Novellist storms to top of Arc market
"I dreamt about it last night and that's the way it happened," Johnny Murtagh said after winning the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes on Novellist here. "Not winning as easy, though. I thought it would be a dramatic drive to the line."
There was no drama, just a hugely impressive, almost effortless success for Novellist, which took two seconds off the course record as he became the second German-trained King George winner in as many years.
The ground was unusually fast and the race was set up for a good time by a solid pace, but this was still the most striking middle-distance performance of the season and Andreas Wohler's colt is now the new favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with many bookmakers.
Novellist set off as a 13/2 chance, despite having beaten Cirrus Des Aigles, the 6/4 favourite, by four-and-a-half lengths in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last month.
The betting market believed that Cirrus Des Aigles, the top-rated horse in training, would improve for his first run of the season, but at no stage did Murtagh and Novellist look like anything other than probable winners, and a potent burst of speed made victory secure. Trading Leather, the Irish Derby winner, was five lengths away in second place, with Hillstar third and Cirrus Des Aigles only fourth.
"I was always cruising," Murtagh said. "I didn't feel that they were going that fast, but I was always in control and when I got to the two-furlong marker, he quickened and quickened very well. He got his head down and his ears back.
"It didn't feel like he was going that fast [to break the course record], which is a good sign. I was saving a bit for when I got to the two-marker because I thought the dangers would be coming from behind, but there were none today.
"I nearly had him stopped [to pull up] but then Kevin [Manning, on Trading Leather] came upside me and he [Novellist] went away again. You don't mind when they pull like that afterwards."
Murtagh was booked to ride Novellist only after Ryan Moore, his jockey at Saint-Cloud, was claimed for Hillstar, and William Buick, who had also ridden him before, could not guarantee he would be at Ascot. Murtagh is likely to retain the ride now, and will aim for another Arc victory to add to his success on Sinndar in 2000, before deciding whether to concentrate on his nascent training career.
"We knew he'd improved since his last race but the way he did it, I was surprised," Wohler said. "But in myself I was quite confident because the horse was really well and he gave me confidence to go for such a big race.
"To tell you the truth, I went down the stairs [towards the winner's enclosure] when he was still a furlong from the winning post. He cruised there and I know the horse, so I know what kind of acceleration he has.
"Johnny had so much confidence before the race that it made me worry a bit, but the way he's ridden him, it was like he'd ridden him 20 times before."
The Group One Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden in early September is the most likely prep-race for Novellist on the way to Longchamp in October, and he is top-priced at 6/1 for the Arc alongside Andre Fabre's Flintshire, winner of the Grand Prix de Paris.
"It's unbelievable for German racing," Wohler said. "It's our strength in breeding that we have horses that mature late on, and over a distance.
"I have won a Listed race and a bumper in Britain before. I used to come to England on holiday as a kid to the King George. Now I am here as a trainer and to win it is unbelievable."
Corine Barande-Barbe, the trainer of Cirrus Des Aigles, said that she expects the gelding to continue to improve during the season. "Christophe [Soumillon, the jockey] said the horse needed a run," Barande-Barbe said.
"I am not disappointed, competition always improves him. Even if we do work at home, it is not the same. We might go to York next for the Juddmonte International [in August] but we have a date here in October [in the Qipco Champion Stakes]."