Horses To Follow » Steinbeck


Last Saturday’s Dewhurst Stakes belonged to Oratorio and Aidan O’Brien. The former was responsible for the winner Beethoven and the runner-up Fencing Master, while the latter sent out the winner, the second and the fourth while. And just to put the cap on it, O’Brien also bred the winner. When the first four home in a Group 1 race finish within a half-length of each other, natural inclination is to question the strength of the race on the they-can’t-all-be-champions basis, as many have in the last few days. However, there was a similar sentiment around about last year’s renewal, a sentiment that proved to be way off the mark about a race that included this year’s high class three-year-old winners Rip Van Winkle, Delegator, Lord Shanakill, Ouqba, Ashram and Finjaan.

It may be a similar story with this year’s renewal, a notion that is backed up by the fact that the race was run in a time that was almost half a second faster than the time that it took the older horse Arabian Gleam to win the Group 2 Challenge Stakes run over the same course and distance 35 minutes earlier. There were a couple of horses to take out of the race for me, including Fencing Master (very green in the early stages on just his second ever start but stayed on takingly once the penny dropped) and Chabal (raced keenly and backward propulsion coincided with dropped whip), but the most interesting of them all is Steinbeck. The son of Footstepsinthesand bounced out of stall one, closest to the stands rail, possibly too well, and found himself in front from early. Johnny Murtagh was happy to allow him bowl along there, with Chabal just on his outside, and he travelled like the good horse that he undoubtedly is. When Murtagh asked him to pick up approaching the two-furlong pole, the response was impressive, he took a length out of his field, he had all his rivals on the stands side covered and he looked the most likely winner of the race from there. However, he just began to flag a little as they emerged from The Dip and the two horses in the centre of the track, Xtension and Fencing Master, began to finish well. Beethoven moved over there to join them and pass them, but Steinbeck boxed on well on the stands rail to go down by just a half a length, Murtagh just pushing him out through the final 200 yards.

This was a most encouraging performance. It is significant that Steinbeck raced on the front end and on the stands side the whole way in a race in which the first three came from behind and finished out in the centre of the track. Also, this was just the second run of his life and his first since he won on his racecourse debut at Naas last May. He was really impressive in winning that race, a winners’ race, and he has obviously been highly-regarded all summer. Aidan O’Brien actually singled him out as one of a handful of juveniles worth mentioning in his stable tour in the Racing Post in April before he ever ran. (“We have a very nice Footstepsinthesand colt out of Castara Beach called Steinbeck, and the birds in the trees around here are singing about him!” he said at the time.) He has obviously had little problems, but they appear to be behind him now, and he could progress to be a top class three-year-old. It would not be at all surprising if he were the Ballydoyle selected for next year’s 2000 Guineas, and the 12/1 at which you can currently back him looks fair in an open-looking year.

17th October 2009

© The Irish Field, 24th October 2009