At the start of a week that promises a plethora of milestones, the Aga Khan drew first statistical blood yesterday as his filly Valyra gave him a record seventh success in the Prix de Diane Longines, the French equivalent of the Oaks. But the fineness of the line between triumph and disaster when dealing with equine athletes was once again emphasised during the running of the Group One contest.
As 28-1 shot Valyra caught and outstayed the even-money favourite Beauty Parlour to prevail by three-quarters of a length, the fancied Aidan O'Brien raider Kissed, who faltered after leading into the straight and was virtually pulled up, was found to have fractured bones in her ankle. Her racing career, even briefer than that of her half-brother Pour Moi, is now over but happily her injury is not life-threatening and she will prove a valuable addition to the Coolmore broodmare band.
The Prix de Diane, France's premier test for three-year-old fillies, is one the Aga Khan loves to win with his own matrons of the future. He fielded three yesterday and Valyra was not only the least-fancied of the trio but her owner's longest-priced winner of the event.
The daughter of Azamour, now three for three, was a late entry to the extended 10-furlong race after she won on the provincial track at Bordeaux, and the gamble in stepping her markedly up in class was thoroughly justified, for though her success was something of a surprise, it was nonetheless decisive. She readily cut down hitherto-unbeaten Beauty Parlour and the pair were well clear of the third home, Rjwa.
"She was a little bit outpaced early," said Valyra's rider Johnny Murtagh, "but once she came back on the bridle in the straight I was always going to win, I was confident from two and a half down. She really quickened and when she got to the front she pricked her ears a little. She's already very good and I think she's going to be better."
Valyra is trained by Jean-Claude Rouget at Pau, away from the Chantilly mainstream in south-west France. "The runner-up was supposed to be the next superstar," he said, "so the fact Valyra beat her, and the way she beat her, was extremely pleasing."
Of the Aga Khan's previous Diane heroines, Zarkava (in 2008) and Sarafina (2010) went on to finish first and third, respectively, in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and in Valyra he has another exciting candidate. The filly has been introduced into the Arc betting at as short as 14-1 by Paddy Power and although she is not yet entered for the Paris showpiece the Aga Khan, asked if he would consider supplementing her, said swiftly and simply "Yes".
The Diane was the top-level amuse-gueule ahead of the Royal Ascot banquet that opens tomorrow with three of the week's seven Group 1 contests. In the opening Queen Anne Stakes, Frankel will take on 10 rivals, headed by his regular victim Excelebration, as he bids to extend his unbeaten sequence to 11; a cavalry charge of 23 contests the King's Stand Stakes; and the first two in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Power and Foxtrot Romeo, renew rivalry in the St James's Palace Stakes.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Abundantly (4.15 Carlisle)
Returned this year much improved for a winter on her back and looks happy with a step up in trip.
Next Best: Set To Music (7.55 Warwick)
Already a winner at this level and might've scored one grade up last time.
One To Watch: The progressive Ithoughtitwasover (Mark Johnston) can be considered better than his latest fifth place at Newmarket.
Where The Money's Going: Joseph O'Brien, who has four rides on tomorrow's Royal Ascot opening day, is now 7-4 by Ladbrokes to be top jockey.Reuse content