Gleneagles' York rider up for grabs
Loyal Ballydoyle deputies could be on the verge of major opportunity
Could the conviction with which Seamie Heffernan rode Highland Reel to such a resounding Secretariat Stakes triumph on Saturday night land him the plum mount on Gleneagles?
We'll soon find out who will partner the brilliant 2,000 Guineas victor in Wednesday's tantalising encounter with the exceptional Derby hero Golden Horn. The final declarations for the Juddmonte International at York will be made by 10.0 this morning and the jockey bookings will be confirmed by lunch time, if not much earlier.
Notwithstanding Time Test's potential and The Grey Gatsby's consistency, this should boil down to a rare old duel between two above-average Classic winners.
Crucially, with the ground on the Knavesmire now good, good to firm in places, with no rain forecast before Wednesday, it is an altercation that looks likely happen.
Since finishing fourth on his track bow at Leopardstown in June 2014, Gleneagles hasn't been bettered. Sure, the French stewards had to demote him after he caused interference en route to winning the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp in the autumn, but he was by far the best horse in the race.
He confirmed as much with a superlative display at Newmarket on his return, before knuckling down to follow up in the Irish 2,000 Guineas on unsuitably slow ground.
At Ascot, he passed the post in front for a fifth time in a Group One when readily dispensing with some feeble opposition in the St James's Palace Stakes. He is a seriously talented animal with a constitution to match, as is Golden Horn.
John Gosden's colt has already been hailed as an equine colossus by the handicappers, who deemed the display that saw him stretch his unbeaten record to five in the Eclipse Stakes as placing his feats on a par with the mighty Frankel at similar stages in their careers.
This, then, constitutes a monumental bout with an enormous amount at stake.
Connections of both horses appear to be keen to embrace the challenge, albeit Aidan O'Brien has continued to stress that Gleneagles is essentially miler and that the Coolmore partners are being sporting in allowing him to have a cut at 10 furlongs.
There is certainly a welcome, old-fashioned sense of two prize fighters being pitted against each other to establish which is better without recourse to the now all-pervading matter of their commercial value as stallions.
It is impossible to know whether John Magnier and Co have pulled rank, but you suspect that all involved will have rued the decision to swerve the Sussex Stakes when yesterday's Prix Jacques le Marois had to be ruled out after a deluge at Deauville, with the consensus being that the ground at Goodwood was genuinely good. By Wednesday evening, though, it might yet prove an utterly inspired decision.
Unusually, it is the Ballydoyle horse that has less to lose in the reputational stakes. Golden Horn is the odds-on favourite and proven over the trip and at the track. He is the one that has been anointed the second coming by the assessors.
Gleneagles is unproven at the trip, but, were the son of Galileo to slay the Derby giant, his worth as a future stallion would skyrocket.
Having kept their powder dry for two months, the powers that be at Coolmore have clearly concluded that they have more to win than lose at York. They and Golden Horn's owner Anthony Oppenheimer should be applauded for giving Flat racing fans something about which to get genuinely excited.
That all said, then, it is slightly strange that we are on the verge of one of the most historic Flat clashes in recent times and no jockey has been confirmed for one of the two central protagonists. With Ryan Moore still sidelined, Joseph O'Brien would be the automatic choice but for Gleneagles being allotted just 8st 12lb.
The former dual champion's weight became increasingly volatile after he pushed himself to do 8st 12lb on Australia in the same race last year. He has only committed to doing 9st infrequently this year and hasn't ridden at less than 9st 3lb this month.
Getting down to around 8st 10lb to ride at 8st 12lb must now be nigh-on impossible for someone close to 6ft tall, as he is already peeled to the bone. I'd be mildly surprised if O'Brien could do the weight and the chance of his being permitted to carry overweight for such a vital engagement must be borderline unconscionable.
If that deduction is accurate, maybe someone will be plucked out of leftfield, but the likelihood is surely that either Heffernan or Colm O'Donoghue will get the nod.
O'Donoghue is the only rider other than O'Brien and Moore to have ridden Gleneagles in a race, having done the steering on his debut.
From relatively slim pickings, he continues to prove his worth, as evidenced by his Oaks win on Qualify. Both he and Heffernan (left) have proven their big-race temperament, but older and more recent history would indicate that Heffernan precedes him in the pecking order.
Whoever does the steering, they will find themselves at the epicentre of a skirmish that promises to be one of the most enthralling Flat dust-ups in aeons. Bravo. It should be an absolutely epic spectacle.
Reel dances up in the Secretariat
Highland Reel's success on Saturday extended Aidan O'Brien's record number of Secretariat wins to four. It was achieved in truly emphatic style, with Seamie Heffernan excelling from the front.
Adelaide won the Grade One for Ballydoyle in 2014 before going on to plunder Australia's Cox Plate, and Heffernan's 20th top-level winner for his boss could also head Down Under.
Earlier, Andy Oliver's Panama Hat was collared in galling fashion by Germany's Lucky Speed in the St Leger. Oliver and David Marnane deserve enormous credit for their exploits, as Marnane's Elleval covered himself in glory when fifth in the Million.
On ratings, Pat Smullen's mount had no right to be competitive. In the end, though, he might have gone even closer. Smullen dealt with a poor draw as best he could but he was last early on, only to come charging up the inner swinging for home. His run was checked as the gaps closed, but it was still some turn in a prestigious race that was won by The Pizza Man.
There was no joy for the Irish runners in the Beverly D Stakes, but there was plenty of drama.
A year after announcing his (aborted) retirement, Jamie Spencer got Ralph Beckett's Secret Gesture home in front for his former Qatar employers. However, in doing so, he impeded the third past the post, Stephanie's Kitten. Secret Gesture was duly demoted and uproar ensued on this side of the world.
It was a harsh call and an appeal is being considered, but it was not an unexpected development. Much was made of the overreaction on the part of Irad Ortiz Jr - who will partner the explosive Acapulco in Friday's Nunthorpe - but that is to tackle the man and not the ball.
While Spencer changed his whip hand and could have done no more than he did, there was interference and the Chicago rules appear pretty clear-cut on the matter. When in Rome, and all that.
Sadly, it was a third lamentable US episode for Spencer after Powerscourt's 2004 Million disqualification and Toast Of New York's narrow Breeders' Cup Classic defeat in controversial circumstances last year.
At Deauville on Saturday, Highland Reel's French Derby conqueror New Bay continued his Prix de l'Arc preparations with a smooth Group Two win.
Yesterday, his stablemate and the 2,000 Guineas second Territories was thwarted by yet another Andre Fabre runner when the classy mare Esoterique relished the mud at the French track to secure the Marois.
Mangan off the mark at Tramore
Paddy Mangan rode his first winner of the season when John Morrison's 5/4 favourite Shouband clung on at Tramore yesterday.
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh initiated doubles when Upazo (7/4 fav) edged the conditions chase, with Walsh following up on his father Ted's Old Castletown (2/1).
Mullins combined with his son Patrick to complete his brace in the bumper with Pearl Diamond (4/5 fav), the jockey's 400th career win.
Tweet of the weekend
Robbie McNamara (@RobbiepMcN)
To say I'm a proud brother is an understatement. I nearly stood up I was cheering so hard.
After Andrew McNamara retired with a fairytale win on Friday, his excited wheel-chair bound brother was moved to have a joke at his own expense. Incidentally, AP McCoy will attend a lunch in aid of the stricken rider at Dromhall Hotel ahead of racing in Killarney on Friday. Tickets are €100 and the details are online.
1.15m What a Frankel filly made at Arqana Sale in France yesterday. His first four yearlings at public auction averaged a sale price of €637,500.