27 May 2007

It’s not just the cards, it’s how they are dealt for you. At Newmarket they dropped just right for Cockney Rebel. At The Curragh for his attempt at the English/Irish 2,000 Guineas double, the order looked a lot more difficult. But an ace is still an ace.

At the line Cockney Rebel had a length to spare over Creachadoir and the fast-finishing 40-1 outsider It’s A Decoy and was duly greeted with a second rendering of the banshee delight shown by his connections at Newmarket. But the headiness of the celebrations for this bargain colt should not obscure the toughness of the ordeal. Twice it had looked as if the deal had gone against him.

The first time seemed slightly his fault. Once the gates slammed open Cockney Rebel was hit by such an adrenalin rush that the opening image was of him trying to pull Olivier Peslier’s arms from his sockets. And whereas at Newmarket, the Frenchman was able to drop him back behind the other runners and wait to play his trumps, yesterday he was soon exposed. Unwilling and unable to anchor the colt, Peslier elected to let him blaze up behind Vital Equine and the Ballydoyle pacemaker Trinity College. Behind him the old fox that is Mick Kinane thought he might have played too soon.

“I was out the back on It’s A Decoy,” Mick said, “and I could see that the favourite was going a rare gallop and hoped he might find it a long way home. It’s a hard old finish here. He took care of the others in the end but he had to work a bit. This is a very different place from Newmarket.”

But Peslier has globe-trotted almost as much as the ginger-eyebrowed Irish sage of the weighing room. He let Cockney Rebel take the leaders a good quarter of a mile from home and let the others also hurt. For a few dramatic seconds as Duke of Marmalade attacked along the rail and Creachadoir on the outside it seemed as if the 6-4 favourite was going to go the way of so many colts who couldn’t recapture that Newmarket rapture. But Cockney Rebel is clearly tough as well as talented. Coming past us at the final furlong he had to dig. And dig he did.

It was not particularly pretty and the form with It’s A Decoy only a length away in third does not look in the very highest class, albeit that the winning time of 1 minute 36.10 seconds was a couple of seconds quicker than the Ridgewood Pearl Stakes later in the day. But if a colt lands two Classics in a month he has earned his place in the history books. And besides, it gave the racing world a chance to be fully prepared to appreciate the Cockney Rebel team in full cry. Not for nothing did owner Phil Cunningham take the microphone and shout “Now you believe”.

Steve Harley has been a believer from the beginning. “I had all sorts of bets at 66-1 and 40-1,” said the ageing rocker. Last week he and Cockney Rebel (the band) were among the stars at the Countryside Alliance concert at Highclere Castle, but yesterday he was thrilled just to be a bystander. “I can’t tell you how much of a thrill this is,” he said. “I love to see a good horse gallop. And here is a horse named after me who is making history.”

Trainer Geoff Huffer was almost overcome by the emotion of it all. “So many people have written nice things to us after Newmarket,” he said, “that I had to put a piece in the Racing Post to try and thank them all. But today is very special because it proves what we were saying. This animal could beat anything at six furlongs or a mile and a quarter. He will now go to the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot, have a bit of a rest and then go for the Queen Elizabeth II or the Juddmonte and then probably the Breeders’ Cup Mile. I tell you he is some horse.”

Huffer has well deserved the redemption that Cockney Rebel has brought him and can afford to be still celebrating the hundred-fold increase in value that he must have given to what was once a 30,000gns yearling when the Derby comes round next Saturday. By then it may be another heart-on-sleeve trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam, who will be in the limelight with hot favourite Authorized and his date with destiny with Frankie Dettori. Yesterday’s news was that Dettori will take a couple of days rest after a fall on Friday but he still seems well set to end his Derby drought in style.

If so, one of the first to congratulate him will be one of his riding rivals. For Mick Kinane, the likely partner of the improving O’Brien colt Archipenko, is also the breeder of Authorized. Warned that the world might look askance at too warm an embrace for a supposed opponent, Kinane gave those ginger whiskers a twitch and muttered: “Don’t worry, there’s a limit to how much you can kiss an Italian.”

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