European Race Report: Rabbit Steals Queen Elizabeth II Stakes

Published in the Oct. 6 issue of The Blood-Horse
Had Hunter S. Thompson been covering Ascot on Sept. 29, he would have detected an element of weirdness during the first race. The Aidan O'Brien-trained 11-2 shot High Sierra finished fifth under stable jockey Michael Kinane while O'Brien's 16-1 Mutinyonthebounty got the money by 1 1/2 lengths for Jamie Spencer.

Come the afternoon's feature race, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I) that usually delineates Europe's champion miler, and only Thompson could have figured things would get weirder. Godolphin's Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) winner Noverre, the 2-1 favorite in the field of eight, had the title sewn up if he could win the QEII over Ascot's round mile, and the "boys in blue" had supplemented pacemaker Summoner at £25,000 to ensure there were no slip-ups.

Summoner, narrowly beaten in a listed race at York early in September, set off at what seemed a too-fast pace in the testing going, officially "soft" but riding closer to heavy in several jockeys' opinions, and led by a good five lengths after a half-mile. Bach, owned in partnership by Satish Sanan, tracked in second, two lengths ahead of Noverre.

The big fish that lined up behind ready to swallow the 33-1 minnow included French-trained Vahorimix, awarded the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas, Fr-I) when Noverre was disqualified for a medication violation. He was equally lucky in the stewards' room when Proudwings was demoted from victory in the Prix Jacques le Marois (Fr-I). German-trained Proudwings, winner of Newmarket's Falmouth Stakes (Eng-II), raced handily along with Singaporean star Bocelli. The field was reduced by three due to the deteriorating ground conditions.

Turning into the short 2 1/2-furlong stretch, those with good memories were thinking back to 1994 when Summoner's rider, Richard Hills, had gone wire to wire on Maroof, pacemaker for Mehthaaf, to win the QEII at 66-1. Summoner led by six at the quarter-pole, but Noverre was detaching himself from the pack of pursuers and seemed ready to run down his stablemate. The 3-year-old son of Rahy closed well, but Summoner held on to win by 1 1/2 lengths with rallying Hawkeye the same distance back in third. Then came Bach, Vahorimix, Tamburlaine, Proudwings, and Bocelli.

"The whole idea of pacemakers is, if you don't follow the pacemaker, the pacemaker wins because we have quality pacemakers," said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford. "Sitting in third place, he (Frankie Dettori on Noverre) said he was close enough, but the other horse was going too fast for him.

"Obviously we would have preferred Noverre to win because he is the top 3-year-old in our stable, but we're thrilled to be one-two in the big race. In conditions like these, most of the other jockeys may have been thinking if they went half-a-stride too quick, they weren't going to get home. Noverre is the better horse and will go to the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) while Summoner will have a winter holiday in Dubai and be back next year."

Noverre had been co-favored by Coral Eurobet for the Mile with Hap and Irish Prize going into the QEII, but was tightened a point, to 7-1, even in defeat. Hap and Irish Prize remain at 8-1 with Numerous Times, Affirmed Success, and French-trained Jim and Tonic at 10-1.

Second to Maroof in the 1994 QEII was Barathea, who won the Breeders' Cup Mile in his next start for trainer Luca Cumani. Barathea's 2-year-old full sister, Gossamer, put her undefeated record on the line in the Meon Valley Stud Fillies Mile (Eng-I) earlier on QEII afternoon and confirmed in style the brilliance which many believed she possessed after her group III victory at Goodwood in late August.

Gossamer's owner/breeder Gerald Leigh has had 14 foals out of blue-hen Brocade, the last being a Nashwan colt.

"She's in very good form," he said. "I'm not sure she doesn't deserve a rest, but I haven't made up my mind about next year's breeding. She, her daughters, and granddaughters have been just outstanding. I'm a very privileged man."

Leigh, who is battling cancer, is donating all his horses' 2001 winnings to Cancerbacup, an information and support agency for patients and their families. They benefited by £116,000 ($170,996) thanks to Gossamer's 2 1/2-length win at 4-5 under Spencer. The rider is the rising star of the British jockey colony and has already been linked to O'Brien's stable, but Cumani quashed rumors of a move for next year.

"There is no question of him leaving us at the moment; that was agreed even before today," he said. "Jamie will be stable jockey at Bedford House next year.

"I've won this race twice before, but I can say I haven't had a filly as exciting as this in 25 years' training," exulted Cumani. "She's ahead of Barathea at this stage. He won twice at two, but she's won her maiden, a group III and now a group I. There isn't a race in the book that is better suited to Gossamer than the (One Thousand) Guineas (Eng-I)."

Bookmakers rate the daughter of Sadler's Wells as low as 2-1 favorite for the first classic of 2002 with no other filly better than 10-1.