Just how soft was the ground at York yesterday? John Gosden called it ‘dead’ and Aidan O’Brien deemed it testing enough to take out his dual Guineas hero Gleneagles. Yet the shock winner’s finishing time matched that of 2014 winner Australia and was less than a second slower than Frankel posted in 2012.
Arabian Queen is clearly a talented filly. She improved for a step up in trip when chasing home Legatissimo in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. Prior to that she had finished behind Ervedya at Royal Ascot and failed to settle when last to Amazing Maria in the Falmouth; both races at a mile. Yesterday she was able to settle far better; ironically after taking a lead from Golden Horn’s pacemaker.
Dettori settled the favourite in third, just a couple of lengths behind the filly. Turning in, De Sousa made his move on Arabian Queen and stretched that gap to around three lengths. Golden Horn had to be bustled along to gain, but by the furlong pole looked to be getting on top. However, David Elsworth’s diminutive charge found more, delivering one of the greatest upsets in the races’ history.
Gosden stuck to the ‘dead ground’ line after the race, saying: “Frankie just felt that he was hard to settle the first six. He didn't run in the King George obviously and was a very fresh horse since the Eclipse and he's rather gassed himself out in the ground. He's gone in front of the filly and then just tired in what is dead ground. There's no doubt he's a much better horse on fast ground as we know which he has always run on.”
Chances are that Golden Horn was a little fresh early in the race, but he still pulled clear of The Grey Gatsby, beating him by the same distance as in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. Connections clearly favour fast ground for the Derby winner, but this obviously restricts his options going forward. The likelihood of him traveling to Paris in October now appears incredibly slim.
The result also questions the positioning of the colts against the fillies and mares. Arabian Queen had been swept aside by Legatissimo at Goodwood. Surely David Wachman’s filly would have gone close in yesterday’s showpiece. She could well be the best mile a quarter horse out there, though the chances of us finding out may rest with her participation in the Irish Champion Stakes in September. Sadly the Matron Stakes on the same card at Leopardstown looks the more likely target.
In France at the weekend Esoterique struck another blow for the female of the species. She proved too strong for stable companion Territories in testing conditions at Deauville. She’d previously chased home Muhaarar over an inadequate six furlongs and prior to that got within a length of probably this season’s best miler, Solow.
Yet she looks some way off the outstanding Amazing Maria, who has been blazing the trail at a mile during the summer, with Group 1 wins in the Falmouth at Newmarket and the Prix Rothschild Stakes at Deauville. She has looked more than capable of putting it up to the colts should connections take the plunge.
Golden Horn’s defeat yesterday also raises doubts over Jack Hobbs’ prospects of launching a serious challenge in the Arc come October. He has been thumped twice by his stable companion and though he appears to have scope for further improvement, he’ll probably need to progress past his Epsom Derby conqueror if he is to have any chance of defeating the outstanding European mare, Treve.
Today it’s the turn of Covert Love to test her credentials as a potential star filly, when she takes on her own sex in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks. The winner of the Irish Oaks has progressed dramatically through the campaign, and a dominant performance today could see her thrust into the mix for the major end of season middle-distance events.
Trainer Hugo Palmer is clearly pleased with her progress since that Curragh success, saying: “She has been great since the Irish Oaks – I’m absolutely delighted with her. The strong pace in Ireland suited her but she has made her own running and is very amenable – we have never had to think too much about how she’s going to be ridden. Up until now a different jockey has ridden her in every race, and none of them have done anything wrong, but Pat (Smullen) is the man that has won a Group 1 on her so he keeps the ride.”
Of course the fillies and mares have their own schedule of Group 1 races to aim at, including on Champions Day at Ascot in October. But the Arc has gone the way of the ‘fairer sex’ in five of the last seven renewals, and a trip to Paris could become a very tempting proposition.
Golden Horn’s defeat in yesterday’s Juddmonte was a major shock, despite doubts over ground conditions. However, connections of Arabian Queen should be applauded for taking a plunge. The result once again proved that the girls are more than capable of downing the boys at the highest level. Let’s hope the result sparks an end of season ‘clash of the sexes’.
Such encounters could prove to be ‘clashes’ worth waiting for.