Reputation, on the Turf as anywhere else, is just as Shakespeare reckoned: oft got without merit, and lost without deserving. For some reason, the big showdown at Sandown today has divided two champions in the esteem of punters.
An odds-on defeat at Royal Ascot has not made the slightest difference to their opinion of So You Think. Yet they continue, mysteriously, to quibble with Workforce.
As a rule, a race like this would be best savoured as a purist. Though there are only five runners, including a pacemaker, you can have 9-1 against one of the most accomplished fillies on the planet, Snow Fairy. That's how tough it is to separate the two favourites for the Coral Eclipse Stakes. But the disparity in prices, between them, means that Workforce must be recommended as a value bet.
All week long, there has been an unhesitating torrent of support for So You Think. Workforce, in contrast, is positively leprous. The theory goes that the return to 10 furlongs this season, to broaden his commercial appeal as a stallion, does not play to his strengths. It is also muttered that his stable is having a far less fertile season than normal.
Conversely, punters have been buying enthusiastically into the notion that So You Think is even better than he showed at Ascot, when beaten for the first time since being sent to Co Tipperary by his new owners. Having arrived as one of the outstanding Australian thoroughbreds of recent times, he had pulverised modest fields in his first two starts for Aidan O'Brien. In the Prince of Wales's Stakes, however, he was run down close home by Rewilding, the pair miles clear.
Now that is top-class form, even as it stands. Nor was it Ballydoyle's finest hour, So You Think's pacemaker having been rushed into a pointless lead before duly imploding, leaving Ryan Moore to commit a long way from home. O'Brien, moreover, insists he had miscalculated the work required to bring So You Think, accustomed to intensive Australian methods, to concert pitch. We will get the proof of that pudding today, because an interval of barely a fortnight after what looked a really hard race would otherwise leave the creature jaded, rather than bring him on.
Either way, why make assumptions in favour of one horse, and be so reluctant to take the record of another at face value? Workforce has still only had six starts. On the third of them, he won the Derby by seven lengths, smashing the track record. (Rewilding was back in third, albeit he may not have been at home on the track.) He went on to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and, with so few miles on the clock, was laudably kept in training.
On his return, he made a thoroughly convincing reconnaissance of today's course and distance. Thought to need the run, and shouldering a 7lb penalty, he was the only one able to get after a breakaway leader, leaving him 11 lengths clear of the third. That acceleration was no surprise to those who remember his debut, quickening from last over seven furlongs at Goodwood.
Workforce has achieved so much it seems eccentric to go looking for reasons to back something else at shorter odds. Certainly, the overall form of Sir Michael Stoute's stable looks a red herring, especially after the win of Workforce's galloping companion Class Is Class at Sandown yesterday.
The man out to stop Workforce knows all about waiting patiently for recognition. Having partnered So You Think in an undemanding assignment at the Curragh in May, Heffernan gets back on him because Moore has been claimed by Stoute. Perhaps O'Brien's patrons are finally sensing that the solution to their jockey predicament is staring them in the face. Going for the best available, as they have since Johnny Murtagh's departure, is all very well. But their history of retaining a stable jockey suggests they value continuity; likewise, the way they drafted in Christophe Soumillon and Kieren Fallon to ride potential Derby mounts in their trials.
In the event, the man who came closest to winning them the Derby was Colm O'Donoghue, who shares a back-stop role with Heffernan at Ballydoyle. O'Donoghue gave the unfancied Treasure Beach a superb ride at Epsom, claiming the position craved by every other jockey in the field rounding Tattenham Corner and striking for home with such timing and effect that he was collared only at the post.
Horse and rider gained their reward in their home Derby last Sunday, where Heffernan, replacing Soumillon, prompted a career best from Seville in second. O'Donoghue has been strangely neglected since Murtagh left. More than merely reliable, he has a touch of flair. Even as an apprentice, he always looked the part. But his self-effacing nature, and absorption in the Ballydoyle team ethic, has perhaps diluted his reputation even among his patrons. They evidently feel he lacks experience in the crucibles of the sport. Back in 2007, however, he came from last to win a Classic at Longchamp, a notoriously tricky track. Last autumn, he outrode his rivals for a Grade One prize in Canada. Given a chance, he always seems to take it.
He will be heartened, perhaps, that another Ballydoyle stalwart has been entrusted perhaps the most valuable animal in the stable. Otherwise, he and Workforce could ask each other the same question about reputation: "What exactly do you have to do to get some respect round here?"
Chris McGrath's Nap
Dimension (4.50 Sandown)
Progressive profile in maidens suggested him to be on a fair mark before his handicap debut at Newmarket last time, but he proved too free early on and should relish a stronger pace dropped in trip here.
Bourne (3.25 Haydock)
Failed to handle the track at Epsom last time, but had previously guaranteed improvement for this kind of test – as his genes promise – when steadily overcoming a slow pace over 10f here.
One To Watch
My Freedom (Saeed bin Suroor) made a promising resumption when heavily backed at Newcastle last week, travelling strongly and failing only narrowly after giving the winner a start while caught in traffic.
Where The Money's Going
Brown Panther is 2-1 from 5-2 with William Hill to win the German Derby for Michael Owen in Hamburg tomorrow.