Twice Over puts Cecil in a Classic quandary
Friday 18 April 2008
When a photo is required to distinguish one horse from another, the natural inference is that both must be somewhat lacking in distinction. But while the big race here yesterday developed with such epic uncertainty that not even the winner's trainer knew quite what to think afterwards, neither of the colts involved allowed the slightest equivocation as to their essential merit. Both Twice Over, who salvaged his unbeaten record by sticking his nose back in front in the final strides, and Raven's Pass, his victim in the Bansha House Craven Stakes, have unmistakable Classic calibre.
The fact that they were a cut above the rest was formally evident in the official distances: a short-head, and six lengths. But it had been obvious throughout the race, when each moved with a patrician swagger among the toiling yeomanry.
Beforehand, it seemed possible that Raven's Pass might not quite see out the mile, having raced with such flair over seven furlongs last year and having apparently betrayed reckless energy on the Heath this spring. Conversely, Twice Over had to prove that his emphatic success over 10 furlongs here last autumn did not disqualify him from a relative test of speed. In the event, their class enabled them to find middle ground far in advance of the rabble. But neither could entirely remove a degree of ambivalence from their candidature for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas, back over course and distance a fortnight tomorrow.
Indeed, Henry Cecil immediately declared that Twice Over was just as likely to wait for the Totesport Dante Stakes back over 10 furlongs at York next month. It is 32 years since Cecil won the Guineas, and he instinctively favours an itinerary more obviously focused on Epsom. In a further twist, however, Twice Over's pedigree by no means guarantees him the stamina for 12 furlongs in the Derby. And the fact is that he is now as short as 4-1 for the Guineas, a race that would ultimately offer far greater impetus to his next career at stud.
Either way, it is heartening to see Cecil sustain the resurgence of his stable, albeit in bitter contrast to his own health. The crowd round the winner's enclosure obeyed an unusual impulse to greet the grey-faced trainer with affectionate applause, long before the arrival of his colt. Bashfully aware of their warmth, Cecil responded with the hope that nobody would be deceived into backing Twice Over for the Guineas yet.
"I'm not sure he's a Guineas horse," he explained. "I think he rather outstayed the other one. He'll come on for that, he wasn't tuned up, but we'll let him tell us. I don't want to ruin him in a race. But if you asked me if he was to go for the Dante, I'd say he probably would."
He will discuss options with the colt's owner-breeder, Khaled Abdulla, who will be aware that their decision will affect not one stud career but two – Twice Over being a son of his own young stallion, Observatory. Matters might be clarified at Newbury tomorrow when Sir Michael Stoute runs Confront, another Guineas candidate, for Abdulla in the Bathwick Greenham Stakes.
Teddy Grimthorpe, the owner's racing manager, acknowledged that Twice Over's stamina could hardly be considered watertight for the Derby. "It's difficult, if you win a Guineas trial, not to think about the Guineas," he said. "But equally the long-term future of the horse has to be taken into account."
Clarity and conviction could instead be found among the vanquished. John Gosden was delighted with Raven's Pass, who had been dropped out from his wide draw to track Twice Over. They challenged either side of the front-running River Proud, and when Raven's Pass went past Twice Over in the dip he was matched at 1-25 on Betfair. His trainer was nothing like as disconcerted by his defeat as those who had taken those odds.
"I've been more than clear he wasn't wound up today," Gosden said. "He's done only two easy bits of work, and Jimmy [Fortune] gave him only one little slap. I really wanted seven furlongs for him first time out, at Newbury, only they had the good ground here. But he gets the trip, all right."
Cecil also won the Weatherbys Earl of Sefton Stakes for Abdulla with Phoenix Tower, resurfacing after a hairline fracture of the pelvis last summer. Travelling strongly but short of room throughout, Phoenix Tower needed the full nine furlongs to get up here, but could prove as effective over a mile. Grimthorpe, however, reckons that 10 furlongs will be his mêtier. "His dam [Bionic] was ante-post favourite for the [1,000] Guineas after winning by about 300 lengths at Goodwood," he remembered. "She was very talented."
But her career ended prematurely. Success even by the most extravagant margin cannot always match the possibilities of a short-head.
2,000 GUINEAS (3 May) Coral: 3-1 New Approach, 5-1 Raven's Pass, Twice Over, 7-1 Ibn Khaldun, Jupiter Pluvius, 12-1 Confront, Fast Company, 16-1 others
DERBY (7 June) Coral: 7-2 New Approach, 6-1 Twice Over, 12-1 Curtain Call, Ibn Khaldun, Washington Irving, 14-1 Centennial, 16-1 Thewayyouare, 20-1 others.
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