Black Bear impresses in defeat

O'Brien still bullish over High Chaparral's brother after Longchamp third

Sue Montgomery
Thursday 30 January 2014 05:04

Anticipation of the outcome of the shake of the genetic cocktail that occurs at every mating is what drives the thoroughbred breeding industry – the factory floor – that in turn underpins the sport of racing, the shop window. Luckily for all concerned, there is no foolproof formula. It is more than a century, for instance, since two equine brothers won the Derby.

The latest horse burdened with the hope of following in the hoofprints of Diamond Jubilee – who, in 1900, emulated big bro Persimmon at Epsom – is Black Bear Island. And though the colt, whose sibling High Chaparral took the Blue Riband seven years ago, opened his three-year-old campaign yesterday with a defeat – he was third in a muddling edition of the Prix La Force at Longchamp – the only thing he lost in France was the race. His lofty reputation, the approbation of his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, and his position towards the top of the Derby betting all remain unaltered.

Settled midfield by Johnny Murtagh, the son of Sadler's Wells travelled smoothly through a typically Gallic pedestrian early pace to the 10-furlong contest, but was slightly bottled between rivals as the beat quickened half a mile out and was caught flat-footed as On Est Bien and Topclas, both with the benefit of outings already this term, swept unimpeded from the rear of the field.

Once clear, the bay started readily to reduce the deficit on the pair who had flown, coming in five lengths behind the winner without being given in any way a hard time. His pedigree apart, he had impressed both when he won his maiden by four lengths last August, and when he led home his group of workers on a Ballydoyle awayday to the Curragh last month.

"Very happy," O'Brien said yesterday, "and so was Johnny. The horse will have learnt a lot from this, having to race among horses and come between them like that. The last day he was in front and did it easily and this is all part of his education. He'll have been a bit fresh in himself today and, all being well, we'll get another trial into him in a few weeks' time. Like his brother, he's a horse that has always showed plenty of class."

Another Ballydoyle inmate, Westphalia, found one too good in the Prix Fontainebleau over a mile on the same card, going down by half-a-length to race-fit Silver Frost, and O'Brien – with two perceived stronger 2,000 Guineas candidates in Mastercraftsman and Rip Van Winkle at home – was similarly unconcerned about the reverse.

The Prix la Grotte, over the same course, produced a surprise defeat for Proportional, France's best juvenile filly last year, who has now been removed from some 1,000 Guineas lists and the market leader Rainbow View cut to as short as 7-4. And another piece of that Classic jigsaw slotted into place yesterday with the booking of Pat Smullen for the second favourite Serious Attitude.

The rule of thumb about the romance of the story being a guide to a big-race winner does not usually apply to our Derby ("Irish millionaire businessmen victorious. Again") but in the broader social spectrum of the sport in the States there is more room for narrative manoeuvre.

And if the tale's the tip, then look no further for this year's Kentucky Derby hero than General Quarters, who sounded his credentials in all departments in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday night. The colt, who left the British raider Mafaaz trailing in eighth place, is the only horse trained by 75-year-old retired high school principal Tom McCarthy, who has overcome a bout of cancer.

McCarthy, based in the Derby's home, Louisville, claimed General Quarters for $20,000 (£13,600) out of his first race a year ago and owns as well as trains him. Saturday's surprise Grade One success brought the grey's earnings to $641,753 (£438,000).

Mafaaz guaranteed himself a start in next month's Run For The Roses by winning the inaugural Kentucky Derby Challenge, but the bold venture is now in the balance. "We'll have to regroup," said his trainer, John Gosden, "and see where we're at."

Despite the growing momentum of the elite Flat season, jumpers take centre stage today with the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, in which Wichita Lineman, one of two British raiders, may have to shoulder top weight if the ground is deemed too firm this morning for Notre Pere.

Yesterday at the Co Meath track Aran Concerto, running for only the second time in 20 months, and his rider, Philip Carberry, on his first day back since sustaining a collapsed lung at the Cheltenham Festival, shrugged off their physical problems to take the Grade One feature, the Powers Gold Cup, narrowly thwarting the Willie Mullins-trained duo Barker and Deutschland.

Nap: Corrib Drift (4.25 Fakenham)

NB: Zefooha (2.35 Redcar)

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