Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 24 February 2018

Cecil basks in glory of Midday's second coming

Chris Cook at Goodwood

Excitement is guaranteed at this winding, undulating racecourse, where close finishes and trouble in running continually fray the nerves of punters, but Midday managed to raise the tension still higher on her way to winning the Nassau Stakes. Having cruised into the lead with a furlong to run and with the race seemingly over, she suddenly slowed down and allowed a rival to go past, only to produce a second burst to win comfortably.

It was an extraordinary performance that led to her being traded at 64/1 on Betfair, presumably as Stacelita had grabbed the initiative close home.

At that point, many in the crowd may have been concerned that Midday had sustained some kind of injury, as had happened to a couple of horses earlier in the week, so quickly did she give up what had seemed a commanding advantage.

In the end, having made things difficult for herself, she won by a length and a quarter and was clearly the best horse in this Group One contest. Were she human, one would accuse her of showboating.

Being a horse, she is at risk of being labelled "ungenuine" if she turns yesterday's aberration into a habit. But her trainer, Henry Cecil, was dismissive of any such suggestion as he basked in the affection of the crowd, who gave him a still warmer reception than the one he received when Midday won the same race last year.

"She likes a strong pace," he said, arguing that a steady early pace had meant the race was effectively contested over a mile, rather than the official distance of a mile and a quarter. "They went very slow and she had to sprint, and then she thought she had done enough."

Not only would Cecil admit no flaw in his filly's make-up, but he smilingly added that he had never really doubted the final outcome. "I thought she'd come back," he said. "She's very genuine, very tough."

Cecil and Teddy Grimthorpe, representing the winning owner, Khalid Abdullah, would not commit to a tilt at the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf in America, a race she won last year. The immediate aim is likely to be the Yorkshire Oaks in a fortnight's time, though Cecil stressed that any target was ground dependent. "She needs a little bit of give. She's quite heavy in the shoulders, she's stronger, but she hasn't got the best joints, so you've got to be careful."

A stewards' inquiry was held, the officials' concern being that Midday may have crossed Stacelita close home. There appeared little chance that the placings would be altered, though Cecil, who lost this year's 1,000 Guineas in the stewards' room, was visibly relaxed when the result was confirmed.

The significance of the inquiry was that as part of an initiative sparked by Racing For Change it became the first in Britain to be shown live on television. At a time when there is a widespread consensus within the sport that something needs to be done to broaden its appeal, this seems an excellent way of adding drama, and there were no complaints from Christophe Soumillon, rider of Stacelita. "It is good for the public to see what happens in an inquiry and how it works, and I have no problem with that," he said.

Billy Cray, the 22-year-old jockey who enjoyed the best moment of his career to date when winning the Stewards' Cup on Evens And Odds, is not yet much of a talker, though he has had little contact with the media to this point.

The son of a Bermondsey builder, it seems likely that he has a story to tell, which he hinted at with this line: "I'd never seen a horse until I was 16."

He has no family connection with racing but decided as a teenager, watching the sport on television, that he wanted to be part of it. Evens And Odds' trainer, Dandy Nicholls was once more justifying his reputation for brilliance with sprint handicappers. "Billy doesn't ride as well as I did but he's always in the right place at the right time," he said.

But no one has been riding at a higher pitch here than Richard Hughes, who notched his ninth success of the Glorious meeting on Eucharist in a nursery race, and he immediately left the track with the intention of competing at Lingfield less than 90 minutes later.

"He's riding out of his skin," said Richard Hannon, the jockey's father-in-law and the trainer who has supplied him with a continual stream of winners this year. "He gave us another heart attack there," Hannon added, referring to Hughes' trademark late challenge. "And what can you do? Just say 'Jesus', and hope things come right. And they do, usually, for him."

Sunday Independent

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