28 September 2008

It’s one thing to stand hard races, quite another to thrive on them. Raven’s Pass took on his French conqueror Tamayuz and his three-times nemesis Henrythenavigator and landed  the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in such style that he will now go to the Breeders’ Cup in California as a major flag-carrier for Europe.

In a week featuring acrimonious exchanges over the use of pacemakers, both Tamayuz and Henrythenavigator turned up with these four-legged “domestiques”, and a fat lot of good it did them. For the pair of pacesetters set off in madcap duel for the lead, which left not just them but Tamayuz legless early in the straight. Raven’s Pass, extra grateful for having such a gallop to settle behind, swept to the front 250 yards out and, though Henrythenavigator battled, he never got closer than the length he was at the line.

After Raven’s Pass finished fourth to “Henry” in the 2,000 Guineas, many of us, trainer John Gosden included, began to wonder if the chestnut would be better dropping back to sprinting trips. Subsequent seconds at Ascot, Chantilly and Goodwood over a mile confirmed his stamina and yesterday Jimmy Fortune was blaming his own exaggerated waiting tactics for not taking “Henry” at Goodwood. Tactics are a part of it. But as Raven’s Pass stuck sweat-soaked nostrils into a bucket of water, those closest to him paid tribute to the toughness and temperament that have seen him finally hit the target at the highest level.

And to think that what Raven’s Pass hit hardest the first time he went to a racecourse was the front of the stalls – so hard that they burst open and he was not allowed to take part. Since then he has always been accompanied to the start by the lanky “horse whispering” presence of Steve ‘Yarmy’ Dyble. “He just gets a bit tense,” says Dyble putting his friend in a headlock, “but he is a terrific little horse. He is getting better and better. I love him.”

American hearts at Santa Anita should be the next to receive him, but it remains unclear whether he will be aimed at the Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf or the Breeders’ Cup Classic over a mile and a quarter of the new synthetic racing surface. The argument against the mile is that the first turn comes about 100 yards after the start and the memory still lingers of the 1993 running at Santa Anita, where only extreme good fortune prevented a mass pile-up as eight horses collided round that first corner. The new surface should be far more suitable for European runners than the little-lamented dirt, and the way Raven’s Pass finishes, the distance may well be not beyond him.

Henrythenavigator may well take the same route and one has to hope that his journey over will be a bit less fraught than yesterday when fog so delayed the aircraft that Aidan O’Brien’s two-year-old colts in the Royal Lodge Stakes failed to make entry time. Mark Johnston’s Jukebox Jury did, and overcame a strange piece of acrobatics at the start to win impressively and put himself into the 2,000 Guineas, if not the Breeders’ Cup betting.

Most promising equine winner of the day was the Gosden-trained, Fortune-ridden Rainbow View, who took her unbeaten sequence to four in the Meon Valley Stud Fillies’ Mile and will now go into the winter as favourite for next spring’s 1,000 Guineas. Rainbow View is not very big but she is wonderfully well balanced and she has that priceless gift in any form of athletics, the ability to accelerate. If she winters well she should be a joy to watch.

Hayley Turner already is. She rode the biggest winner of her career, and the 75th of the season when getting Furnace home in the 29-runner £150,000 Totesport.com Challenge Cup. When she tied for the apprentice title with Saleem Golam in 2005, the good wishes were with her, but the form book very much wasn’t. But three seasons on she has grafted away to become not just competent but inspirationally bright.

The fact that she is a rare woman making it in what has always been a man’s world is now ignored by professionals. But if she continues to gather momentum in the way she is, something very special is going to happen in the wider world. People are going to look into racing and find something they like. Hayley, like Raven’s Pass, is very definitely thriving on it.

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