Flower power rules at Newmarket
Will Hayler is in Newmarket for Saturday's Dewhurst and Ces double-header, but first finds time to reflect on Friday's warm-up.
Rhododendron leads home Hydrangea in another 1-2 for Aidan O'Brien
Rhododendron's almost-effortless Dubai Fillies' Mile victory from stablemate Hydrangea handed Aidan O'Brien's a 19th worldwide Group One success on the Flat so far in 2016.
The record, set by Bobby Frankel, stands at 25, but getting O'Brien – who followed up his 1-2-3 in the Arc with a 1-2 in this race and who had the British trainers' championship title wrapped up in the first week of June – to discuss the possibility of passing that total proved a bridge too far, even for a man evidently on a hot streak.
Asked about the prospect of reaching Frankel's tally, O'Brien launched into a lengthy and interesting (if not altogether brand-new) soliloquy thanking the lads for everything they had done and stressing that any decisions about future running plans would be influenced only by what would be best for the horses themselves and not by any foolish thought of record chasing.
That said, the inescapable fact is that if he doesn't do this year, for as long as he remains in situ at Ballydoyle, there's every chance he'll do it before long – especially with the spread of worldwide Group Ones ever-expanding.
We now know for sure he has at least two very nice two-year-old fillies in his team, to go with Prix Marcel Boussac runner-up Promise To Be True, and a host of less-exposed performers who will no doubt emerge through the ranks as 2017 goes on.
And while it might seem that the prospect of them banging heads next year could hamper his chances of breaking records, his placing of Minding and Alice Springs this year is a reminder that there are indeed enough races to go around, even if both start off taking each other on back here inthe QIPCO 1000 Guineas – a policy that didn't seem to do Alice Springs much harm this year.
Reminded of Minding's success in this same race 12 months ago, O'Brien said of Rhododendron: "She's a very, very nice filly, isn't she? It's very hard to compare, but you'd be very pleased with what you saw today wouldn't you? She travelled away very nicely.
"We knew they were very close both fillies and there's never much between them. They were first and second the time before last and they were second and third last time.
"We knew they were likely to improve again on the step up to a mile and they both did. They're both out of two very good mares, both very good movers, they stay well, very clear-winded, very straightforward really.
"Obviously the lads will decide what they want to do, whether they want to put them away or whether they want to run them again, but obviously they could both go to the Guineas and start off there. I would have thought both of them could step up to the mile and a half too. Both mares stayed well. Halfway to Heaven [Rhododendron's dam] got a mile and a quarter well and Galileo will only help with that too."
O'Brien has some nice two-year-old colts too, but Churchill has emerged over the course of the year as the number one in all respects.
"Obviously the lads will decide what they want to do, whether they want to put them away or run them again, but obviously they could both go to the Guineas and start off there. I would have thought both of them could step up to the mile and a half too"
Victory for Churchill in Saturday's Dubai Dewhurst Stakes would see O'Brien edge another victory nearer to matching the record that he doesn't want to talk about. Either way, the betting suggests he will be back in the Newmarket winner's enclosure on Saturday afternoon and the trainer himself had little to offer which suggested otherwise.
"Everything has gone to plan since The Curragh with Churchill. He seems in very good form," he said.
"Everything has gone well since the last day. He's a big and relaxed horse and everybody is happy with him. Donnacha rides him every day in his canters and Seamus rides him in his work and they all seem very happy with him.
"We always thought he was a very smart horse. We always thought the world of him. Every race is tough when you go up to Group One level but he's a big, powerful colt – very, very big and strong."
This year's Dewhurst looks very much up to par though, and the likes of John Gosden and Andrew Balding both enjoyed confidence-enhancing successes on the first day of action at HQ.
Gosden saddles son of Frankel, Seven Heavens, who "just keeps growing" according to the trainer, who said he didn't want him to have more than three runs this year and that he hadn't wanted to "bang him in against Group One horses" too soon. Fair enough, although they weren't comments that explained why the trainer was seeing fit to run him in the contest that Balding described as "the best two-year-old race in Europe" when a gentler approach would surely have been possible – especially given the limited worth of the two-runner contest he took at Goodwood on his latest start. Talk about from frying pan to fire.
Balding was curiously low key about the victory of Poet's Vanity in the Oh So Sharp Stakes, given that she turned away from pretty smart fillies in the process and, as the trainer said, "seemed to be going away again at the end".
"That's the first time really she has been asked to race and I thought she was doing her best work at the finish," he said. "We'll see how she goes in the spring. I wouldn't want to feel we had to race in a trial and we could go straight to Newmarket.
"I would have been disappointed if she hadn't been in the first three. Her work has been very good – in fact I was saying to the owners that I had to work her with a colt last week as she was sort of demoralising the other fillies."
As for South Seas, he was again reluctant to get carried away, despite the obvious good vibes he has been receiving on the Kingsclere gallops.
"He's in great order," he said. "It's nice that the horses seem to still be running well at this time of year and that's encouraging.
"He's a Lope de Vega and we were happy to run him on soft ground and that's sort of how it's fallen but he's going to have to encounter faster ground at some point which he will tomorrow.
"As ever, it looks very strong. Look, we'll find out tomorrow, but his work has been excellent and he is going there in great form and that's all we can ask for."
Balding's celebrations proved more muted than those of the winning Turf Club 2014 syndicate after the course record success of Mrs Danvers in the opening Cornwallis Stakes.
Even more excitingly, club organiser Nick Cheyne revealed after the race that the breeders, who had leased the filly to the syndicate this year, had agreed an extension and that – subject to being sold – she would race again in the same colours next year.
Trainer Jonny Portman, however, has always worn the air of a man expecting imminent bad news and admitted that despite no offers to have come in so far for the filly, he did expect "the phone to start ringing now".
"If she's still with me, then I would love to train her," he said. "I've been doing this 15-16 years hoping for days like this and I can only hope that more will come."
They call it the Future Champions Festival, and although Portman admitted to understandable fears that Mrs Danvers might not train on at three, it would be wonderful to think that the filly and her oh-so-likeable trainer, who possesses more than a hint of Cecil to his character, could go on and live up to the meeting's billing in the same way as the race's winner 12 months ago, Quiet Reflection.
"I don't really like to say it, but she is seriously good, isn't she?" said Portman.
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