If only everything in life were as reliable. Not, admittedly, the sort of observation generally prompted by a thoroughbred – except, perhaps, among those who feverishly presume that every vagary in equine performance reflects the cynical intervention of men. But Yeats, the most glorious stayer of the modern era, yesterday dispatched his inferiors with an air of such dependability that he might very well, if he is not careful, end up giving the sport a good name.
For if the lunchtime conversation of the Ladies' Day crowd concerned the previous evening's BBC investigation into "Racing's Dirty Secrets" – curiously sterile as it was – then their hearts were surely engaged anew by Yeats. His performance in the RBS Goodwood Cup might have been mechanical in its efficiency, but was utterly lyrical in effect.
As it happens, the epoch-making reliability of his stable had for once been betrayed, Aidan O'Brien and his patrons being grounded by fog back home in Ireland. If only their plane had horsepower of this kind – soaring, celestial, abiding.
Yeats had already had his name carved into the sport's pantheon after winning his third consecutive Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. In this season of unparalleled supremacy for Ballydoyle, the one potential menace to Yeats seemed to be the horse who had accompanied him from Co Tipperary. But Honolulu was under pressure and going nowhere before the home turn, leaving Johnny Murtagh to send the 8-15 favourite dancing past Tungsten Strike two furlongs out.
It really was poetry in motion, as Yeats danced seven lengths clear, though for what it is worth his owners apparently did not name him in honour of William Butler, but his brother, Jack. And the returning champion might well have found his way on to one of Jack's early canvases: Murtagh gaunt and pale, and the dark silks of John Magnier brushed thickly by the grey, drizzly light.
"A great horse and a true warrior," Murtagh declared. "The crowds turned out to see him, and he didn't let them down. He has often done more at home on the gallops. He was a little fresh at Ascot, and today was much better. He has a very high cruising speed, and when he gets into top gear he can maintain it. He's relentless. He had so many horses beaten at the top of the hill."
Certainly Yeats seems every bit as good at seven as he did when he last came here, to win with similar leisure as a five-year-old. Whether he will persevere at eight will not be decided until the end of the season, but he will presumably go back to the Irish St Leger in the meantime.
In the absence of O'Brien, Murtagh paid warm tribute to his trainer. "Aidan is a gentleman," he said. "The way you see him at the races is the way he is all the time. He sets the tone. It's not by accident that the yard is successful. He's very dedicated and there is no secrecy or whispering in the yard, everyone is involved."
Murtagh had himself received a still greater encomium after winning the Audi King George Stakes for William Haggas on Enticing. The trainer's wife, Maureen, said: "Johnny gave Enticing a brilliant ride, he's riding with such confidence and I think he's a genius as a jockey – the closest thing to my father I've seen." Maureen's maiden name, for the record, was Piggott.
Murtagh himself meanwhile gave only qualified praise for his mount, saying: "She's a bit mad this one. She's got two speeds: very slow and very fast. She's keen even in a five-furlong race like this. I knew they wouldn't be fast enough to leave her, so I gave her a chance and she came on the bridle at halfway."
Today Murtagh rides Waffle in the Sir Tristram Ricketts Memorial Richmond Stakes, but the way Khor Dubai (4.05) won a nursery last time suggests that he might be ready to make the leap achieved for the same stable last autumn by Ibn Khaldun.
An experiment over 10 furlongs backfired for Extraterrestrial (3.30) when the ground turned heavy at York last time, but he remains handicapped to win a valuable prize and perhaps the fitting of cheekpieces will make it the Totesport Mile.
NORTHERN DARE (nap 2.50) meanwhile was short of room at Newmarket last time and had previously suggested himself an ideal type for this sharp six furlongs.Reuse content