18 May 2008

Normal service resumed and old truths borne out. Godolphin and Frankie Dettori reasserted their authority with Creachadoir in the Juddmonte Lockinge at Newbury as did the harsh truth that you mustn’t wait too long in a slowly-run race. Or that is certainly how it first seemed.

Creachadoir, a handsome, muscular colt, was only the Godolphin team’s third winner from 15 starters since Ibn Khaldun began their European campaign with a deeply disappointing effort in the 2,000 Guineas on May 3. In that period, that horse’s three-year-old class-mates have failed to measure up to Classic standard, although Rio de La Plata was second in the French 2,000 Guineas, and what has become something of an annual ‘what’s the matter with them’ muttering has filled the air.

But such carping rarely stays with the older horses for long and Creachadoir now looks set for the sort of season that was predicted for him after he ran the Hong Kong champion Good Ba Ba to a short-head at Sha Tin last December. Among the Godolphin team is Brian Proctor, whose in-saddle credentials extend right back to the Brigadier Gerard days with Dick Hern. No one does weather-beaten sagacity better than Proctor and his insistence that Creachadoir was something to follow in 2008 rang true all the way at Newbury.

Yet immediate impressions probably didn’t give him his full due. For with no established pace-setters among the 11 starters, this Lockinge turned into a quarter-mile sprint in which Dettori got first run on his rivals and as many plaudits from we riders in the stand as the others got brickbats for coming too late. He duly did his first Group One flying dismount of the season, but it was accompanied with a fair bit of complaining that he had scored only by out-manoeuvering the rest.

He certainly rode it sweetest. He placed Creachadoir behind Rob Roy, whom Ryan Moore had been able to come right across and set a very steady pace along the stands’ rails. Two furlongs out Dettori cut for home before the gathering sprint could overwhelm him, and although Phoenix Tower, Cesare and Tariq all closed fast, he still had three-quarters of a length to spare at the line.

As a punter it looked annoying, but further inspection suggested that if the others had attacked earlier they might have been beaten further. Runner-up Phoenix Tower was actually alongside Creachadoir when the sprint started; Tariq, the third, has never won a Group One race, a remark which applies to the fourth, Cesare, who, at seven, is unlikely to be getting any better. Both of this last pair came from way out the back with Tariq actually overtaking Cesare on the post, and if there was an unlucky horse it was Aidan O’Brien’s Australian import, Haradasun, who got shut off by Cesare as he finally got going. But as the annoyance settled it was time to focus on Dettori rather than the defeated.

Much earlier in the day on the gallops he had got a very different feeling from Ibn Khaldun than he had received in the 2,000 Guineas. “He seemed completely dead at Newmarket,” said Dettori, “but this morning he was really buzzing again. We can get more work into him next week and see how he is. Now,” added racing’s most quotable ambassador without a trace of irony, “is the time for the horses to do the talking.”

That’s a vain hope with the Derby only three weeks away and with the Derby trials continuing to be inconclusive. More especially so in Godolphin’s case, as their other three-year-olds have disappointed and neither Rio de La Plata nor Fast Company looking to have the necessary stamina for Epsom’s mile-and-a-half.

The market is at present led by Curtain Call, who missed the Lingfield Derby Trial last week, and by Tartan Bearer, who won the Dante Stakes at York on Thursday. The fact that this narrow victory over the unheralded Ballydoyle contender Frozen Fire can catapult Tartan Bearer into favouritism speaks more for trainer Sir Michael Stoute’s reputation than the actual merit of the performance and an as yet unspoken scenario moves ever closer.

For if the 2,000 Guineas second, New Approach, was to be declared a Derby runner he would immediately be installed a short-priced favourite. The fact that he isn’t, is because his trainer Jim Bolger has declared a preference for taking in next Saturday’s Irish 2,000 Guineas and then move New Approach up to a mile-and-a-half (for which he is bred) in the Irish Derby at the end of June.

It is the prudent strategy but will the horse’s owners continue to accept it? For the horse is owned by H R H Princess Haya of Jordan, whose husband Sheikh Mohammed values winning the Epsom Derby above all else. If New Approach was to run well again at The Curragh next Saturday and if Ibn Khaldun does not impress at home, will he really allow the historic Epsom showdown to take place without pitching in a horse who would have a favourite’s chance?

Sheikh Mohammed is famous for many things. But caution is not amongst them.

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