By Tony Stafford
John Gosden gets most things right in the operating of his team of high-class thoroughbreds, but the result of the 2015 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes suggests he made a considerable mistake by withdrawing Golden Horn in the hours leading up to the great race.
As Dave Nevison commented in a throwaway line on Racing UK while discussing Ascot’s stewards own own-goal over the belated (and later reversed) decision to declare Speculative Bid a non-runner after a stalls misfortune in the previous big handicap, “it’s nice that someone can afford to miss out on the £689,000 first prize”.
Naturally the decision had more to do with projected stud fees after his end-of-year retirement, but had Golden Horn run and won with conditions against him it would have added to his lustre for mare owners.
Just like the stewards, Gosden and owner Anthony Oppenheimer will have been wondering whether their decision to pull out on the grounds of unsuitable ground, was correct. True Ascot had 35 millimetres of rain in the preceding 24 hours, but as most people reckon these days, the moisture simply drains through.
So it was left to two more Gosden hopes, Eagle Top, the new favourite, and Romsdal, in the Godolphin colours, to fly the Clarehaven flag in face of such as Postponed, from Luca Cumani, Sir Michael Stoute’s Hardwicke winner Snow Sky and the seven-year-old Clever Cookie, trying the most elevated level of competition after spells as bumper horse, hurdler and upwardly mobile Flat handicapper for Peter Niven.
Hardly an elite bunch, you’d say, and you would be right after an epic finish where Postponed, showing great courage under Andrea Atzini, saw off confidently-ridden Eagle Top and Frankie Dettori, who thereby was not even top Italian rider on the day.
The first two, who’d been involved in an in-race barging match in the Hardwicke Stakes over course and distance at the recent Royal meeting, were clear of pacemaker Romsdal, with Snow Sky this time only sixth of the remaining seven runners behind Madame Chiang and Clever Cookie, a 4-1 shot for Britain’s premier midsummer Group 1!
Gosden’s worries about running an unbeaten Derby winner on what he perceived as unsuitable ground seemed over-protective before the race, and simply silly afterwards. The times for yesterday’s races suggested it was no worse than good to soft all day and the fact that the final time was quicker than that of the Hardwicke will have caused Big John more than a little irritation.
Ascot, principally through the efforts of Nick Smith, work hard to get strong representation in all their big races and particularly the Royal meeting, but even the £1.15 million prize fund for the King George is evidently not enough to entice many top names.
Here we had ten declarations with just one from France, one from Italy and none from Ireland, so no O’Brien, Bolger, Weld and Oxx runner, and the French Flintshire followed the Golden Horn route, while Italy’s Dylan Mouth, unbeaten at home made it a second Ascot flop on his overseas trips in finishing last of the remaining seven.
The first three produced an entertaining finish, but it is hard to see the official handicappers pushing the winner’s mark much higher than the pre-race 118, considering that beforehand, the trio had won just seven of their 26 career starts.
In that context, the 130-rated Golden Horn should have been able to beat his elders, from whom he was set to receive 12lb. Now he sets off for York, and after the show of Gosden self-doubt, maybe the Irish will be encouraged to take him on over the Dante trip.
I’ve missed the odd King George, but I’m glad I decided not to watch the anticipated Golden Horn lap of honour and unlike many racegoers who did make the journey, therefore didn’t feel cheated. Instead I was able to switch back and forth through the channels to keep track of the last meaningful stage of the Tour de France.
Chris Froome and his Sky Cycling teammates have endured days of innuendo about whether or not they and especially he ever consumed illegal drugs, magnified ever since he set up what was to be an unchanging lead in the early stages of the three-week Tour.
At the same time, another outstanding British sportsman, Mo Farah has been suffering the consequences of a close association with a coach about who drugs involvement are suspected. Mo was over the road at the Olympic stadium on Friday night, running his usual brilliant race to beat off all comers before going off to the World Championships next month.
The same evening, Usain Bolt was back in the old routine, winning the 100 metres, but in an environment where cyclists (Froome, South African-born), cricketers (many English Test cricketers were also born in that country) and runners like Farah (born in Somalia) run for Britain, we’ve got a new man who could be as they say, the real deal.
Step forward 20-year-old Zharnel Hughes, a training partner of Bolt’s in London this summer, who hails from Anguilla, a tiny Caribbean island with a population of just 15,000. Because they do not have an Olympic committee, any of their athletes cannot run under the Anguillan flag, but as they have British passports, they can run for us.
So in a month when Zimbabwe-born Gary Balance became the scapegoat for the Lord’s Test debacle, losing his place for Edgbaston this week, Hughes endeared himself to the East London crowd with a fast win over 200 metres. The youngster already has a Diamond League victory on his 2015 record and should go close to a medal next month.
I don’t have BT Sport, so missed the six Arsenal goals in an Emirates Cup thrashing of Lyon, France’s second or third best team. Needless to say the experts are still saying Wenger needs to buy. He doesn’t.
But yesterday’s principal activity was to watch three of my grandchildren on the stage. The eldest played Danny in a rousing production of Grease in which his younger sister seemed to be in just about every scene through an evening which also featured Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, in which their 11-year-old cousin played the leading role.
It’s hard to know where the trio collected the confidence and talent genes, but it’s lovely to think you made a little contribution to the evening.