The sound of bubbles bursting and the smell of fingers burning are still in the air on the Rowley Mile after a Cambridgeshire meeting at Newmarket laced with surprises.
The reputations of a string of well-regarded and heavily backed 2yo favourites went west in East Anglia, leaving many a punter shellshocked.
Trainer Hugo Palmer set the ball rolling on the opening day of the excellent three-day meeting when his 2,000 Guineas hope ESCOBAR was eclipsed in the Group Three Tattersalls Stakes, only half an hour after stablemate UNFORGETABLE FILLY had gone under at a similarly prohibitive price in a new Conditions race for juvenile fillies.
Twenty-four hours later, FAIR EVA, classy daughter of Frankel, was found wanting as a 4-9 favourite for the Group Two Rockfel Stakes. And while Palmer found redemption on the final day with BEST OF DAYS in the Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes, the biggest upsets of all were around the corner as the speed of LADY AURELIA and BLUE POINT were blunted in the Group One double-header of the Cheveley Park and the Middle Park.
Excuses for the Group-race turn-ups were not obvious, particularly as all four favourites looked in fine nick in the paddock. Thankfully Palmer came up with a perfectly acceptable one for the powerful Escobar, who scoped dirty afterwards, which would explain why he dropped away so tamely. He’s still on target for the Guineas next spring but will now be given a prep race, probably in the Greenham at Newbury on April 22.
Fair Eva looked sure to be suited by the step-up in trip to 7f after being exposed for toe in the Lowther Stakes at York. But I was surprised to see her ridden so aggressively and handily by Pat Smullen, and even more surprised that she failed to find enough when asked to pick up. Smullen felt she’s still immature and will improve markedly for a winter on her back, but question marks hover now, particularly as her York conqueror, QUEEN KINDLY, another daughter of Frankel, also let the form and her dad down in the Cheveley Park.
Richard Fahey’s charge fared even worse than Lady Aurelia and on quick ground in a truly-run race, it was hard to invent an explanation for such a fast filly. Except maybe for the fact that Saturday’s racing was undoubtedly blighted by a raging headwind that inexperienced juveniles could not have found comfortable to handle. The conditions certainly affected Lady Aurelia, who didn’t help herself by carting Frankie Dettori through the first 2f before predictably falling in a hole up the hill of the final furlong. On this evidence, it’s 5f or bust for the Royal Ascot heroine, notwithstanding the fact that she was later found to have bled.
The circumstances behind Lady Aurelia’s demise piled extra credit on THE LAST LION for trumping Blue Point and co in the Middle Park. Because Mark Johnston’s colt not only raced from the front into the teeth of the wind, but also found more when challenged at the business end by Charlie Appleby’s impressive Gimcrack Stakes winner. The Last Lion has been touched off in many of the top juvenile gigs this term and somehow reversed form with the favourite amounting to nearly five lengths from York. But he’s an admirably consistent son of Choisir whose physical appearance reflects the durability he has shown since landing the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster way back on April 2. Indeed Johnston revealed that he’s been on the go since February 24, the date of his first serious piece of work at home.
On this occasion, I’m inclined to heap praise on the victor, rather than seek excuses for the vanquished. I felt Blue Point did little wrong, travelling strongly and picking up, and he remains an exciting powerhouse of a prospect for sprinting prizes, starting with the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot next June.
n While most of the sporting world will be entranced by the latest Ryder Cup showdown on Sunday, the focus of racing enthusiasts will be more than 1,000 miles from Minnesota. For the small French town of Chantilly hosts one of the highlights of the racing year. Indeed arguably the most illustrious Flat race on the calendar, the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
The switch to Chantilly, while Longchamp is given a facelift, will not rob the contest of its lustre. But the sorry withdrawal of one of the leading fancies, LA CRESSONNIERE, most certainly will. The brilliant filly, unbeaten in all starts, has been ruled out by a minor injury and, surprisingly, her trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, has seemed reluctant to let equally talented stablemate ALMANZOR, winner of a mindblowing renewal of the Irish Champion, to replace her. He hammered at least five of Sunday’s Arc challengers in Leopardstown but remains on course, instead, for Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot.
The loss of La Cressonniere has been compounded by the likely absence of two other crack 3yo fillies who would surely have had a say -- John Gosden’s SO MI DAR and Aidan O’Brien’s SEVENTH HEAVEN, both of whom have alternative targets. Gosden seems intent on plundering one of Chantilly’s support races, the Prix de l’Opera, while O’Brien is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup.
All of which leaves the Arc at the apparent mercy of the favourite, POSTPONED. Providing, of course, you are happy to overlook the fact that only one 5yo has won the great race in the last 28 years -- when Frankie Dettori steered home Marienbard for Saeed Bin Suroor and Godolphin in 2002.