European Race Report: Waiting Game

By Richard Griffiths
Published in the Sept. 7 issue of The Blood-Horse
"Just you wait," they kept saying. "There's a lot more to come from us." After a season in which Godolphin was thought to be failing to hit its usual number of lofty targets--despite 10 grade/group I wins worldwide--strong signs are emerging that it is re-gathering for an autumn assault of some significance on Europe's top middle-distance races.

Marienbard, it has to be said, had not been regarded by many as a major challenger for the traditional, and prestigious, showdown of the generations that the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I, Oct. 6) at Longchamp provides. But that was before he contested the Grosser Preis von Baden (Ger-I) at Baden Baden on Sept. 1.

This sixth leg of the Emirates World Series--there are eight still to come--proved that Marienbard has the pace and quality to compete with the best over 12 furlongs, having been abortively trained last season for races over even longer trips, including the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-I) last year. He even traveled to Australia for the Melbourne Cup (Aust-I).

The lesson has now been learned, although it may be that the 5-year-old is one of those horses who keeps responding to the challenge he is set, no matter how demanding it is.

Described rather unflatteringly as "an elephant" by some of his connections, Marienbard particularly impressed by the way he was able to win from a slow pace, having kicked on from the home turn to win by 2 1/2 lengths despite idling in front, as is his tendency. As a son of Caerleon, Marienbard is thought to be at his best when the ground is not too firm.

Even better is expected of him now, with Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford saying: "He's a much stronger and more mature horse this year. He showed them all up by coming from off a moderate pace today and for me that's the hallmark of a class horse." Godolphin also has Grandera and Sakhee, for whom there are high hopes that Sakhee will bounce back from recent disappointments, in the Arc.

Meanwhile, hopes that the electrifying York performance of the juvenile filly Russian Rhythm would receive a boost were dashed at the Curragh. Danaskaya, who was second to the Kingmambo filly in the Lowther Stakes (Eng-II), started the 5-2 favorite for the Moyglare Stud Stakes (Ire-I) on Sept. 1 but could only finish fourth. Chances are she was brought back too quickly, as the Moyglare Stud Stakes was only 10 days after the Lowther.

Instead, the seven-furlong contest went to the 8-1 shot Mail The Desert, trained in England by Mick Channon, a former international soccer player who has made a huge success of his career switch.

Mail The Desert's jockey, Steve Drowne, stole the race from the front to win in a blanket finish that did not impress the bookmakers regarding next year's One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I).

That didn't worry Channon, who said: "The 2-year-old form over here (England) is rock solid and as well as having a fair bit of ability, Mail The Desert is a tough filly and takes her races very well."

Another juvenile race that failed to take the breath away was the Iveco Daily Solario Stakes (Eng-III) at Sandown on Aug. 31. In another blanket finish, the race gave Mail The Desert's sire Desert Prince a notable double when Foss Way got up in a blanket finish. "He needs a bit more education," said winning trainer John Gosden.

Bits and Bobs
Aidan O'Brien is ready to return his "Big Three" to the racecourse after confirming that the coughing bout that hit his yard is receding. Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) winner Hawk Wing will be first in action, taking on Godolphin's Grandera in the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) at Leopardstown on Sept. 8. That will be followed a week later by Rock of Gibraltar's bid to win a seventh consecutive group I in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp, while dual-Derby winner High Chaparral will contest the Prix Niel (Fr II), also at Longchamp, on Sept. 15...The only serious challenger to Rock of Gibraltar, for seasonal mile honors, Lockinge Stakes (Eng-I) winner Keltos, has been retired due to injury...Leading sprinter Kyllachy's career also looks to be at an end after suffering from stiffness in the aftermath of his recent victory in the Nunthorpe Stakes (Eng-I) at York.