Red-hot Harbinger signals Arc intent
NEVER can a celebratory glass have left such a bitter taste.
As Michael Stoute toasted Harbinger's stunning victory in Saturday's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, the elation must inevitably have been tempered by the realisation that the road ahead for his Derby winner Workforce is going to be hard.
For, just as incredible as the older horse's 11-length annihilation of a top-class field appeared, the crushing defeat of the strapping three-year-old, which had mastered Epsom and seemed destined for the upper echelons, was even harder to grasp. Sadly, Workforce's reputation was badly in need of restorative work.
A little keen early, a little clumsy on the home bend, Workforce was beaten three furlongs out. Fast ground may have contributed, but surely not to that extent.
It may be accurate to conclude that the son of King's Best never ran his race, but it is much too simple. Clearly, he didn't, but yesterday Stoute and his team were trying to establish why.
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdulla, said that vets would carry out tests on the colt. "If there is anything, it is nothing very obvious," he explained.
"He was not in distress, and there was no apparent injury after the race. We will see if anything comes to light," he added.
Timeform yesterday gave a hint as to how official handicappers might interpret Harbinger's performance by giving the colt a provisional rating of 142, the same mark Ribot, Abernant and Windy City were placed on in the firm's annual list of ratings. He is even rated higher than Mill Reef (141) and Sea The Stars (140).
Much will depend on what Harbinger does for the rest of the season. If he maintains this level of performance, he will consolidate and hold on to the rating that puts him only behind Sea Bird (145), Brigadier Gerard (144) and Tudor Minstrel (144) in the all-time list.
But even if he fails to reproduce this breathtaking display, his victory will still be remembered as one of the greatest galloping performances ever seen at Ascot.
To crush two Derby winners, Cape Blanco and Workforce, and overwhelm such a reliable yardstick as Youmzain -- runner-up to three outstanding Arc winners -- in the manner he did was simply amazing.
Harbinger is as low as even-money favourite for the Arc, one of the few major international races that Stoute has never won. Harry Herbert, who manages the colt for one of the Highclere syndicates, has also tentatively mentioned the Breeders' Cup and Japan Cup.
"We'll take it race by race, but there are many options open to him," Herbert stated.
"The decision will have to be made about what we do next year. But it is not time for that decision yet."
The Harbinger group, officially called the Admiral Rous Syndicate, is made up of 12 owners, who paid £36,000 each, which entitled them to a stake in two horses. Harbinger was bought for 180,000 guineas at Tattersalls three years ago.
The shareholders are a typical Highclere mix. There are Australians, South Africans and even one from Bermuda. A unanimous decision is required to keep Harbinger in training next year.
The four-year-old is yet another mature horse to excel under Stoute's patient handling.
Singspiel, Pilsudski, and in recent years Ask and Spanish Moon, have all been excellent examples of his immense skill. (© Daily Telegraph, London)