This weekend sees another family outing, though this time two horses are involved rather than jockeys or trainers. Looking after both of them is trainer John Gosden, who is already having one of his best seasons. If his brother and sister charges, Nathaniel in tomorrow’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and Great Heavens in Sunday’s Irish Oaks each win their Group 1 race it will be an achievement likely to turn up in sporting quizzes for many years to come.
Gosden was playing down that happening, but that’s so typical of the man. He said, “It would be a bit unusual, wouldn’t it. And for that reason it’s probably highly unlikely to happen. But we’re certainly rolling the dice.”
Just two weeks ago the pair won races within an hour of each other, when Nathaniel repelled all challenges in the Coral-Eclipse before Great Heavens made all for a comfortable victory in the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock. A further double would be a remarkable achievement, and Gosden thought hard before deciding to go for it. He explained, “I can’t emphasise enough how demanding these middle distance races are. If it were a sprinter, you wouldn’t hesitate, but it’s different in these races.”
What gave him pause for thought in relation to both horses was the gap of just two weeks between the races. Normally there are three weeks between the Eclipse and the King George. Gosden has no quibble with the decision to bring the latter race forward a week to ensure television coverage by avoiding an Olympic clash, though he says the gap is “minimalistic” in terms of recovery time.
Of Nathaniel, 11/4 for a repeat of last year’s win in the King George, Gosden said, “He seems very well in himself, very happy. He breezed well on Tuesday; he cantered yesterday and again today (Thursday). He’s eating well, he looks well. Obviously he lost a certain amount of weight in the Eclipse but he’s put back what you’d want to see him put back.” Has Nathaniel recovered? “You can never know until the last two furlongs and I can’t rehearse those things at home.”
That same short period between races is Gosden’s biggest worry for Great Heavens,who at 9/4 is also the favourite for her race. The Irish Oaks is the last major race this season restricted to three-year-old fillies, so it represents too good a chance to miss of her gaining a first Group 1 success. Gosden describes the filly as “very perky”, but expects Princess Highway to prove a more difficult rival than she faced last time.
Will they both win? Gosden says probably not, but then he regularly underplays his hand, so it won’t be too surprising if he pulls it off.