Seven Days: Kingman's Queens

The Roger Varian team with Elmalka | Racingfotos

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Over the last three years Frankel (GB) and Dubawi (Ire) have handed the sires' championship back and forth between each other, and they rule supreme as the two most expensive stallions in the world this year at £350,000. While Darley's Dubawi duly provided the winner of the first British Classic of the season when Notable Speech (GB) became his fourth in that particular race – an achievement that is unrivalled in the post-war era – it was Frankel's Juddmonte friend and rival Kingman (GB) who had the bragging rights on Sunday.

In the history of the 2,000 Guineas, two sires have sired five winners each but you have to go back to the 19th century to find Sultan (GB) and Stockwell (GB). Lord Derby's Fairway (GB), whose most recent winner was Garden Path (GB) in 1944, is currently Dubawi's equal on four winners. 

Picking the winner of either Guineas was no easy feat. Notable Speech, a winner solely on the all-weather at Kempton prior to his Classic triumph, and unraced at two, returned at 16/1, while Kingman's first winner of the 1,000 Guineas, the lightly raced Elmalka (GB) was 28/1. Their victories for trainers Charlie Appleby and Roger Varian respectively meant that both Guineas 'stayed at home' within the Newmarket fold despite some serious challengers from overseas. 

Indeed, Elmalka narrowly denied Donnacha O'Brien's Porta Fortuna (Ire) and the Christopher Head-trained Ramatuelle for a multi-national trifecta, while Tamfana, bred in Germany and trained by a Frenchman in England, kept up that theme when flying home to take fourth. Her trainer David Menuisier was left ruing his luck and attempting to balance those polar opposite emotions of pride and crushing disappointment in seeing a horse run so well in defeat. With just a length covering the first five home – Aidan O'Brien's Ylang Ylang (GB) completed the quintet – any one of the four trainers other than that of the winner was entitled to go home thinking 'if only'.

Tamfana, who had been available at 66/1 earlier in the week, was half that at the off and it is hard not to be impressed by the huge amount of ground she made up when finally in the clear. She will head to France next for the Prix de Diane.

Classic Double for Breeder Godolphin

For Godolphin it was a weekend rich in celebration. A 2,000 Guineas winner in the royal blue, a year after Mawj (Ire) took the 1,000 Guineas for Saeed Bin Suroor, was a terrific start. But then came Elmalka, bred by Godolphin and racing in the colours of Sheikh Mohammed's younger brother Sheikh Ahmed, who had enjoyed a successful winter in Dubai, becoming champion owner in his homeland, while his retained trainer Michael Costa was runner-up in the championship behind Dubai World Cup-winning trainer Bhupat Seemar.

Sheikh Ahmed has long been a loyal supporter of Roger Varian and his former boss, the late Michael Jarvis. For Varian, the victory of Elmalka was extra sweet, not just for the filly being his first winner of the 1,000 Guineas but because her dam Nahrain (GB) (Selkirk) is doubtless remembered with great affection. Back in 2011, in the Prix de l'Opera, Nahrain became Varian's first Group 1 winner, a victory made all the more emotional for its timing, less than two weeks after the death of his mentor Jarvis. 

Varian has trained all of the mare's progeny bar the prolific Benbatl (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), who won 10 Group races in the Godolphin silks, including three Group 1s, for Saeed Bin Suroor. Now the 16-year-old mare has provided Varian with his third British Classic winner following Eldar Eldarov (GB) and Kingston Hill (GB).

“It doesn't get more special than that,” said the trainer, whose only regret was that his wife Hanako and children Momoka, Eiji and Reika were at the Royal Windsor Horse Show on Sunday and not on the Rowley Mile to celebrate. Hanako Varian was overseeing the sale of merchandise from her fashion brand Newmarket 875 at what her husband referred to as “pop-ups” at both Newmarket and Royal Windsor over the weekend. Anyone filing out past her stand on the Rowley Mile on Sunday could have had one of the Newmarket 875 caps autographed by the Classic-winning trainer, who stood happily chatting to racegoers as the runners went to post for the last race of the meeting.

Sunday will also live long in the memory of Silvestre de Sousa. The 42-year-old has been champion jockey three times in Britain but had only three previous Group 1 wins in the country aboard Farhh (GB) and Arabian Queen (GB).

“I've been trying for so long to win a Classic,” he said after his sole ride of the day at Newmarket. 

With Varian's first-call rider James Doyle on duty in France for Wathnan Racing, de Sousa got the call-up from the trainer, and he has already made the most of the opportunities given to him by Varian since his return from a 10-month ban during his time in Hong Kong. De Sousa rode Charyn (Fr) to win both the G2 Bet 365 Mile and Doncaster Mile, and he also recently partnered Adaay In Devon (GB) to win the Listed Lansdown S. for Rod Millman. 

The Brazilian added, “I love British racing so much. To me it's my base. This is the place where it starts and I hope this is the place where I'm going to finish one day.”

There in Spirit

The 27-year-old Invincible Spirit (Ire) played his part in both Guineas results as the paternal grandsire of Elmalka and the broodmare sire of Notable Speech. His son, the G2 Royal Lodge winner Ghostwriter (Ire), was also fourth in the 2,000 Guineas.

Notable Speech is a fifth generation homebred for Sheikh Mohammed. In recent years the family  has also been well represented by the GI Natalma S. and G3 Fred Darling S. winner Wild Beauty (GB) (Frankel {GB}), who is a half-sister to Notable Speech's dam Swift Rose (GB). Jumping back three generations, his fourth dam Cherokee Rose (Ire) (Dancing Brave) was a top-class sprinter for John Hammond, winning the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest and G1 Haydock Sprint Cup. Her half-brother Volksraad (GB) (Green Desert) was less exalted on the track, though he did manage third in the G2 Challenge S. He later made his mark as a stallion following his export to Windsor Park Stud, where he eventually became champion sire of New Zealand in 2001/02, dethroning the great Zabeel (NZ).

Elmalka's family, too, has been within the Godolphin fold for decades. Sheikh Mohammed purchased her fourth dam, Lady Of The Sea (Ire), from her breeder Sonia Rogers. The daughter of Mill Reef was out of the New Zealand champion race filly La Mer (NZ) (Copenhagen {GB}) who had been purchased by Captain Tim Rogers and exported to his Airlie Stud in Ireland. Nahrain has been one of the standouts of this family for the Godolphin team, but her dam Bahr (GB) (Generous {Ire}) was also very talented and won the G2 Ribblesdale S. and G3 Musidora S., as well as finishing second in the Oaks and third in the Irish Oaks. 

The tall and elegant Friendly Soul (GB) had looked a stand-out in a field of good-looking fillies for the Listed Pretty Polly S. and George Strawbridge's homebred was another feather in the cap of Kingman on Sunday. She could hardly have been more impressive on only her second run, holding off Juddmonte's Kalpana (GB) (Study Of Man {Ire}) by just over a length, with the pair of them having pulled 12 lengths clear of the rest of the field. 

Both fillies clearly have bright futures, and co-trainer John Gosden suggested that the G1 Prix de Diane is a realistic target for Friendly Soul. She will have plenty to live up to as she bids to become the fourth Group 1 winner for her dam In Clover (GB) (Inchinor {GB}). The mare's seven black-type performers also include Incahoots (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}), the dam of last year's G1 Prix de la Foret winner Kelina (Ire) (Frankel {GB}).

Royal Ascot Juvenile Clues

The success didn't end in the Classics for Godolphin, who unleashed the smart Mountain Breeze (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}), a three-parts-sister to Pinatubo (Ire),  to win the £40,000 Tattersalls-sponsored fillies' maiden on Sunday. She became the latest TDN Rising Star in Europe and is already being talked about with Royal Ascot in mind. Her brother of course took the Chesham S. en route to becoming champion two-year-old.

While Sheikh Mohammed Obaid may have knocked on the door with 2,000 Guineas runner-up Rosallion (GB) (Blue Point {Ire}), the owner-breeder nevertheless enjoyed a memorable Guineas meeting in general. 

A treble on Friday included two Listed winners, the four-length Newmarket S. winner Caviar Heights (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and King Charles II S winner Boiling Point (Ire) (Too Darn Hot {GB}). 

Rosallion and his relation Inisherin (GB) (Shamardal) were second and sixth in the 2,000 Guineas, and on Sunday the juvenile The Actor (Ire) (Harry Angel {Ire}) rallied gamely to win on his second start for Richard Hannon after finishing runner-up during the Craven meeting. We can expect to see him at Royal Ascot, too.

Well Heald 

Following the disappointing run of the odds-on favourite City Of Troy (Justify) in the 2,000 Guineas, Godolphin's Arabian Crown (Fr) (Dubawi {Ire}) has now replaced him as favourite for the Derby. The impressive winner of the Classic Trial at Sandown in late April, the colt was bred by Guy Heald, who is responsible for two serious Classic contenders this season. 

Last Thursday, Heald's homebred Fast Tracker (GB) (Churchill {Ire}) went seven lengths clear at Chantilly to land the Listed Prix de Suresnes, the race won last year by Ace Impact (Ire) (Cracksman {GB}) before he went on to glory in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club. Heald's colt, who is trained by his long-time ally Henri-Alex Pantall, also holds an entry for that Classic. 

The breeder is doubtless now delighted in his decision to retain Fast Tracker when he was bought in at 28,000gns as a yearling at Tattersalls. He is out of the unraced Anabaa mare Emma Knows (Ire), a half-sister to the Group 3-placed King Of Camelot (Fr) (Camelot {GB}) and Listed runner-up Leader Writer (Fr) (Pivotal {GB}). All three were also bred by Heald, whose recent major success as breeder came with the 2022 G1 Prix de Royallieu winner Sea La Rosa (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}).

One Last Thing

If you can keep your eyes open after a long day at Newmarket, the best way to spend the evening of the 2,000 Guineas is by watching the superb NBC coverage of Kentucky Derby day from Churchill Downs. 

It is an extraordinary race, not always for the best of reasons, but the television build-up to it is second to no racing broadcast I've ever watched. Every horse and every owner has a story, and the backgrounds to the contenders are properly explored and celebrated.

More than 150,000 people were at Churchill Downs for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby, making the raceday experience for the horses as much of a mental challenge as a physical one, particularly as they leave their stables for the famous walk over to the track. That in itself is an incredible spectacle. 

Hats have to be doffed to those horsemen and women charged with keeping the runners as calm as possible before they load into the gates. The Thoroughbred has to be sound of mind as well as limb, and perhaps nowhere is that put to the test more than in Kentucky on Derby day. 

It is in stark contrast to the relative calm and openness of Newmarket on Guineas weekend, where the runners can circle quietly at the start a mile away from the noise of the stands. But that is what makes racing such a fascinating sport. It's essentially just a bunch of horses running round a field, but those fields vary so vastly the world over. 

 

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