THERE is a sense of mischief in David Elsworth’s voice when responding to being told that Australian Queen is 50-1 to win the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, the day one highlight of York’s Dante meeting.
“She must be as long a price as her sister,” the top trainer told The Yorkshire Post as his mind went back to last summer when stablemate Arabian Queen produced the shock of the 2015 Flat campaign by winning York’s Juddmonte International at the same odds.
The repercussions of the only defeat that the Derby-winning Golden Horn suffered on UK soil saw the Juddmonte lose its status as the world’s best Flat race on official ratings and Elsworth was slightly miffed that his horse had not been afforded due deference.
However, all this is in the past and the trainer, the man who masterminded the legendary chaser Desert Orchid’s never-to-be-forgotten Cheltenham Gold Cup win in 1989, is the first to admit that the John Gosden-trained So Mi Dar – running in the colours of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife Madeleine – is likely to be a tougher proposition than lowering the colours of Golden Horn.
Yet it would be foolhardy to discount the veteran trainer who also won a Grand National with Rhyme ‘n’ Reason and Queen Mother Champion Chase with Barnbrook Again before proving his prowess on the Flat with horses like the legendary stayer Persian Punch and In The Groove, who won an Irish 1000 Guineas before landing the International at York.
Now 76, he still dares to dream when asked to make a case for Australian Queen.
“She’s a backward filly unlike her sister when Arabian Queen was two,” said Elsworth.
“I thought she would run better than she did in the Pretty Polly at Newmarket earlier this month when she was eighth of nine. She didn’t pick up as well as we would have liked.
“A lot of it might be down to green-ness. Some horses overcome their nerves after three or four races. Others take longer.
“I’m hoping – I could be wrong – that she ran very green in a good race and we might have got the tactics wrong by choosing to come from off the pace.
“She’s fit, she’s well and we will have our questions answered, but the Gosden horse (So Mi Dar) does look good.”
Australian Queen is owned by Jeff Smith whose predominantly purple colours were twice carried to victory at York by the aforementioned Persian Punch.
He also owns Arabian Queen who misses his intended engagement at York this week and is likely to head straight to the Group One Coronation Cup at the Epsom Derby meeting after finishing a pleasing second in Newmarket’s Dahlia Stakes 10 days ago.
“She was in great form and ran a storming race. She ran a better race than we thought she would,” said Elsworth.
”She has an ongoing sinus problem, which she’s had all her life. It’s not serious, but it’s just knocked the edge off her.”
He is the first to admit that Arabian Queen’s Juddmonte win owed much to the pacemaker setting off too quickly for Golden Horn and jockey Silvestre de Sousa being alert to this and turning the contest into a speed test.
Given the extent to which the race was billed in advance as one of the best renewals of Juddmonte, Elsworth was miffed that the same experts did not share the same view after his horse had caused a 50-1 upset.
“I’ve spent 60 years in racing. To win a Gold Cup or Grand National or Juddmonte, it’s a big thrill because you look at all the past winners and realise your sense of achievement,” he said.
“When you’re young, you feel on top of the world. When you’re old and cynical like me, it does feel like just another horse race – but it’s nice to get the recognition for the horse, the rider, the owners and the staff.”
As for So Mi Dar, John Gosden believes conditions will be ideal for Frankie Dettori’s mount who warmed up for today’s race by beating the colt Humphrey Bogart at Epsom last month.
The runner-up is now a leading Derby contender following a high-profile win at Lingfield on Saturday.
The superbly-bred daughter of Dubawi and Group One winning filly Dar Re Mi is only headed in the Epsom Oaks market by 1000 Guineas heroine Minding and trainer John Gosden said: “She’s done everything right. She’s a very business-like filly but she wasn’t in love with the ground at Epsom. She’s a better horse on better ground, which she should get at York.”
Surprisingly, Aidan O’Brien has not won the Musidora but aims to put that right with Best In The World. The Ballydoyle handler said: “She seemed a bit disappointing in the Salsabil at Navan last time, but Ryan (Moore) was very happy with her. It was a bit of a mess of a race, they only hacked and then sprinted. She should be able to step up from that.”
Middleham trainer Mark Johnston relies upon Fireglow who was fourth to Minding in the 1000 Guineas. Like So Mi Dar’s success, this is rock solid form on paper – but similar sentiments were expressed last August before Arabian Queen ruled York.
The question now is whether lightning can strike twice.
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