Until York next week, there isn’t very much of great moment happening on the racecourses of the United Kingdom, but Sunday in France and Ireland was highly interesting and informative, writes Tony Stafford.
Every year the Prix Maurice De Gheest offers a fascinating mid-season barometer of the relative merits of the classic and older generations. At the same time its 1300-metre (6.5 furlong) straight trip brings together pure sprinters and horses that stay further. Often it’s the latter grouping that comes out on top and so it proved yesterday when the four-year-old Space Blues got the better of a field chock-full of Group 1 performers.
Space Blues is trained by Charlie Appleby who sent the four-year-old over 12 months earlier to finish a staying-on third behind the Martyn Meade-trained Advertise.
Appleby showed great enterprise in bringing him back for this repeat attempt, barely a week after a smart win at Goodwood. The field was headed, form- and betting-wise, by the Andre Fabre-trained but also Godolphin-owned Earthlight, unbeaten in six starts and twice a Group 1 winner in a five-race unblemished 2019 juvenile campaign.
Earthlight had every chance throughout and was moved into contention by Mickael Barzalona in the middle of the track, while Space Blues seemed to be struggling after making a sluggish start close to the stands rails.
But then William Buick could be seen to be manoeuvring him into a challenging position and once he secured a gap inside the last furlong, he breezed through and comfortably held Hello Youmzain and Lope Y Fernandez with the favourite only fourth.
Space Blues began life by winning a late-season Nottingham juvenile maiden over a mile and started out last year over 10 furlongs at Newbury, finishing fourth. Dropped in trip he won two seven-furlong races, a York handicap and Epsom Listed before that initial trip to Deauville.
This year – following a single run in Dubai in the winter - he has moved quickly though the grades, collecting a Haydock Listed; a Longchamp Group 3, and then up one more level for the Lennox Stakes (Group 2) at Goodwood where his turn of foot quickly settled that argument.
His ability to quicken characterised yesterday’s display and I have no doubt that for the rest of the season he will be hard to beat at the highest level at anywhere between six and eight furlongs. Considering his pedigree, it was understandable that initially middle-distance racing was at the forefront of Charlie Appleby’s plans.
The son of Dubawi was bred to Miss Lucifer, a triple winner for Barry Hills, and a daughter of Noverre. Noverre was trained for his first seven races by David Loder, all as a two-year-old when Loder had just re-located to train at the recently de-commissioned Evry racecourse near Paris. Noverre had already won twice before retaining his unbeaten record when coming over to Newmarket for the July Stakes.
In all, his form figures with Loder in Europe were 111212, but the decision to send him to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the end of that year proved unsuccessful, Noverre finishing nowhere: 11th of 14. Sent to be trained at three by Saeed Bin Suroor, he was to win only once more from 14 starts, but that one was pretty good, the Group 1 Sussex Stakes at Goodwood!
Space Blues enlivened events at Deauville barely half an hour before another exceptional performance, this time by the Jessica Harrington-trained filly Lucky Vega in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh.
This six-furlong race attracted most of the best of the Irish juveniles to have raced so far as well as The Lir Jet, Michael Bell’s Royal Ascot winner. Steel Bull, so impressive when winning the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood was also in the very strong line-up.
Lucky Vega had been caught late on in a recent run at The Curragh by the big outsider Laws Of Indices, but here she had that rival well in arrears as she strode to a near four-length margin in a style that suggests the Matron Stakes must be on her agenda, as well as all the top fillies’ races elsewhere in Europe.