16 October 2005

It always makes sense afterwards. David Junior may have started as a 25-1 outsider but there was no fluke about his Champion Stakes victory. Already the winner of four of his eight races and an eight-lengths victor on his last visit to Newmarket, he was a progressive three-year-old trained by a progressive trainer. It’s just a choker that we didn’t back him.

The obvious is always easier. Oratorio was made firm favourite on the strength of his victories in the Eclipse and the Irish Champion, neatly ignoring his failure to act downhill at both Epsom in the Derby and, more relevantly, here in the 2,000 Guineas. The mare Pride led a four-strong French challenge, and her Irish equivalent Alexander Goldrun was another one we looked for as the race got underway. At David Junior and champion elect Jamie Spencer, hardly a glance was given.

As Maraheel took over from the fading Godolphin pacemaker Echo of Light two furlongs out, Spencer found the horse beneath him had the legs of his rivals. It was earlier than he planned but he hasn’t transformed his career by hanging about, winning 150 races and over £2 million this season. He aimed David Junior for home entering the final furlong. It was the winning move.

Pride ran on to be three quarters of a length second, Maraheel hung on to be third and Oratorio eventually closed up to be a three-lengths fourth after (predictably in hindsight) losing his position in the Dip. But let’s give the winner his due. He is the latest testament to the talent of 38-year-old Brian Meehan, who is in his 14th year as a trainer, and a first British Group One victor for Daily Sport and Birmingham City supremo David Sullivan, who has been an owner for rather longer.

Time was when Sullivan’s Roldvale operation had some 60 broodmares and fleets of horses. “But the whole thing couldn’t make sense,” said the owner in the winner’s enclosure. “For the last four years Brian [Meehan] and Richard Galpin have been buying four or five at the Florida Two-Year-Old sale and I am actually breaking even. When horse racing is like this, it is a wonderful game.”

As Sullivan’s seven-year-old son beamed at the triumph of his namesake, the $175,000 that had been spent on David Junior at the sales seemed a bargain, although 35 minutes earlier the connections of Dewhurst winner Sir Percy had been looking at an even bigger jackpot. Marcus Tregoning’s juvenile had just collected £145,000, kept his unbeaten record and taken his value way into seven figures. Not bad for a neat looking colt who cost only 16,000 gns as a yearling.

The Aidan O’Brien camp had elected to run Horatio Nelson instead of George Washington and jockey Kieren Fallon was tight-lipped after meeting trouble in running and eventually only getting beaten a neck. But while it’s true that Horatio Nelson was buried in the pack for most of the race, from my direct viewpoint along the rails 100 yards out, he got clear racing room a furlong out but Sir Percy’s first move was quicker.

This was a first Dewhurst for 30-year-old Martin Dwyer who began the day as a proud observer as a magnificent Philip Blacker statue of Persian Punch was unveiled. It was at this packed Champion’s Day in 2003 that Dwyer guided “Punch” to an unforgettable third Jockey Club Cup. Big-hearted stayers are what the game needs and so Sergeant Cecil’s effort yesterday to complete an historic Cesarewitch, Ebor Handicap, Northumberland Plate treble was supremely appropriate.

Owner Terry Cooper has long since lost himself in wonderment at Sergeant Cecil’s achievements and once again must have thought victory impossible as his horse still had five lengths to make up on King Revo inside the final furlong. But the clock in Alan Munro’s head is clearly as well tuned as the training regime Rod Millman has so skillfully developed down in Cullompton, Devon. Sergeant Cecil swept through to win by three-quarters of a length.

For Alan Munro it was the crowning moment of a comeback season after a 10-year absence in the Far East which included a Sabbatical in which he became a black belt at karate. His season was, to pun horribly, ‘kick-started’ by early victories on a string of Millman two-year-olds. Maybe this historic climax, should have been obvious too.

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