|Tuesday, 10 July 2012
: John Gosden continued his fine run of form as Nathaniel landed the Eclipse on his seasonal debut, following on from the triumph of his half-sister, Great Heavens, in the Lancashire Oaks, less than an hour earlier...
The undoubted highlight of this weekend's action came from Sandown Park as Nathaniel proved victorious in the Group 1 Eclipse. The win signalled a triumphant return to action for last year's King George hero, who quelled any fears that he lacked the speed to land a top ten-furlong prize. Jockey William Buick, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented and reliable riders in Britain, rode a positive race and was clearly keen to utilise his mount's proven stamina. Having been committed three furlongs from home, Nathaniel saw off the non-staying Cityscape, before Frankie Dettori delivered Farhh with a strong and persistent challenge inside the furlong marker. Had Nathaniel been lacking fitness it surely would have been exposed up the punishing incline to the line, however he galloped on relentlessly to see off the favourite and was ultimately well on top at the line. The soft ground and solid pace played to the strengths of the winner, but his effort in victory should not be underestimated and he is sure to be a leading player over middle distances this year.
A defence of his King George title, back at a mile and a half, would look to be an obvious target, though there is only a two-week gap between the Eclipse and that prestigious Ascot contest and Gosden has raised a concern that the race may come too soon. But should the rain keeps falling in such unprecedented amounts, keeping conditions on the soft side and advantageous to his charge, it would register as somewhat of a surprise if Gosden didn't allow Nathaniel to take up his engagement a week on Saturday.
Godolphin's Farhh confirmed the promise of his Royal Ascot run with an even better effort here, and he certainly looks to have the ability to register a Group 1 success, providing, of course, that he can avoid a run-in with Frankel, who will cast an imposing shadow over the ten-furlong scene later this year. Dropping back to a mile could even provide the best route to victory as Farhh doesn't appear to lack pace and, with Frankel soon departing that division, he may find a few suitable opportunities.
Over at Haydock, Great Heavens, a half-sister to Nathaniel, showed a progressive profile similar to that of her big brother's last year, as she continued on the winning trail landing the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks. Always in control, travelling well at the head of affairs, Great Heavens had the race in safe-keeping from some way out as she produced a thoroughly dominant display. An impressive five-length victory looked like a stepping stone to greater things as she powered to a comfortable victory, looking value for further than the winning margin. Such was the authority of the win, a step up to Group 1 level could be on the cards, and with further improvement still to come it is impossible to write her off once she arrives among top company.
Saturday saw Haydock stage the Old Newton Cup. Fifteen runners went to post for the Heritage Handicap, but it was Number Theory who came back in front, completing a C&D treble in the process. John Holt's four-year-old gelding is thriving at present and produced a career-best effort to land the most competitive race he has contested to date. His versatility in regards to ground, as well as his straightforward nature, makes him a thoroughly likeable type who should continue to go well in these big-field contests.
Lexi's Boy, well-backed all week to give Donald McCain another prestigious Flat prize, could manage only sixth place. The 10lb rise for his recent Carlisle success appeared to anchor the son of Verglas, with a slow start and an inability to dominate from the front further compelling the problem.
Trade Commissioner justified short-priced favouritism when landing a competitive mile handicap at Sandown, providing his trainer, John Gosden, with the second leg of a cross-card treble. A lightly-raced sort, Trade Commissioner remains open to further progress and will be of interest next time, particularly with his stable in such good form at present. He had looked like a potential pattern-class performer when successful at Salisbury prior to this, and Saturday's performance did nothing to dispel that impression.
Thirteen runners stormed up the five-furlong chute at Sandown in the Group 3 'Charge', and a photo-finish was required to call the winner of the exciting finish. Caledonia Lady was eventually credited with the victory and, in truth, would have been an unlucky loser had she not put her nose in front on the line, having met trouble in running as she launched her challenge. She has produced some solid efforts in defeat this term and, whilst she is unlikely to make her mark at a higher level, should continue to perform with credit.
The race paid a handsome compliment to the exciting Pearl Secret, who had comfortably dispatched Caledonia Lady at York before overcoming unfavourable circumstances to defeat Free Zone at Sandown. Free Zone was not beaten far on Saturday, finishing third, having not enjoyed the positional advantage which he held against Pearl Secret, and, in a sprint division perhaps lacking real quality, the return of David Barron's flashy chestnut is awaited with real relish.
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