HENRYTHENAVIGATOR emulated dual Guineas winner Rock Of Gibraltar when adding the St James’s Palace Stakes to his Group One haul on the opening day of Royal Ascot yesterday.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien’s name is synonymous with the mile showpiece as the mount of Johnny Murtagh became the fifth Ballydoyle raider to score since the turn of millennium.
The winner of the English and Irish 2000 Guineas did so in style when quickening away from a field packed with quality to collect as the 4-7 favourite.
The son of Kingmambo denied subsequent Vodafone Derby winner New Approach at Newmarket and the Curragh respectively, and those who supported him at cramped odds never had a moment’s worry.
Although anchored at the rear alongside runner-up Raven’s Pass turning into the lush home run, Murtagh’s mount travelled sweetly and weaved a passage through runners to lead over a furlong out.
Once in charge, Henrythenavigator sailed forward to hold off the gallant challenge of Raven’s Pass by three-quarters of a length.
Twice Over was a further two and a half lengths back in third.
“You saw what he did in the English Guineas and he improved from there to the Irish Guineas,” said O’Brien.
“The only thing we weren’t sure about today is that he had never raced around a bend before, and things can change when you have to do that.
“Johnny rode him with extreme confidence and was never in any doubt.”
Rock Of Gibraltar six years ago was the first British Classic winner to land the St James’s Palace Stakes since To-Agori-Mou in 1981, and O’Brien heaped praise on his latest hero.
“I think it would be hard to say you’d ever get a better miler than him,” he said.
“We are delighted – he’s a really special horse.
“He has speed, stamina, class and he picks up. He is an exceptional horse and very unique.
“I think all things are open to him and he could go down a lot of routes, this horse.
“You could drop him back in trip, step him up or leave him at a mile – it’s a great decision to have to make.
“We see how they are first when they get home and then sit down and talk about where to go. Everyone knows how hard it is to get to one race, never mind to two races.
“When horses like him come along it is great to have them to watch.”
Murtagh had built up to the Royal meeting with a short holiday owing to suspension, but his enforced break proved no barrier to success.
He said: “I had a week off getting ready for Royal Ascot. We won the first race, disappointed in the second and then along comes Henry.
“He’s a great horse and he’s improving all the time.
“He settles down well, he loves fast ground, he travels, and he has a super turn of foot.
“I went to change my hands and got them tangled up in his mane a bit but he’s such a professional horse, he was gone.
“He’s an easy ride and has a great turn of foot. As Aidan is saying he is the best miler we have had, and I think he could be right.”
Trainer John Gosden was delighted with the effort of Guineas fourth Raven’s Pass, and said: “He ran a blinder.
“The 2000 Guineas was a messy race for us but he’s right back to his best.
“The winner is a fabulous horse and they’ve broken the track record there, which says its all.
“The owners would like to run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at the end of the year and we’ll look at a programme towards that.”
Twice Over’s trainer Henry Cecil said of the Dante third: “He’s run a great race. They went very fast and the ground was a bit fast for him too.
“Even still, he is probably more of a 10-furlong horse and has run a great race.
“We’ll leave our options open now and we’ll see how he is tomorrow morning.”
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