A redemption road, the King’s road, a B-road, a slip road, a runway, a heritage highway, and the end of the road. Horses arrive in round-about ways to the Lockinge roundabout, whose beauty is in the extensive equine exits, all of the above and more besides.
It was the end of the road for First Island and Russian Rhythm, whose wins set the swans singing, and it was redemption road for Hawk Wing, that race in the rain his day in the sun, a one-off, one time only but off the chart. The Lockinge has been a B-road for O’Brien, in Plan A of the Queen Anne, Haradasun and Declaration of War tightening the screws en route to Royal Ascot, using only half the Newbury runway when Medicean, Canford Cliffs and Farhh accelerated the full length of it, making off with the Group 1 prize as well as taking off for others.
A race has its roll of honour horses, but only one horse has its roll of honour races, and in 2012 the Lockinge became the King’s road, another procession during Frankel’s ascension to immortality. And that leaves us with two declared paths; a slip road and a heritage highway, interlinked, and linked to this year’s renewal.
But for the Lockinge, we might never have enjoyed such superstars as Sea The Stars, Golden Horn, Ouija Board and, in turn, Australia. That’s because Cape Cross, sire of the first three and therefore damsire of Australia, was more in the market for castration than gestation-gyration until getting onto the slip road at Newbury, the slip road for him as he slipped the field, pacemaker turned poacher turned crack miler turned top stallion.
His predicted role in the 1998 Lockinge had not extended beyond setting the pace for Kahal. With most of his stablemates already in Britain for a month, 20/1-shot Cape Cross had been flown in from Dubai only six days earlier, and was, according to his rider, Daragh O’Donohoe, expected to ‘blow up’. It earned him another esteem and another season, when in the Queen Anne and Celebration Mile he again went gate to wire, to impregnating sire.
Without the Lockinge to boost his confidence and Goldolphin’s confidence in him, Cape Cross wouldn’t have created a dynasty that lives on and strong today, Derrinstown winner Moonlight Magic his latest Epsom-bound son. Cape Cross was the blue blood for generations and the blueprint for the boys in blue when it came to pacemakers in Group 1 miles, Summoner ‘doing a Cape Cross’ in the QEII, at 33/1, two years later.
Summoner was a half-sister to So Admirable, and So Admirable is the grandam of the one horse in this year’s Lockinge who could yet roll down the runway of fame and glory: Limato.
The rain may make it a question for another day, but Limato will have to answer the trip teaser some time. From his two-year-old days, you’d swear he has no chance of staying, yet from the most recent piece of evidence, in the seven-furlong Foret at Longchamp, you’d swear a mile is exactly what he wants.
And that’s part of the trouble with trying to judge Limato; he’s not standing still. Normally, after nine starts, you’ve got a fair fix on a horse’s character if not its requirements, but there’s a touch of the Jekyll and Hyde about Limato, looking different from race to race. Five different jockeys means a rapport hasn’t been established, perhaps part of the reason why Harry Bentley has been given the gig as his rider for the year.
But here’s the thing with Limato, and it’s something that none of his Lockinge rivals have got – there’s times when he’s looked scarily good, none more so than for his first distance departure in the Park Stakes at Doncaster, which was a Group 1 performance in a Group 2 race, supported by the timefigure. And that in itself highlighted his Jekyll and Hyde nature, just what Dr Jekyll ordered that day, when reversing the decision to hide him from softish ground after a subdued display on it earlier in the season.
It’s hard to fathom whether his style is the right fit for a mile because it’s hard to fathom his style full stop, making pedigree inspection all the more important. The mare between him and Summoner’s half-sister So Admirable was Come April, who won over ten furlongs (on her debut) and would have stayed further had various problems not set in, and his sire, Tagula, already has ‘previous’ in the Lockinge through his outstanding son, Canford Cliffs.
A look at his breeding says he’ll relish the mile, but Limato is his own boss. It’s all up in the air, whether he runs, whether he stays, whether he turns it on, but he’s the story in the Lockinge, within the Lockinge story.
If it’s all up in the air for Limato, you have to crane your neck further to see the Derby, following a Dante Stakes in which the audible pop for Midterm was cloaked only by the thuds of Gosden-shaped dice being rolled. Ask now who’s the best middle-distance three-year-old in prospect and about eight different hands go up, two of them beautifully manicured of the female form.
The Dante many don’t match the Musidora one in performance terms, So Mi Dar now rated 120p, just 2 lb behind Minding, and with none of the same stamina queries. Never has the Oaks been sexier, and never has sexism swung so much the way of the girls at Epsom, petitioning to switch the days so that the lesser-relevant Derby is on the Friday.
In the gender battles to come later in the season, the fairer sex have the unfair edge.
Zarkava showed the bully boys a clean pair of his heels in her racing day, and a lot of this weekend’s excitement surrounds her son, the unbeaten Zarak, seeking to follow the family way in the French 2000 Guineas on Sunday.
So Mi Dar has shown what you can get when Dubawi calls for a high-class escort, and few fillies in the modern era were higher class than Zarkava. The form of Zarak’s two wins haven’t been near Guineas standard, but you get the feeling he and Alain de Royer-Dupre have been working, together, backwards from this point, and that something special is brewing.
G1 - The Bet365 Celebration Steeple Chase (class 1)
G3 - The Bet365 Gold Cup Steeple Chase (handicap) (class 1)
G1 - Aes Champion 4yo Hdle
Grade B - Setanta Sport H'cap Hdle
Grade B - Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe H'cap Chase