The Racing Post's Jon Lees talks about Saturday's winner and runner up of the 2,000 Guineas. They just happen to both own an ECB Equine Spa!
THE STAGE was set to confer superstar status on New Approach yet it was the old approach of a superstar trainer that ensured the 200th Stanjamesuk.com 2,000 Guineas returned to the grasp of Aidan O'Brien and his Coolmore backers on Saturday.
Henrythenavigator was just a bit player in the big race build-up that had justifiably centred on the prospects of the unbeaten New Approach, last year's European champion two-year-old and a colt trainer Jim Bolger had labelled an "exceptional" talent.
New Approach delivered a strong performance from the front but Henrythenavigator, "the forgotten horse of the race" according to Michael Tabor, capped it by running down the 11-8 favourite inside the final furlong to snatch victory by a nose and secure a fifth success in 11 runnings of the Classic for his trainer.
A Royal Ascot winner as a two-year-old, Henrythenavigator had been well held by New Approach when they had clashed for the Futurity Stakes on the Curragh, but on quicker ground the positions were reversed as the colt responded to a confident ride from Johnny Murtagh cementing his new association with his first Classic win as Ballydoyle stable jockey.
Until Thursday Jupiter Pluvius had been regarded as the stable's main hope but despite an indifferent campaign with last year's crop of juveniles, O'Brien had always had a high opinion of Henrythenavigator."He always was an exceptional horse at home," he said. "The times he got beat it was winter ground. He is a real fast ground horse, a real miler with loads of sprinting speed. We were worried it was his first run because the horses have been coming on for their runs. "When you have a horse that shows so much speed at home you arenever sure they are milers until you see them doing it. It looked to be a strongly run race and, that he was able to win despite getting very tired, you would have to be impressed by that."Johnny was masterful. Johnny rode him like he couldn't get beat on him today. He was very confident and super strong. We are very lucky to have Johnny in this form. He played to all his strengths and it was speed that carried him into the race. It was his first run and Johnny said he got tired which all the horses have done with their runs this year. We would be disappointed if he didn't come on for that. He was just ready to come to the races."
From stall two Kevin Manning led a gradual shift to the stands rails and had most of the field in trouble with two furlongs to run but Murtagh, who replaced Kieren Fallon this year, had the move covered delivering his challenge with customary good timing. New Approach was rallying at the line but Henrythenavigator held on, both four lengths clear of 100-1 shot Stubbs Art in third and Raven's Pass, who came from last place, fourth. The Godolphin colt Ibn Khaldun was a major disappointment in tenth.
Murtagh received a two-day whip ban (May 18-19) and Manning four days (May 18-21) for his use of the whip and was found guilty of hitting his horse after the winning post.Murtagh has ridden the winners of both this year's Group 1 races for O'Brien following Duke Of Marmalade's victory in the Prix Ganay. He said: "It's a great start. I'm a very lucky jockey. The least I can do is ride big race winners. When you ride good horses like that it's an easy job.
"Aidan told me what to do. He had won the Coventry so I had to save his energy early on. I thought I was going to win a neck at the furlong pole butI just ran out of a little bit of petrol. He is a top class miler with a turn of foot."
The battle between Henrythenavigator and New Approach will be rejoined at the Curragh in three weeks where the pair are set to clash for the Boylesports Irish 2,000 Guineas, for which they are the sponsor's 7-4 joint favourites, although Stan James price up a match as 4-7 New Approach and 5-4 Henrythenavigator.
Princess Haya of Jordan, watching New Approach race in her colours for the first time and on her 34th birthday, said: "He was wonderful and I think everyone was very happy with him. Johnny came up a bit quick on us and our horse was coming back at him. In a few more strides who knows?"
Bolger took defeat on the chin and looked forward to the rematch. "He ran a great race and the winner has obviously come on a nice bit since last year," he said."This will probably go down as one of the best 2,000 Guineas so well done to the winner. I love the competition and still love it even though I got whacked. I am very happy to be here. It's a great place to be but full marks to Aidan, Johnny and the rest of the Irish team.
"Beigh la eile - we'll have another day."