Saturday’s showpiece at Newbury went to Belardo, who came with a storming finish to take the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes.
The drying conditions appeared to be against Roger Varian’s colt, and money started to pour in for one time favourite Limato. Nevertheless, Varian’s charge, the son of Lope De Vega, proved himself more than capable of handling a sounder surface with a devastating burst of speed to gun down Euro Charline in the shadow of the post, and in the process give connections their seventh victory in the race.
Godolphin’s more fancied runner Toormore had taken up the running with three furlongs to go, but was unable to hold off a group of challengers, and faded to fifth. Race favourite Limato came with his challenge nearing the final furlong, but appeared to run out of gas. That left Euro Charline and Endless Drama battling it out, until Belardo swept past on the wide outside.
The winning trainer said: “He salvaged his year last year chasing home Solow at Ascot and that told us we needed to keep him in training. I'm delighted for his owners and they kept the faith in him. His work has always been outstanding at home and he deserved another big one.”
Andrea Atzeni was back on-board Belardo having ridden him to success in the Dewhurst in 2014, and said: “It's great. The last time I sat on him was in the Dewhurst and he's a good horse on his day. I have to thank his owners for letting me ride him. They went quick and he travelled brilliantly. Once he got daylight he picked up well.”
Marco Botti said of Euro Charline: “She ran a blinder. She's tough and I think this is the best she's been. I'll speak to the team but we might take some time out and go for the Falmouth now. Hopefully later in the season the Breeders' Cup would be the main target.”
Ger Lyon was thrilled with Endless Drama, who ran a huge race after such a lengthy absence. He said of the run: “You have to be delighted. The good news is he wants further, which we thought he'd get. The plan is Royal Ascot (for the Queen Anne) but he won't go on extremes and wouldn't run if there is firm in the description. A stiff mile there will suit him. You'd like to think something like the Irish Champion Stakes later in the season would suit him.”
As for Lockinge winner Belardo, he will now be trained for Royal Ascot, and will aim to emulate Canford Cliffs and Frankel, who were the most recent Lockinge winners to successfully land the Queen Anne.
Varian’s four-year-old colt was mightily impressive, but his performance was matched, if not surpassed on Sunday, when Aidan O’Brien’s three-year-old The Gurkha ran out an emphatic winner of the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, the French 2000 Guineas at Deauville.
Sent to the lead by Ryan Moore with just over a furlong remaining, he stormed clear in the style of a top-class colt, to win by just shy of six lengths. Yet another son of Galileo, out of a Danehill Dancer mare, he clearly possesses plenty of speed. Nevertheless, the way he dealt with the preliminaries, including having to be re-shod just before the start, coupled with the way he stormed through the line absolutely full of running, all gives hope that the Derby trip will prove well within his compass.
It’s also worth noting that this was only his third career start, and as such, you’d expect plenty of improvement to come. The bookies reacted by slashing his price for the Epsom Derby. Ladbrokes went shorter than the rest, installing him as their 3/1 favourite.
Co-owner Michael Tabor had expected a big run from the colt. “We actually were pretty confident but it's one thing being confident and another thing winning the way he did, which was pretty awesome,” he said. “I always love a straight mile because I think generally the best horse wins and he has shown what a good horse he is.”
Aidan O'Brien refused to be drawn on whether the winner would head to Epsom, saying: “We thought he was good and he's always had a lot of speed. What he does next is a decision for the lads. We always had in our heads to come here and then go to the French Derby, Epsom Derby or the St James's Palace Stakes; it's a decision the lads will have to make but he does have a lot of speed.
There’s no doubting that his win was visually the most impressive of any three-year-old colt to date, with perhaps the exception of Galileo Gold at Newmarket. Other Derby trials have failed to excite, and Ballydoyle’s main hope appeared to be US Army Ranger, who only just scraped home at Chester. With Hugo Palmer’s Guineas winner still only a maybe for Epsom, I’d be surprised if O’Brien and connections didn’t let The Gurkha take his chance. He looks an exceptional talent.