proven Henrythenavigator, already four times a Group One winner, and progressive Tamayuz, going for his third. The former, whose unbeaten record for the campaign came to an end on unsuitably soft ground behind the latter's stablemate Goldikova at Longchamp three weeks ago, should bounce back.
The one tarnish on the occasion may be evident post-race; recent events may cause the articulate and perceptive Murtagh – who, far from being one to act against the sport, is just the sort of rider whose exploits and views can positively promote it – to clam up.
Today will be Henrythenavigator's last run in these parts before he heads for the Breeders' Cup meeting in California four weeks today. His target has yet to be defined, but if money is a guide then it will be the step up in distance and the change of surface in the Classic. With fine weather forecast for Paris all week, there was sustained support yesterday for Duke Of Marmalade for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe tomorrow week (he is now 3-1 second favourite behind France's unbeaten queen Zarkava), with the allied implication that he will stick to the Turf route at Santa Anita.
The four-year-old is, after all, the world's highest-rated performer on that surface. His equivalent on dirt, Curlin, turns out tonight in New York, where victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup would take his earnings beyond $10m and past Cigar's into the record books.
Last night's card at Belmont Park was cancelled after torrential rain and high winds, but the forecast sloppy going holds no fears for Curlin's connections. But the new artificial surface at Santa Anita, nearer turf than dirt in its traction qualities, is another matter, and the mighty chestnut has yet to be committed to his tilt at a second Classic. The track hosts its final Breeders' Cup shakedown tonight, with six Grade One contests.
Today's other top-level domestic action puts the focus on embryonic Classic stars, particularly Raven's Pass's young stablemate Rainbow View, who is going for her four-timer in the Fillies' Mile. Already a short-priced favourite for next year's 1,000 Guineas, she has barely been extended to date and can continue her charmed progress, at the expense of Irish raider Dreamtheimpossible.
Patrician's Glory can progress to take the Royal Lodge Stakes, and the US-bred is just the type to avail himself of a place in one of the normally oversubscribed two-year-old contests at the Breeders' Cup in the new "win-and-you're-in" initiative extended to this side of the pond.Hannon develops Penny's Gift into a little gold mine
Like them or loathe them, two-year-old races linked to auction sales are now firmly part of the calendar, and yesterday at Ascot Penny's Gift, who cost 10,000 guineas as a yearling last autumn, earned £136,837 for her owners, the Brown family, when she took the six-furlong contest of that ilk.
Richard Hughes brought the 15-8 favourite home by a neck from her close attendant Rosy Mantle, with gallant Golden Destiny, who had raced wide of the pair, only a head away in third. It was the 75th juvenile winner of the season from Richard Hannon's unstoppable kindergarten.
One criticism of the inflated prizes that provide a carrot to inflate prices at auctions is that they can reward mediocrity, but in fairness to Penny's Gift, she had previously acquitted herself well in good company and will next tackle the Cheveley Park Stakes. Tomorrow, the Curragh presents an even more lucrative lottery, in the form of two €1m prizes. The winner of that for fillies 12 months ago was one Lush Lashes; earlier on the card is a more conventional elite pointer, the Beresford Stakes, won in the past by such as Azamour, Alamshar and Septimus.
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