When Gleneagles was declared a non-runner Golden Horn was supposed to face a fairly straightforward task in the Juddmonte International at York – but no one banked on Arabian Queen causing a 50-1 upset.
The race had been billed as a clash for the ages, the Investec Derby winner against a dual Guineas hero in Gleneagles, not forgetting the promising Time Test, hugely impressive at Royal Ascot and owned by Juddmonte Farm’s Khalid Abdullah.
Throw in The Grey Gatsby and top-class Australian raider in Criterion and it was no surprise that Arabian Queen, the only filly in the race, was sent off as the rank outsider, bar Golden Horn’s pacemaker Dick Doughtywylie.
John Gosden’s pacemaking idea for his unbeaten Epsom victor unravelled right at the start, with the seven-year-old missing the kick and Robert Havlin then shooting into a six-length lead meaning he was ignored by everything else.
Silvestre de Sousa, champion jockey-elect in the absence of the retired Richard Hughes and the injured Ryan Moore, was content to lead the rest, with Frankie Dettori never too far behind.
And that was how it stayed until two furlongs out when Arabian Queen hit the front, with Dettori looking like he just had to press the button to seal the deal.
However, after 14 millimetres of rain on Tuesday the ground was good to soft and Golden Horn took an age to pick up. He did eventually hit the front briefly, but Dettori was getting increasingly animated in the saddle and the filly was fighting back.
De Sousa is rarely beaten in a tight finish and the Brazilian managed to get her head back in front and his mount was going away at the line, winning by a neck to cause the shock of the season so far.
She is trained by David Elsworth – the man responsible for the Desert Orchid and who also won this race back in 1990 with the brilliant In The Groove.
His last top-level winner was Absalom’s Lady in the 1994 Christmas Hurdle, while on the Flat it was Seattle Rhyme’s 1991 Racing Post Trophy win.
Straight after the race Elsworth bolted to the car park to gather his thoughts, but speaking later he said: “She’s a filly of the highest class. She’s tenacious and loves to battle.
“If we hadn’t turned up today, they would be hailing the favourite as the best horse since Frankel.
“She’s certain to stay further, her dam (Barshiba) won over a mile and five furlongs. It took me three years to work out her best trip, but I worked this one out a bit quicker.”
For De Sousa, a big win to go with his numerical accumulation was just what he needed.
He said: “She’s not an easy filly to deal with, she can be a bit of a madam at home. She has her own ideas about the game, but is obviously very talented.
“I had a clear run, picked the pacemaker up two furlongs out and I always felt I had a bit left.
“I couldn’t say I was confident coming here – she was 50-1- but she had been third in a Group One on her last run, she’s bred to get further and ran right to the line.”
Owner Jeff Smith has been involved with some top-class horses down the years and given he also bred the winner, he was understandably emotional.
Smith said: “She’s a filly on an upward curve. In the Nassau (when third) she finally got a mile and a quarter and today she got a mile and a quarter with a slight bit of cut and you’ve seen her to best effect.
“I think underneath all that, I’ve been boring people with the basic observation that before this race race, no one knew whether the three-year-old fillies were as good, better or whatever than the three-year-old colts as they’d never met.
“We’re right up there with the fillies, improving, so why not run?
“It’s tough to compare different horses.
“We’ve had Lochsong and Persian Punch win big races here, but don’t forget I’ve had a third and a second in the Juddmonte so I was due one.
“I’ll have a chat to David. She’s bred for a mile and a half so we are in the (British Champions) Fillies And Mares at Ascot, so that would probably be it for the year and next year possibly train her for the Arc.”
For the vanquished favourite a combination of being too keen having not run since the Coral-Eclipse and the rain-softened ground were put up asexcuses.
Dettori said: “He was too fresh, having missed the King George. He pulled hard and wasted a lot of energy. He couldn’t skip away on that ground like he usually does.”
Gosden said: “The pacemaker missed the kick and then he ended up too far clear.
“Golden Horn was too fresh and keen and he did too much, too early. Frankie found it hard to settle him for the first six furlongs and he gassed himself out.
“He got in front, but I think we know now he’s definitely better on faster ground and the filly just outstayed him.
“It was a real pity it rained and a real pity Gleneagles didn’t run, either.
“The filly had run in the Nassau so take nothing away from her, she’s very good.
“We could go on to an Arc trial, but he might have to make his own running there so quicker ground will obviously help.”
The dual 2000 Guineas winner had been set to have his first start over 10 furlongs in a clash with unbeaten Derby hero Golden Horn, but persistent rain throughout Tuesday led to a marked softening of ground conditions on the Knavesmire.
After walking the track, trainer Aidan O’Brien said: “He is a very fast horse, we saw at Newmarket what he could do on fast ground.
“It wouldn’t be fair to ask him to run over 10 furlongs for the first time on this ground. It’s soft in places and it wouldn’t be fair on him.
“The lads were prepared to run him over 10 furlongs, but only on faster ground.
“We’ll have a look a the Irish Champion (September 12) and if it is good to firm there we’d love to be there, if not he won’t be ”
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