Things We Learned » Some like it soft

Some like it soft

It is common knowledge by now that Maarek is at his best on easy ground, but he proved at Newbury last Saturday that he doesn’t need it bottomless. The ground on the day was officially described as soft, good to soft in places. However, race times say that it was more good to soft than soft, yet it was still soft enough for Maarek to put up one of the best performances of his life.

Well-backed beforehand, the six-year-old was almost last passing the two-furlong pole, and he didn’t appear to be travelling as well as fellow hold-up horses York Glory and Steps. To confound matters, the gap immediately in front of him closed as they approached the furlong pole, with the result that Declan McDonogh had to switch him to the far side.

Mc Donogh didn’t panic, however. He moved his horse into the next gap and, despite shipping a bump from Demora on the way through, the Pivotal gelding picked up really impressively to come through and win well, running strongest of all to the line.

Winner of nine races for David Nagle, including the Group 2 Champions Sprint at Ascot last October, this was just Maarek’s second run for Barry Lalor, and it looks like the horse has at least retained all his ability. He would obviously be a big player again at Ascot if the ground comes up on the easy side. More immediately, however, he is equally adept over five and six furlongs, and he would be of big interest in a soft ground Prix de l’Abbaye. He could be significantly under-rated on the Pari-Mutuel.

Don’t forget World

The stat about Aidan O’Brien and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has been trotted out often this week, and will probably be trotted out plenty more often next week (just one win, Dylan Thomas, from 30 attempts), but sometimes you need to dig a little deeper than the bare stats.

For starters, 13 of the 30 were high-two-or-three-figure-priced outsiders who led or were ridden up with the pace, and one more was Acropolis, who finished fourth at 100/1 as the lone raider from Ballydoyle in 2004. Since the turn of the millennium (you can easily skip over Genghis Khan, who was effectively a pacemaker for Montjeu in 1999, rendered redundant, incidentally, by the Japanese pace-setter El Condor Pasa), O’Brien has fielded a winner and three placed horses in the most prestigious race in Europe.

History tells you that St Leger hero Leading Light would be up against it this year if he were supplemented to the race. The Leger is, unsurprisingly, not a good pointer to Arc, and Ballydoyle Leger horses Milan, Scorpion and Camelot all came up a fair way short.

However, it is a different story with Ruler Of The World. The Galileo colt has had the quintessential Arc preparation – busy until July, then break and return again to run in a trial, ideally the Prix Niel. And he ran a cracker in the Niel. He would have won it had the bob of a head gone the other way.

The Derby winner is a little bit of a forgotten horse now. His run in the Niel told you that his Irish Derby run was all wrong, and it should bring him forward again.

Here’s another stat, which you probably know: eight of the last 10 and 15 of the last 20 Arc winners were three-year-olds. Here’s one that you may not know: three of the last nine Epsom Derby winners to contest the Arc won it. Those stats could both get better this year.

More Murtagh magic

The difficulty these weeks is in not mentioning Johnny Murtagh. Six days after he trained and rode Belle De Crecy to beat Hot Snap (rated 11lb her superior) in the Group 2 Lanwades Stud Blandford Stakes at The Curragh, Murtagh went and repeated the feat on Rich Coast in the big Guinness Handicap at Listowel last Friday.

Last Saturday, he won the Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket on Oriental Fox for Mark Johnston, and on Sunday he won the Group 3 Denny Cordell Lavarack & Lanwades Stud Stakes at Gowran Park for Michael Stoute.

Watch out for Educate and Princess Noor at Newmarket today (jockey) and for Altruistic, Campanology and Chicago Girl tomorrow (trainer). Who says you can’t do both?

Apprentice value

The value of having a top apprentice in your corner in big handicaps was brought into sharp focus once again on Saturday when Killarney teenager Oisin Murphy skillfully steered Highland Colori to victory in the Ayr Gold Cup. Of course, it was a day of days for Murphy, who went on to win on his next three rides as well and complete a 9,260/1 four-timer.

Significantly, there were only six apprentices riding in the 26-runner race, and three of them filled three of the first six places.

The value of an apprentice’s claim appears to be particularly strong in races on straight tracks, a factor that might be worthwhile keeping in mind when you are analysing the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket today. The apprentice-ridden horses are Area Fifty One, King’s Warrior, King George River, Boonga Roogeta, Jack’s Revenge (Murphy couldn’t do it again, could he?) and Pacific Heights.

The name is Murphy

Seriously though, his name is Uh-sheen, not Oh-sheen. It’s not A-sheen (as in, machine without the m) either, and it certainly isn’t Wa-zin.

© The Irish Field, 28th September 2013