2,000 GUINEAS 2024

SUNDAY TIMES

5TH May 2024

Pegasus lost his wings. Dreams of City Of Troy soaring to the ultimate racing heights didn’t last a minute. 50 seconds into this 2,000 Guineas Ryan Moore’s wrists were amoving on the reins and the horse of all our fantasies soon faded to be distant 9th behind the impressive winner Notable Speech 

The finish had been thrilling. Notable Speech had swept through on the far rail to master a duel with Rosallion and run out a decisive winner with Rosallion’s stable companion Haatem third and Derby entry Ghostwriter 4th

Notable Speech didn’t race until January 27th at Kempton and repeated that opening victory with two more successes at the same track so becomes the first 2,000 winner to have solely all-weather public preparation. He is a magnificent home bred son of Godolphin’s top sire Dubawi and a great credit to his trainer Charlie Appleby and the belief of rider William Buick.

The winner deserves his due but you couldn’t escape a feeling of emptiness. Last year City Of Troy looked unbeatable, this year Aidan O’Brien and all his team were convinced he would carry all before him. Now he could hardly carry a can. “It’s almost too bad to be true,” said Aidan. He could say that again. 

There were no signs beforehand and nothing showed when the vets checked him out afterwards. In the paddock City Of Troy is nothing like as showy as Notable Speech, and cut a slighter specimen than the handsome Rosallion who circled behind him. But we knew this from last year when his three victories led O’Brien to credit City Of Troy as the best two year old he had ever trained. What mattered was how he moved and when Ryan Moore cantered him down this historic Rowley Mile there was once again a purring perfection to the stride. 

But it wasn’t there in the race. City Of Troy was last into the stalls and immediately up  in the lead with  Haatem and Inisherin on his left and the runaway Night Raider to his right. The pace was rapid enough, the second third and fourth furlongs were all sub 11.50 seconds, but instead of upping it and taking the others out of their comfort zone as he had done in the Dewhurst on this course last October, City Of Troy was now impotent. Moore upped his urges, tried a couple of cracks of the whip but the would-be horse of the ages didn’t look unwilling, just unable.

It’s easy, and at this stage factually correct, to say the phrase “he didn’t train on” and City Of Troy now has the dubious distinction of, at 4-6, to be the shortest price of the unhappy list of beaten O’Brien trained 2,000 Guineas favourites. But, while the trainer is no stranger to hyperbole especially when lucrative stud value is in prospect, his is a meticulous operation and I know from a personal visit that all the staff, most particularly City Of Troy’s hugely experienced work rider Dean Gallaher, were equally convinced that this was the real thing. 

When the rug came off in the paddock the tightness of the muscle tone and the hint of the ribs suggested that the man who had already trained a record ten 2,000 Guineas winners had this candidate primed to become the 11th

O’Brien himself was at a loss for an explanation. “He got upset in the stalls, which he had never done before,” he said of his fallen idol. ‘He was in the middle of the pace but he just flattened out. We’ll take him home and see.”

“Am I shocked? Of course. Absolutely,” he added to one slightly unnecessary query. “We wouldn’t have been here if we thought he was going to do that, would we? Listen, that’s the way. It’s not his running, we’ll find out was wrong. Everything was straightforward with him. We’ll take it on the chin. We’ll try not to let it happen again.”

Resurrection is not impossible as O’Brien showed by winning last year’s Derby with Auguste Rodin who had also blown out in his 2000 Guineas. But this colt was supposed to be the fairest of them all and you almost hoped to see him stumbling or sick as he returned from the immediate veterinary check out afterwards. 

But he was just an elegant sweat soaked three year old walking round with his burly escort Davey Hickey. Behind him deep in conclave came Ryan Moore and Pat Keating, the lean travel maestro you see beside all O’Brien’s runners in the paddock. “Ryan didn’t really say anything” confided Keating, “but what is there to say? Racing can be a funny game.”

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