John Gosden came within the shortest possible distance, a nose, of training a remarkable family double in the weekend’s two feature races in England and Ireland. Whilst Great Heavens came home three lengths clear in the Irish Oaks, her full brother Nathaniel had been caught on the line in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes 24 hours earlier.
The King George was a truly international affair, with England’s best horses joined by rivals bred and trained in Germany, Ireland, France and Japan, and with those countries represented amongst the jockeys, with an Australian thrown in for good measure. Japan’s Deep Brillante was the only representative of the three year olds, another indication surely of a weak Classic generation here this season. That didn’t detract from an absorbing King George with an absolutely cracking finish which had Germany’s Andreas Starke pulling out all the stops on Danedream to overhaul William Buick and Nathaniel on the line.
Nathaniel and Great Heavens are the outcome of successive matings between Galileo and Magnificent Style, and the Irish Oaks saw the younger horse put in a performance that was perfectly summed up by her mother’s name. It wasn’t a straightforward win, as an inside draw led to her being caught up amongst other runners, but on his 24th birthday, William Buick found a way through to make up some five lengths in the last two furlongs before drawing away.
Trainer John Gosden had resigned himself to a miss, saying, “I’d nearly given up hope at the two furlong marker. I didn’t think she’d get out but she has a lot of ability.”
Nathaniel and Great Heavens both had hard races just two weeks ago, and Gosden himself was one of many who had played down any thoughts of a Group 1 double. In the event, he was right, but both horses gave everything, and came closer to pulling off an unlikely family affair than most people thought possible.